Saturday Night Live: Steve Carell gets belly laughs in otherwise lazy episode

Zach Vasquez
Steve Carrell. Photograph: NBC/Getty Images

For the second time this season, Saturday Night Live kicked off with The Ingraham Angle, as Fox News host Laura Ingraham (Kate McKinnon) slings conspiracy theories and obvious falsehoods relating to the week’s headlines, while thanking her ever-dwindling list of disreputable sponsors – Fashion Catheters, Cash for Organs, and Teeny Tiny Turkey (“We Swear It’s Not a Pigeon!”)

Her guests include a roll call of recently newsworthy figures – Mark Zuckerberg (Alex Moffat), Marcia Fudge (Leslie Thompson), and the “Vape God” (Pete Davidson), a vaping expert to whom the real Ingraham actually gave airtime – but all of whom come and go too quickly to leave much of an impression.

One has to assume that Alec Baldwin’s legal troubles from two weeks ago have kept him off the show, because this week’s cold open feels like the writers scrambling to work around his absence.

Steve Carell, hosting for the third time (his last turn was 10 years ago), fields questions from an audience only interested in seeing him reboot The Office. Those haranguing him include his former cast-mates Elle Kemper, Ed Helms and Jenna Fischer. Carell brings them all onstage to tease a reunion announcement … before expertly dashing any such hopes. It still works as a heartfelt dose of nostalgia.

The next sketch, Disney, has Carell playing a clueless father who attempts to surprise his children with a trip to Disney World, only for them to hold an intervention in which they reveal the various ways the family has fallen apart unbeknownst to him. It’s a clever idea undercut by an odd stiltedness in Carell’s performance (he keeps looking off screen, presumably at cue cards).

In Message from Jeff Bezos, a bald-capped Carell plays the Amazon CEO, who smilingly extolls his company’s latest dealings while blatantly trolling Donald Trump (who, he reminds us, he’s “literally 100x richer” than). While not big on belly laughs, the segment does earn a wave of oohs and aahs from the audience, especially a final, solid dig at Trump’s limited involvement in recent war commemorations, allegedly for fear of going out in the rain.

Friendsgiving is set table-side for a Thanksgiving dinner between neighbors. After one of them questions why there are no famous Thanksgiving songs, they take turns spontaneously singing The Turkey Dance, a synth-backed German tune ostensibly about the holiday, but really about a disappointing one-night stand. Things grow increasingly – but welcomely – absurd as they go on. More sketches should follow this one’s lead and end with a surprise shanking.

“RBG Rap” is a muggy rap song from Pete Davidson and Chris Redd about the indefatigable supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (McKinnon, in one of her by-now signature roles). It doesn’t earn a lot of laughs from the live studio audience, but it certainly gets plenty of self-satisfied cheering on behalf of the liberal icon.

Space Station Broadcast features Carell as an astronaut broadcasting live from the International Space Station. He fields questions from middle school students back on earth, while simultaneously dealing with a catastrophic accident that’s killed all the animals onboard, as well as at least one crew member. The use of silly animal props, McKinnon’s surprise turn as a frozen corpse, and the grimly escalating chaos combine to make this the funniest sketch of the night.

British singer/songwriter Ella Mai is the week’s musical guest. She performs Boo’d Up, from her new self-titled album.

Weekend Update kicks off with a report about the relocation of Amazon’s headquarters to Queens in New York City and Arlington, Virginia. Perfectly betraying his innate and utter un-likability, host Colin Jost loses the audience right off the bat, snarking “Only New Yorkers could complain about getting 25,000 new jobs. All the cities that lost out must be like, ‘shut up you whiny bitches’.”

This week’s guests include congressman-elect/big foot erotica writer Denver Riggleman (Mikey Day) and professional NBA dad/huckster Lavar Ball (Keenan Thompson). Both prove entertaining, if not particularly memorable, distractions from the disinterested hosts.

Much like this week’s cold open, Update wraps up in surprisingly short order, another signal that the writers had a hard time mining humor from the week’s headlines.

Sleepover starts out as parody of Beauty School Dropout from Grease, with Carell as a perm-wearing 1950’s crooner who magically appears inside a teenage girl’s bedroom during a sleepover. His creepy attempts to serenade one of the girls fails, after it’s revealed that the host is his own estranged daughter. Carell, at his best playing desperate losers with zero self-awareness, nails his performance here (as does Aidy Bryant as his shame-filled offspring), though the sketch is similar to the earlier Disney.

Ella Mai returns to the stage and performs Trip.

RV Life has Carell playing yet another husband and father completely oblivious to his family’s naked disintegration (this time he’s an ex-banker who’s dragged his nerve-wracked wife alongside him in a woodsy, RV-centered retirement) in a tired sketch.

The penultimate sketch – a Mars-set Thanksgiving dinner between human space explorers, their pointy-eared hosts, and sentient corn – finds the cast gritting their teeth through awkward jokes and shoddy special effects. A botched green screen projection towards the end gives them an excuse to break out in embarrassed laughter and rush through the last few lines.

The last sketch trades in easy jokes centered around drag culture as personified by Ru Paul in a fittingly end to dare I say a lazy episode.