‘SNL’ Recap, Season 49, Episode 4: Timothée Chalamet

Photo: NBC/Lauren Clements/NBC

Like the upcoming Wonka, this week’s Saturday Night Live is a music-heavy reboot starring Timothée Chalamet.

Although the dreamy, diminutive star sang and sort of rapped on his early-COVID hosting debut, that episode was but a mere vocal warm-up for what was to come: a show in which Chalamet either sings or is sung to no less than six times. Both the “Tiny Horse” ballad and mega-viral Xan Mob sketch from 2020 are reimagined this week, like beloved IP. They are joined by an even less likely revival during the monologue — the return of Chalamet’s real-life rap alter ego, Lil Timmy Tim, first introduced in an unearthed 2012 performance at LaGuardia, a.k.a. the high school from Fame. Fortunately, the sonic adventurousness in this episode is either matched or exceeded by the creativity and humor fueling it.

Welcome to the weirdest, funniest SNL of season 49 so far.

Although credit obviously goes to the entire team, Chalamet is outstanding as a host. Viewers can be forgiven if this comes as something of a surprise. (It did to your recapper, anyway.) Between the Dune franchise and Wonka, Chalamet is becoming a bona fide Movie Star before our very eyes, but his public perception has previously seemed stuck in the zone of Chloe Fineman’s impression of him, brought back here during the Britney Spears audiobook sketch, which depicts him as a giggling ninny who wears his fame like he won it in a contest.

That is not the Timothée Chalamet who showed up to SNL. This guy is composed, committed, self-aware, and a surprisingly solid MC to boot. Best of all, he is joyful. During the monologue, Chalamet couldn’t possibly look happier rapping about the perils of having a babyface alongside fellow toddler-punim Marcello Hernandez and a Nicki Minaj-ified Punkie Johnson. He may have broken a couple of times throughout the night, but he never stopped having fun or funny in an episode that started strong and got better as it went along.

Here are the highlights:

SNL is innovating its political satire. In past electoral cycles, the show has been guilty of slavishly recapping every debate, letting no gaffe or bonkers outburst go unmocked. This week’s cold open, however, breezes through the details, giving viewers just a quick laugh with the many debut impressions of these candidates, before arriving at another of the episode’s sequels: a follow-up to the fourth wall-busting Trump bit that kicked off last season’s Easter episode. This time, James Austin Johnson’s ebullient Trump assesses what the choice of performer who plays each candidate says about those candidates’ electoral odds — as riveting to watch as it is funny — before turning his observational prowess back on himself in excoriating fashion. All told, it’s smart, sly commentary on the utter pointlessness of these debates and an optimal use of Johnson’s continually impressive impersonation.

Heidi Gardner proved a gifted physical comedian when she debuted this character back in April, and again as a manic secretary in the season premiere. This time around, it just feels like a victory lap. The eyebrow-gymnastics that underline the character’s tortured sarcasm are as wild as before, as are the trajectories of her many tossed cell phones, but like all successful retreads, there’s some heightening here. Your Coworker only had to eat a few bites of salad before; this time, she is tasked with casually wolfing down a significant portion of a Chipotle burrito. In more ways than one, Gardner ate that up.

It’s hard to say whether this sketch works better if you are already up to speed on all things Troye Sivan or if this is your conceptual introduction to him. Oh boy, does it work, though, owing a lot to Bowen Yang’s exceptionally funny performance. For fans of musical guests boygenius, however, the highlight will probably be Julien Baker’s supercharged dancing.

The “super gurgly” keyboard funk of Chalamet’s music in this sketch had to be precisely as shitty as it is for this sketch to fly. Any better or worse, and something would have felt off. Also, congratulations to the Destroy Boys for managing to make what may be the world’s first funny joke involving Hamas.

What a major night for new cast member Chloe Troast. In addition to her spot-in impression of Dame Maggie Smithshe got a spotlight moment leading one of the more bizarre sketches in a night chock full of them. In a twist on Annie, Troast’s lonely orphan is gradually revealed to be unadopted for a good reason. Even her imaginary friend, the moon, played by Chalamet in a nod to both Georges Méliès and Pennywise the Clown, agrees. (“Don’t call me ‘silly moon,’” he says. “My concerns are very valid.”) Troast’s subterranean baritone gets a big laugh every time she busts it out, and the entire sketch seems in keeping with the kind of work that landed her on the show in the first place. Most new cast members are lucky to get a signature sketch in their rookie season, and Troast already has this one under her belt in episode four.

• Who could have possibly predicted that Molly Kearney would play Chris Christie this season? (And kill it.)

• Six minutes is a long time for an SNL monologue that doesn’t consist of a kickass comedian doing fresh standup. Ordinarily, the babyface rap would have been enough of a spectacle to give a flavor of the episode and get out, but the late-breaking resolution to the actors’ strike last Thursday was a significant enough event that it needed to be addressed somewhere — hence, the winking Wonka song and A.I. bit in this week’s overstuffed opening.

• While the other half of Chalamet’s rap group, Xan Mob, couldn’t be there for last night’s sequel to the mega-viral hip-hop roundtable sketch, we do learn what became of Pete Davidson’s character Gwap: he has become embroiled in the Eric Adams scandal and is waylaid in Turkey.

• The Smirking Kevin James meme finally made it to SNL, courtesy of the audiobook audition sketch and Molly Kearney.

• The section of the Britney Spears memoir read by Fineman’s Julia Fox, in which Justin Timberlake is revealed to be bad at sex, comes from an apocryphal excerpt that spread like wildfire on Twitter. It did not happen, even if it feels like the truth in our hearts.

• While the gym call sketch was the lone dud among the bunch, the “hullo?”-off between Mikey Day and Chalamet’s ‘roid-brained trainers almost makes it work.

• I was imagining how mystified viewers must be while watching the giant horse sketch live if they hadn’t seen the tiny horse sketch before, but then I realized that the combination of Gumby claymation, future-shock cybergoth aesthetic, and Johnson’s hard-fantasy wizard villain makes this thing just as baffling even with full context. Whether it jibes with any viewer’s personal taste is irrelevant. You simply must applaud the audacity of putting anything this transcendently weird and dumb on television.

• I’m not saying the Weekend Update jokes were more dark than funny this week, but the audience reaction to a few of them said as much loud and clear.

• The way Chalamet scream-enunciates the word “sucks” in the Calm app sketch sounds like he was asked to do vintage Adam Sandler (and nailed it).

• Alec Baldwin’s shockingly understated cameo in that sketch was the best thing he’s done on the show in years, and he barely did anything.

• Maybe the host should always say during the good-byes which of their famous friends is celebrating a birthday that day?

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