Saturday Night Live: Timothée Chalamet hosts as vaccine jokes reign

The Oscar-nominated actor makes a solid impression as a comedian while Kate McKinnon tries her hand at Anthony Fauci with mixed results

Timothée Chalamet, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and Cecily Strong.
Timothée Chalamet, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and Cecily Strong. Photograph: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Timothée Chalamet, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and Cecily Strong. Photograph: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Last modified on Sun 13 Dec 2020 11.12 EST

This week’s Saturday Night Live kicks off with a sketch about “the American Gothic of the whole coronavirus situation”, doctors Anthony Fauci (Kate McKinnon, doing a less grotesque version of her Giuliani caricature) and Deborah Birx (Heidi Gardner). Fielding questions from Wolf Blitzer (Beck Bennett) about the new Covid vaccines, the popular Fauci gives competent answers about distribution plans, while Birx desperately tries to repair her damaged reputation, asking everyone “remember when Trump said to inject bleach and I did a stanky little face and I almost whispered … no?”

They describe the rollout plans for the vaccine, which will be distributed to states alphabetically, “starting wih aCalifornia and bNew York” and come in different forms according to region: “In New York the vaccine vessels will be very thin on the bottom, while in Chicago they’ll be deep dish.”

As lazy and flat a cold open as the show has done in recent memory, this one is forgotten as soon as it’s over.

Actor Timothée Chalamet hosts for the first time. Born and raised in New York, he reveals that his mother – a dance instructor and background actor – was actually an extra on SNL. They play a clip of when she “almost got spit on by Chris Farley” during a memorable 90s sketch. Afterwards, he plays the piano while reflecting on the unique charms of Christmas in New York: “Leaving cookies for Santa in the bathroom of the Port Authority bus terminal … eating Cheetos on the F-train on Christmas Eve … playing hide and seek in Grand Central and never seeing any of your friends ever again …” He’s joined by fellow New York – albeit Staten Island – kid, Pete Davidson, who regales with his own holiday memories: “Skiing across the Verrazano bridge … hearing Santa coming down the chimney and realizing it’s just rats … decorating our tree with spaghetti and scratch-offs …”

They keep the holiday humor going with A ‘Rona Family Christmas, in which we meet the Covids: mother, father, college-age daughter and her new boyfriend (famous for infecting Tom Hanks), and their ne’er-do-well son, whose failure at spreading infection and support for Cuomo (as opposed to Trump, who’s “done so much” for them) brings shame to his family. There’s lots of groanworthy puns here – especially bad is when the neighbors, the Herpes, show up – but there’s also some charm to be found in the broad goofiness.

A holiday commercial for Lexus’s December to Remember sees a suburban dad surprise his family with a new car, only to have his wife flip out at his recklessness. “This is a major purchase!” she exclaims. “It’s a Lexus – we don’t have the money for this!” As he tries to defend himself, a series of dark revelations unfurl: the family is near broke because he hasn’t worked since March of 2019, he has a major drinking problem and a creepy infatuation with his son’s girlfriend, and he bought the car with five grand borrowed from an infuriated neighbor (who happens to be sleeping with his wife). Bennett excels at playing truly pathetic suburban sad sacks, and between this and the previous sketch, shows good comedic rapport with Chalamet.

On the Dionne Warwick Show, the singer, and everyone’s favorite Twitter user, interviews Harry Styles (Chalamet, whose impression leaves a lot to be desired), even though she has no idea who he is. She asks him questions such as “What do I know you from?” and “Why is Wendy Williams being a bitch to me?” Afterwards, she brings on Billie Eilish (Melissa Villasenior), aka “Wendy Eyelash”, Chalamet (Chloe Fineman, reprising her impression of the host), and Machine Gun Kelly (Davidson), none of who she is any more familiar with. She closes out by inviting her audience to look under their seats. When they complain that there’s nothing there, she triumphantly responds, “That’s right – I don’t know owe you anything.” Using the diva’s aloof curtness as a jumping off point, Nwodim has fashioned a wonderfully fleshed-out and funny caricature, one that relies more on personality than simple impression. Here’s hoping it’s the first of many Warwick sketches.

