It may be, just from some of the social-media reaction during the latest “Saturday Night Live,” that half the country thinks Nate Bargatze is one of the hottest, stadium-filling comedians working today while the other half … well, they’re not exactly sure who this guy from Tennessee is. But in his first outing as “SNL” host, Bargatze again proved the rule that stand-up comics and sketch-comedy veterans can often make the best hosts (see also: John Mulaney, Dave Chappelle and Melissa McCarthy).
Bargatze seemed to struggle a bit with cue cards in a sketch or two, particularly one in which he delivered a monologue as George Washington, predicting the strange ways the United States would adopt inconsistent systems of measures while ignoring the legacy of slavery. But he was on point in his brilliant monologue as well as a standout early sketch, “Chef Showdown,” and some filmed pieces including a Hallmark Channel parody of a horror movie called “A Stab at Love” and a mock CMT music video, “Lake Beach.” He also played a competing lawyer arguing that it’s the second best profession (behind doctor) on a flight where a passenger is going into labor, and one half of a couple being lectured by SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher (Sarah Sherman, a rising “SNL” star) about what costumes are strike-friendly for kids to wear on Halloween.
This week’s “Please Don’t Destroy” video finds the guys eating dog food (or rather “Dawg Food”) and it’s a one-joke sketch that doesn’t go anywhere. Dave Grohl appeared in two sketches (“Lake Beach” and the airplane sketch), and his band Foo Fighters performed “Rescued” with an introduction by Christopher Walken (correct emphasis on the band’s name this time) and had performer H.E.R. joining in for their second song, “The Glass.”
As is the custom on “SNL,” a silent photo card acknowledged the death of Matthew Perry, who hosted in 1997, before the close of the show. The actor, who was 54, was found unresponsive Saturday afternoon at his home in Los Angeles.
“SNL” has switched up its presidential portrayal once again. In this week’s cold open, “A Halloween Message From President Joe Biden” featured a recast Biden. Mikey Day has taken over from James Austin Johnson, who portrayed Biden last season (and is best known for his ace Donald Trump impression). Johnson took the role after Alex Moffat, who took over after Jim Carrey played Biden during the 2020 election season. This show has had a lot of Bidens.
Day’s take on Biden seems to be that he’s a little confused, perpetually winded and very, very old. Most of the cold opening was jokes at the expense of Biden’s age, with the president pointing out how scary it is for the country to see him on a ladder hanging Halloween decorations. “When I was a kid, ladders were cutting-edge technology,” he says. Biden says many of his best friends are ghosts, including the Grim Reaper, “Who I physically fight every day.” Biden said the world is a scary place right now: “War. Shootings. Climate change. Everything in Britney’s new book.”
New House Speaker Mike Johnson (Michael Longfellow) showed up, mostly just to point to the questions that have arisen around his adopted son, or as the show described him, his “adult black son” (Devon Walker). Best surprise: Walken showing up as the spirit of Halloween, who came in from the toilet. It was hard to tell if Walken’s halting delivery was just Walken being Walken, or if he was nervous or rusty from not having hosted “SNL” in so long. Either way: nice to see him!
Bargatze’s monologue was largely focused on how he’s old-timey, befuddled by new technologies, and not very smart. But the precision of the comic’s language, his acute and sly observations and the way he packages a sentence with worlds of layers and meaning make it clear that he’s even more intelligent than he claims not to be. He began by acknowledging he’s not famous to everyone (“If you’re at home, I’m as shocked as you are that I’m here”), and then sharply ping-ponged between bits including one about two grandmothers (one being his mother) meeting for the first time (“Like dogs meeting each other through a fence; they’re gonna be there for a while”), people who used to pay to fight orangutans at county fairs, Afrin addiction and Bargatze’s (clearly made up) hatred of reading books. “Every book is just the most words. It doesn’t let up,” he complained. Bargatze has perfected the every man act, but his comedy writing is too sophisticated for anyone to fall for the claims that he’s not intelligent. Quite the opposite.
Best sketch of the night: ‘Chef Showdown’ flips the script
Two chefs, one Black (Ego Nwodim), one white (Bargatze), are challenged to create a soul-food dish for two African American judges (Kenan Thompson and Punkie Johnson). When the dishes are revealed, one dish is an overthought, overly fancy plate with “no soul and no food,” while the other includes brisket, cornbread and collards. But surprise, the apologetic white chef made the dish the judges like while the Black chef (who lives in France) used a plant-based catfish that Thompson’s character hates so much he slides it off the table and onto the floor. Apart from the cleverness of flipping the script on racial stereotypes, the sketch also has a hilariously regretful performance by Bargatze, some great reactions from Thompson and a guest appearance by “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi.
Also good: ‘Lake Beach’ gets red-state specific
A video for “Lake Beach,” a CMT music video from a band called Mudpuddle, extols the virtues of going to the beach when your beach is actually a knee-high body of water with a layer of leaves at the bottom. Most “SNL” music-video parodies over the last few years are hip-hop or pop-music focused; country rarely gets its due on the show. This song, performed by Bargatze, Andrew Dismukes and Johnson, gets super specific with its references to Southern life. There’s the kid trying to sneak a sip of alcohol that’s actually a cup of dip spit, four pretty girls with the same haircut, a dragged Yeti ice chest, an overzealous cornhole-playing uncle (Grohl) and a bunch of bats.
‘Weekend Update’ winner: Colin Jost’s agent has some bad ideas
For the second week in a row, “Weekend Update” had only one guest bit in what’s starting to feel like a slimmed-down segment. This week’s was Sherman in heavy makeup and bald cap as Jost’s agent J.J. Gordon. Like about half of the jokes on “Update” lately, they are all at Jost’s expense, with the agent trying to cast him in a Jared-Fogle-from-Subway biopic, a porn version of “Jurassic Park” and a John Smith-focused retelling of “Pocahontas.” As if these references weren’t dated enough, the segment closes with the documentary proposal: “Jost the Two of Us: My Summer With Epstein.” Sigh. Maybe it’s for the best that “Update” is getting less airtime.
This story originally appeared on LATimes