Kieran Culkin SNL Sketches Ranked: New Trump, Dionne Warwick and Tracy Morgan Drop In

Cecily Strong gets personal, makes a powerful statement about abortion rights dressed as a clown as “SNL” tackles GOP victories, Aaron Rodgers and Ice Cube vaccine controversies and more!

On a night that featured some pretty big deal guest stars, it was the regular talent and a very game and capable Kieran Culkin that helped this episode of “Saturday Night Live” really shine.

Don’t get us wrong, having the real Dionne Warwick come out to join Ego Nwodim’s take on “The Dionne Warwick Talk Show” was a true delight, and we’re always down for a Tracy Morgan appearance, but the show was strong enough it actually did not need them.

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Kieran may not have a comedic background, but we loved how fully embodied some of the strangest characters. This was an episode that was fully driven by strong character work and a great sense of fun from the cast.

You can tell how long some of these players have been working together, and how much fun they have doing it. Kenan Thompson and Chris Redd were clearly enjoying their time together, while Cecily Strong soared throughout the night.

She also had the night’s most poignant moment, from behind a red nose. Coming onto “Weekend Update,” Strong shared what certainly feels like her own abortion story, barely concealed by clownish buffoonery, as a push against Texas and anti-abortion legislation out there. It was beautifully performed and felt so raw.

The night also featured the debut of yet another James Austin Johnson impression, this time replacing Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump. As online fans already know, he’s got an incredible take on Trump’s tendency to ramble on, which we got to see twice in one segment.

And once again, he keeps getting prominent work in the Cold Open. We’re only five episodes in and he’s already making an incredibly huge impression in his very first season on the show. How long has it been since someone new came out this strong?

As usual, we’re ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Monologue, Cold Open, “Weekend Update” and any sketches that were cut for time but made their way online. We’ll skip the musical guests, because they’re not usually funny — unless Ashlee Simpson shows up. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week.

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The Jockey

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We have a feeling this was a Kyle Mooney production. He probably could have even played the lead, though Kieran Culkin did a great job in this pop-punk inspired story about –ahem– a horse jockey who rides his horse like a skateboard. Seriously, it was like Tony Hawk straight out of the ‘90s or something. We’re not at all sure what we were watching. And it wasn’t funny, it was just surreal and bizarre. Honestly, we’re a little surprised it wasn’t dropped in at the end as it certainly fits the tone of what’s usually there.

Monologue: Kieran Culkin

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While he talked a little about his role on “Succession,” mostly this was Kieran breaking down his appearance alongside brother Macaulay 30 years ago on this show. He shared a cute clip of him begging Kevin Nealon to pick him up and him hamming it up for the camera, offering his own brutal takedown of his own behavior. The whole thing was very sweet and a charming way to kick off the show.

Dionne Warwick Talk Show

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Another whirlwind of guests — including another tattooed artist that just terrified Ego Nwodim’s Dionne Warwick — but the real highlight was that we were building up to an appearance by the real Dionne, who was very game. We knew she was a fan of this sketch, which was created in response to her delightfully silly tweets, and she brought that same charm and confidence to this appearance, even gracing us with a song. The whole talk show format is so silly, with Ego’s Dionne dismissing everyone almost immediately (including Ed Sheeran), but it really is a sweet and affectionate impression.

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Cold Open: Judge Jeanine

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James Austin Johnson is quickly becoming the go-to guy for impressions in a way we’ve not seen since current announcer Darrell Hammond was in the cast. Today, we got probably the sharpest Trump impression we’ve seen yet from him. It was subtle and he nailed Trump’s cadence and delivery, sounding just like him in his quieter moments. He also rambled nonsensically for two (separate) minutes straight, much to Judge Jeanine’s (Cecily Strong) delight. It completely overshadowed Pete Davidson’s Aaron Rodgers at the top. With Trump clearly not out of the picture entirely, it’s nice to see that “SNL” has someone on the staff ready to bring him to life in a fresh and interesting new way.

Wake Up Rhode Island

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A nice dark twist to this wacky weatherman piece, but we felt it could have gone even further into the darkness. We really enjoyed the contrasting reactions from Kenan Thompson and Cecily Strong as the co-anchors working with Kieran Culkin’s weatherman, who spent too much time focusing on his turkey rap than on the weather — and missed a massive nor’easter. Punkie Johnson added just the right side story, which was also pretty dark, to round out the piece and make it feel a little more lived in — and disturbing.

Please Don’t Destroy: Calling Angie

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Always a delight this season, the latest PDD piece has one of the guys lamenting that he lost his girlfriend. And what we learned is that while guys can be vulnerable and sincere, they’re more likely to be jackasses in the actual moment. Is it a defense mechanism or are guys just this stupid. Perhaps a bit of both. We loved the escalation of what each guy said to Angie (surprising themselves), and her arrival in the room at the end was the perfect exclamation point. Comedy with a point of view. Who knew?