Next, Chalamet, Bennett and Gardner return to play yet another family unit. This time, they’re rural farmers forced to sell their livestock in order to make ends meet. This sends Chalamet running off to their stables, where he sings a sad goodbye to his tiny – as in, almost microscopic – horse. The randomness of the horse’s reveal and the use of stop-motion animation make for a funny start, but the sketch simply drags on for too long.

The nights musical guests are Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band. The legendary rockers play the rollicking Ghosts, off their fantastic new album Letter to You.

On Weekend Update, Colin Jost discusses the Covid vaccine with Dr Wayne Wenowdis (McKinnon), whose entire schtick is pronouncing his v’s as w’s and vice versa. Like the last time he appeared, McKinnon reveals that the whole bit just a coping mechanism for her own anxiety over the future, not that this explanation redeems the character – possibly her all-time worst – at all. Next up, Jost is joined by Melissa Villasenor. Dressed like Dolly Parton, fake breasts and all, she belts out some quick snippets from the country legend’s songbook.

Those hoping Update might try to atone for its lowest moment by at least mention the allegations against Republican congressman Dan Crenshaw – to whom they gave an undeserved platform two years ago, and who has recently been accused of orchestrating a smear campaign against a female Navy veteran who alleges she was the victim of sexual assault at a V.A. hospital – will find themselves disappointed, although not likely surprised. Every time Crenshaw makes the news for some new public disgrace, it’s a further stain upon the show.

A baking competition show on the Food Network sees the contestants show off their confectionary creations, each one worse than the next (save for one contestant’s, whose normal cake is so boring it’s considered the loser of the bunch). Chalamet’s cake is especially revolting: shaped like an anus and/or vagina monster from out of Naked Lunch, it quivers, puckers and spews gunk, before eventually trying to devour its creator. This hits all the same beats as every other baking sketch, but that’s not the point. What makes these sketches a treat is in seeing how weird and gross they’re willing to go. To that end, this newest effort succeeds.

On XXL Rap Roundtable, Queen Latifah (Punkie Johnson) and guest star Questlove are joined by a pair of tatted-up, rainbow-haired white SoundCloud rappers played by Davidson and Chalamet. While the rap elders thoughtfully discuss the current state of the culture, the “two confident white boys” interject with shouts of “SKIRT! SKIRT” and “YEET! YEET!” Entirely ignorant of the history of rap — their biggest influences are “Fallout Boys” and the rapping hamsters from a Kia commercial — their truly unbearable performance earns them slaps from an infuriated Questlove. It’s a decent enough takedown of Tik Tok teens and SoundCloud rappers, but awkward blocking and some missed timing holds it back.

Springsteen and the E-Street Band return and perform I’ll See You in My Dreams.

Sportsmax is a new offshoot from conservative media network Newsmax. Commentators, such as dirtbag Jets fans Deluca and Delvecio (Chalamet and Davidson, teaming up again) take up the attitude of Trump supporters in their refusal to recognize the results of the latest game, choosing instead to live in a fantasy world where their team didn’t get their asses kicked. Chalamet turns in his funniest performance of the night here, but by the time we move over to two Knicks fans heaping praise on Jeremy Lin, the sketch has definitely overstayed its welcome.

That just about wraps things up, although during the curtain call Chalamet seems poised to make a seemingly important statement. Those hoping he might comment on the fiasco of Warner Brothers dumping his upcoming movie Dune, along with the rest of their 2020 slate, on HBO Max – without first consulting film-makers – will be disappointed, as all he gets out is a pat entreaty to “treat others with kindness”.

Chalamet did fine as a first-time host. The show seemed intent on turning him and Davidson into a new comedy duo, but he actually seemed to have better onscreen chemistry with Beck Bennett, who, along with Ego Nwodim and Heidi Gardner, were the standouts of the night on the comedy side. That said, the stars of the show were without a doubt and to the surprise of no one, The Boss and band. Bruuuuuuuuce!