Come on, you didn’t really think that “Saturday Night Live” would begin this weekend with a parody of the third Republican presidential debate, did you?
OK, let’s indulge this little fantasy for a moment and pretend that this broadcast — hosted by Timothée Chalamet and featuring the musical guest boygenius — might actually open on a sketch featuring the candidates who aren’t Donald J. Trump, impersonated by the “S.N.L.” cast including Heidi Gardner as Nikki Haley, John Higgins as Ron DeSantis and Ego Nwodim as Vivek Ramaswamy.
Well, not long after Gardner and Nwodim reenacted a testy exchange between Haley and Ramaswamy and Devon Walker (as Tim Scott) began to rhapsodize about his girlfriend, the entire sketch was frozen and the lights were dimmed on the debate stage.
Enter James Austin Johnson, in his recurring role as Trump: “How adorable,” he said, mocking the other candidates. “They actually think they’ve got a chance. Sad in some ways, but in other ways, funny. Can you believe it, folks? Ninety-one indictments, four trials. And I’m still the best choice. They’re all stuck behind me and there’s nothing they can do about it. Just like in real life.”
Johnson went on to mock the low poll ratings of his Republican rivals: “One percent, very low,” he said, indicating Walker. “Lower than, frankly, milk. Apparently there’s a milk lower than 1 percent. People are calling it skim, we’ve never had it, we don’t drink it.”
And he offered a satirical meta-commentary on Higgins, the actor playing DeSantis. “Poor Ron DeSantis,” Johnson said. “Even ‘S.N.L.’ doesn’t think he has a chance. If they did, it’d be like Paul Rudd or something in there, right?”
But mostly, he talked about himself: “Isn’t it sad, folks?” Johnson said. “None of them can beat Joe Biden. The worst president since, frankly, me.” Why hasn’t Trump appeared at the debates? As Johnson explained it: “I’m very, very busy. I’m going from trial to trial. I’m basically doing ‘House Hunters’ but with courtrooms.”
Johnson complained about the fact that he was being put on trial at all: “They’re saying I committed fraud,” he said. “Not true, OK? Not true. I’ve committed a lot of things. Adultery, treason, a lot of fraud, perhaps.”
But on the witness stand, Johnson said he was on his best behavior: “The judge asks, ‘Did you approve these financial reports?’” he explained. “And I very respectfully say, ‘You’re a dumb-ass. This is a sham. When I’m president again, I’ll have you executed.’”
Bringing the debate and the sketch to a conclusion, Johnson said, “I’ll pick one of these lucky five to be my VP, or in many ways, I will not at all. Maybe in my third term.”
Opening monologue of the week
Chalamet, who was hosting “S.N.L.” for the second time, expressed relief that a deal had been reached between the actors of the SAG-AFTRA union and the Hollywood entertainment studios, ending a monthslong strike and allowing him to flog upcoming projects like his film “Wonka.”
Picking up a cane, Chalamet began to poke fun at the self-promotional opportunities that he could now indulge, singing a song set to “Pure Imagination” from the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Its lyrics ran, in part:
“If you want to view a three-and-a-half hour film
Go see “Killers of the Flower Moon”
Or just wait for Part 2 of “Dune”
Just make sure before to use the bathroom …”
In the latter part of the monologue, Chalamet and Marcello Hernández performed a bawdy tribute to their status as baby-faces — presumably, the material they had prepared in case the strike wasn’t resolved by this weekend.
Not-phoned-in performance of the week
A round-table segment paying satirical homage to the 50th anniversary of hip-hop may not be the most revolutionary idea for a comedy sketch, though it provides a great showcase for cast members like James Austin Johnson and Punkie Johnson to show off their impressions of people like Rick Rubin and Mary J. Blige.
But what makes this memorable is Chalamet’s delightfully committed performance as a fictional (if frightfully successful) young rapper with the stage name of SmokeCheddaThaAssGetta, who knows nothing about the history of his chosen genre and has no business being on the panel. There’s also the sight of Chalamet being spanked by Kenan Thompson (playing Cornel West), the soon-to-be viral GIF from which the whole sketch, one assumes, was reverse engineered.
Impersonation showcase of the week
Yes, there was already the sketch about the Republican debate and the hip-hop round table. But for good measure, why not throw in one more segment that lets Chloe Fineman and the “S.N.L.” cast show off their talents for pretending to be other famous people?
That is the duty fulfilled by this short film in which the best-selling memoirist Britney Spears (Fineman) reveals that, before choosing Michelle Williams to read the audiobook of “The Woman in Me,” she had tried out other readers as well. Feel free to admire the sheer versatility of Fineman (who also plays Chalamet, Julia Fox and Natasha Lyonne in the sketch); the levels of inside baseball (Sarah Sherman and Michael Longfellow as the “S.N.L.” alums John Mulaney and Bill Hader); or the weirdness of James Austin Johnson as Werner Herzog.
Weekend Update jokes of the week
Over at the Weekend Update desk, the anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che continued to riff on the Republican debate, the F.B.I. investigation into Mayor Eric Adams of New York and President Biden’s re-election efforts.