“Saturday Night Live’s” last episode before Thanksgiving was still pretty shell-shocked, continuing on from last week’s eyes-wide-shut attempts to be somehow smug and mournful simultaneously. Leaving behind any disingenuous pretense at neutrality, however, means the show can recycle Alec Baldwin’s kissy-faced sex badger Donald Trump while adding a fresh hit of sour regret to what has this year been on more than a few occasions only bland gestures toward “South Park”-style both-sidesism and pro forma feints at satire.

RELATED: Is Alec Baldwin’s Trump impression the best ‘SNL’ has ever seen?

It’s a slightly false move, given Baldwin’s scripted temper tantrum last week — when the show pretended to repudiate its part in the election and the final result — but now that the candidate “SNL” helped usher into relevancy has taken the job, perhaps the show can fall back into its stated principles: Speaking truth to power and lambasting the corrupt and the cruel.

Most Predictable Action/Reaction

Action: “SNL” takes aim at Trump’s lack of preparation for the job, walking back on campaign overpromises, awkwardness with and regarding his fellow Republicans; Trump googles then asks Siri how to deal with ISIS; Kellyanne Conway (Kate McKinnon) regrets her role in this absurdity, Mitt Romney (Jason Sudeikis) drops by… The whole thing is pretty standard — were it not for McKinnon’s transcendent Conway, which isn’t wholly accurate but is among “SNL’s” best impressions by virtue of the brittle truth beneath its tics, it could be happening in any year — especially given that the show held back the week’s true headlines (racial violence, “Hamilton,” Breitbart’s Bannon) for Weekend Update.


Most Magical Thursday of the Year

While the holidays turn our thoughts generally to Bobby Moynihan’s Drunk Uncle character, he was not in attendance — instead Wiig, a self-professed “Thanksgiving Freak,” spotlighted the holiday in one of the best opening monologues in years, and a musical number (never the show’s strong point) to boot: Singing a random collection of incorrect holiday facts with a growing onstage ensemble that eventually includes a superfluous Steve Martin, Will Forte, some space aliens, and a pretty righteous burn on Facebook’s “fake news” scandal from this week/throughout 2016.

Most Painfully Self-Aware

And we don’t mean in a Dan Harmon metafictional way, either: Watching the only pre-taped sketch of the night, digital short “The Bubble,” was like watching “SNL” pick sides in a war they knew had already ended. The snarky piece — Kyle Sweeney and Sasheer Zamata sell viewers on real estate within the bubble of left-centrism — offers great satire: Hybrid cars, used book stores, raw milk and a censored high speed internet that probably sends up your own Facebook feed over the past week, “Black Mirror” style.

Equally clever — and brutal — was a hip sendup of mainstream news coverage of the election and its aftermath, which saw Anderson Cooper (Alex Moffatt) presiding over a panel of political surrogates and media flunkies whose cycle of pump-and-dump sensationalism, smug retreats to cliche and shifting Overton window repeat themselves faster and faster until it is revealed that they are all “Westworld” android hosts who have begun to malfunction. While there’s something here for everyone — neither left nor right comes out unscathed — the overall tenor of the piece reminds us of the show’s progressive leanings with a subtlety and irony that has been of late in short supply.

Most Clearly Written/Inspired by Wiig

“Surprise Lady” ends strong — crashing through a glass door screaming “I love same-sex relationships!” with a turkey on her head is peak “Surprise Lady” Aunt Sue — but we were most pleased by an in-depth sketch which pit Wiig against Cecily Strong as neighbor/rivals simultaneously filming competing QVC host audition reels. The escalating insanity of pettiness and bizarre obsession, the ennui of its lonely middle-class setting, its fixation on singularly strange personalities are all classic Wiig: While not the showiest sketch of the night, it was a canny, comfy repackaging of Wiig’s most personal “SNL” delights.

…Or on a deeper level it could be this tiny, menacing fantasia on family themes that sees Macy’s parade balloons gain a terrifying sentience — and a few surprising friends…

Honorable Mention

While “Whiskers R We” is more properly a Kate McKinnon sketch, its winning formula bears the hallmarks of both women’s comedic styles: The central theme — a rambling, random list of more and more bizarre cat traits — is pure wild-eyed McKinnon, while the strange, be-sweatered, mysteriously horny cat-lady hosts are a great match for Wiig, who is at her absolute best when portraying uncanny, inscrutable characters like Gilly, Target Lady, or “Secret Word’s” fabulously untalented actress Mindy Elise Grayson.

All in all, a comfort-food evening for longtime viewers and Wiig fans, who probably weren’t expecting a canonical recitation of every role she ever played in her six years (and three Emmy noms) in the cast.

RELATED: 5 reasons Kate McKinnon won her first Emmy

What we can say is that Wiig’s presence dependably elevates most sketches from the ground up — both as a vet of the show and as a creative, charming individual in her own right.

Bonus: Wisten Kriig’s “Thanksgiving Foods”

Although this sketch didn’t make it to air, for reasons that should be clear, we’d be remiss in leaving it out. Wiig’s alter ego takes us on a tour of a strange holiday feast — between its paper-thin pretext and odd specificity, this sketch more than anything reminds us just why she’s one of the most beloved alumni to ever grace the 8-H stage.

“Saturday Night Live” returns, with Emma Stone & musical guest Shawn Mendes, Dec. 3 on NBC.

Posted by:Jacob Clifton

Austin writer & critic, formerly editorial at Tribune Media & Gawker; Television Without Pity, BuzzFeed, Austin Chronicle, Tor.com and more.