We open with this week’s duelling presidential town halls, the vibe, “poorly attended college lecture”.

On ABC, Joe Biden (Jim Carrey) fields softball questions with “a story and math problem”. Over on NBC, Savannah Guthrie begins by “tearing [Trump] a new one.” She asks the president (Alec Baldwin) to disavow white supremacists and QAnon conspiracy nuts, which of course he refuses to do, although he does express his hatred of pedophiles … right before giving a shoutout to his dearly departed friend Jeffery Epstein.

We volley between the channels, hitting all the expected targets, including the creepy audience member with the hots for Trump and the weird mask-wearing woman sitting behind the president nodding, either in agreement or because she was having a seizure. Concern for the latter brings out Kamala Harris, although there’s no reason other than to give Maya Rudolph some time – all of it wasted. We cut back to Biden’s show, which has turned into a gentle Mr Rogers/Bob Ross program, then back to Trump’s, which has devolved into WrestleMania.

It seems like this last-second joke might have made for a better premise on which to build the entire sketch, but it wouldn’t be a modern SNL cold open if it didn’t lazily ape already overexposed moments from the actual events.

So, just to be clear… pic.twitter.com/xnd6y0BooE

Issa Rae makes her hosting debut, talking about the awkwardness of her career picking up with Insecure this time four years ago, noting how “it was rude to be peaking right when democracy was collapsing”. She then goes on a tedious, painfully laugh-free monologue comparing being famous to being back in high school. Between the cold open and the monologue, one gets the bad feeling there’s going to be a lot of awkward pauses in this episode.

That is certainly the case with the first sketch, Bonjour Hi!, a French Canadian morning show whose entire point is to poke fun at how “everything is 25% different” and allow Rae, Bowen Yang and Kate McKinnon to do broad Franco-Canadian accents (Bowen’s is the best).

A commercial for 5-Hour Empathy introduces an energy drink that gives white people the ability to understand systemic racism and oppression. Unfortunately, a white liberal suburbanite is too scared to try it, as is his wife, who backs away saying, “I’m a woman … so it’s the same.” This feels like a holdover from last week. Let’s see if the same people who took offense at Bill Burr’s monologue will be equally mad at this sketch, since it’s making the same point.

First Date sees Rae and Chris Redd enjoying a meal on a restaurant’s outdoor patio. Things are going well until a series of her crazy ex-boyfriends – a street flower vendor, “Karate Man” and a silver-painted robot dancer – interrupt them. This all leads up to the revelation that she works as a Time’s Square Disney Princess. The chuckle-worthy repetition of the term “titty meat” aside, this is yet another tedious shrug of a sketch.

Justin Bieber is the musical guest, joined by Chance the Rapper for a performance of the Holy. Then Weekend Update opens with Colin Jost mocking Trump’s steroid-addled rambling during recent rallies – or “coronavirus giveaways”. Michael Che notes that NBC giving Trump his own town hall after he dropped out of a debate is par the course for the network. “We have a type,” he says, as pictures of Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer and Trump appear on screen.

The hosts are joined by Donald Jr and Eric, who do their usual Abbott and Costello routine, moron Eric mimicking his slick huckster brother while trying to eat his mask and getting drunk on hand sanitizer. Fourth Trump kid and perpetual fifth wheel Tiffany (Chloe Fineman), aka “Notvanka”, shows up and gives Eric a run for his money.

After a quick, funny cut away to a new segment, Aidy in America, in which a scared Aidy Bryant finds herself lost in a cow pasture somewhere in flyover country, and a surprisingly hilarious moment of Jost unintentionally committing vocal “blackface”, the hosts welcome their second guest, Famous 80s Cocaine Wife Carla (Heidi Gardner). The keyed-up party girl is there to talk about the effect of Covid on the nightlife economy, but she ends up having a full-on, “directed by David O Russell” style freak out.

🎶 Aidy in America 🎶 pic.twitter.com/Ma28TIHktY

Your Voice Chicago is a local issue talk show. Regarding the election, Rae’s pundit is committed to voting for black candidates down the line, regardless of their policies or background. Her commitment is tested when the candidates in one race are revealed to be Trump-loving, anti-mask, Fox News grifters in the mode of Diamond and Silk. It’s a solid idea but once more the jokes aren’t strong enough to carry it.

Bieber performs his second song, Lonely, morosely moving from his dressing room mirror to a lone spotlight on the stage. It’s all so overwrought that it plays like a bit.

A Covid-themed commercial for retro diner chain Jack Flatts is interrupted by a trio of basement-dwelling white separatists and their lone black friend. They furiously call for the reopening of their favorite restaurant and the cessation of masking and social-distancing protocols, while sheepishly threatening to “kidnap the governor”. The joke seems to be that these people are too pathetic to actually be taken seriously, although it’s too muddled to tell.

Up last is (yet another) Covid-themed commercial, this time for eBay, poking fun at people’s “overly optimistic” quarantine purchases: “Instead of reading the Odyssey, you watched every episode of Selling Sunset.” It’s fine, but of all the night’s sketches, this is the one that feels like it could have been a little longer.

In past seasons, even the worst episodes of SNL could usually be counted on to deliver one bizarre or memorable bit. But for the third straight week in a row, the show delivers not one memorable sketch. Hopefully, it will soon break out of its slump.

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