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Car Heist

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Chris Redd and Kenan Thompson have a brilliantly smooth rapport and it translated beautifully in this silly pre-taped sketch with Chris as a car thief and Kenan as the security guard he subdued. Chris played coolly confident idiot better than anyone right now and he had Kenan cracking up (in character) with his brilliant car heist that got derailed because the Lambo he was snatching was a stick shift — and he had no idea what that was. With visual humor and great support by his “team” outside, this was a great showcase for what Chris does well.

Weekend Update

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After a few cheap shots at the winners of last week’s elections across the nation, Colin Jost landed a real groaner with layers of humor when he targeted Trump doing the tomahawk chop during the Braves game he attended by doubling down on the racist stereotypes. It was both clever and cringey.

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Kenan Thompson brought his Ice Cube back to the desk to talk about losing a film project because he doesn’t want to get vaccinated, and he was having an absolute ball teasing all the other upcoming projects he has in the pipeline. But the highlight has to be the back-and-forth between him and Michael Che. It’s a great characterization and we love that after nearly two decades on this show we can see Kenan still having so much fun.

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We thought Jost took the cake with his breastmilk smoothies joke, but Che managed to turn a story about a woman trading drugs for sex at a pharmacy into a Cosby joke and we’re just done. There were then impotency jokes and Jost throwing Che under the bus about the “slippery slope” of gay marriage. We love this combative relationship they’ve developed as it creates some great moments.

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Cecily Strong came out as Goober the Clown and delivered a blistering diatribe about abortions and how they’re perceived in this country. Thinly veiled and powerfully presented, even under the guise of a half-assed clown, it was a poignant and powerful statement about one of the most controversial topics in America. Goober spoke her truth — it appears to be Cecily’s truth, too– to push back against Texas abortion laws and then smartly told Jost that they should probably just disable the comments, but they didn’t, and she’s mostly getting tremendous support for speaking out on the dark secret so many women feel they have to carry alone.

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CUT FOR TIME: A showcase for Kyle to do his signature sad sack gains audience sympathy by feeling like a loser. He used to do it as stand-up comedian Bruce Chandler, but this time it was as a guy named Brandon who totally misunderstood the “Let’s Go Brandon” movement as people genuinely trying to motivate him. As always, he played it well, but we were blown away by just how much sympathy he was getting from the audience. It was like a “Very Special Episode” of “Growing Pains” or something.

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Men’s Room

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As much fun as it was to see Tracy Morgan in a cameo toward the end, it actually hurt the momentum and flow of the sketch. The far stronger ending would have been to close with Alex Moffat’s inner monologue. The whole sketch was about how awkwardly uncomfortable men are in the men’s room, leading to some truly bizarre attempts at social exchanges. The pauses so each man could opine internally about what he was doing really elevated this piece. It was a beautifully silly, but perfect little sketch — until the end.

Cancelling Cable

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This was an elaborate piece with so many layers of humor, it was an absolute delight to watch start to finish. Kieran was a frustrated Spectrum customer just trying to cancel his service, and if you’ve ever done that with any cable provider, you know at least somewhat where this was going. Along the way, we checked in with almost every cast member through his various transfers, but some of the biggest highlights came from Cecily Strong as the recorded hold voice saying incredibly off-color, sexist and disturbing things. By the time we got to Bowen Yang (no spoilers here), we’d reached the apex of ridiculous and he could barely keep it together, a trait that carried over to Kenan at the end — but by this point, we were laughing enough that it only enhanced the experience.

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An interesting week in that outside of the Cable sketch, a lot of the major players hardly showed up anywhere else on the show. Instead, we got a lot of screentime for Kyle, Andrew, Chris, Mikey and Heidi.

But the clear stars of the show for us tonight where Kenan and Cecily, who were neck-and-neck throughout the night. Kenan cracked us up as the cable installation guy, doing his Chico Escuela voice, and he was fantastic just in his signature reactions as both the news anchor person opposite Kieran’s weatherman and Chris’ inept car thief. And then there’s Ice Cube.

It almost looked like a lock, but then there’s Cecily Strong dropping Judge Jeanine on us to start the show, and cracking us up with just her voice as the Spectrum hold adverts. She was also great playing it straight against the weatherman, but she really won us over with her deeply meaningful “Update” appearance as an abortion-talking clown.

In the end, it was just too close to call, so we’re going to have to give a rare tie to these “SNL” veterans, proving that so long as you love what you’re doing, it never gets old. And we’ll never get tired of you!

“Saturday Night Live” returns next week with host Jonathan Majors and musical guest Taylor Swift.

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