After a slightly rocky but still solid start to 2021 with John Krasinski and Machine Gun Kelly, NBC's Saturday Night Live returned this weekend with host Dan Levy and musical artist Phoebe Bridgers. Before I do a deeper dive into what worked and what didn't, overall this outing was a dramatic improvement over last week- with way more sketches working than didn't a whole lot of standouts. Also, I didn't know much about Bridgers (and while that speaker looked like it was bought from the WWE) but now? Holy s**t that guitar riff at the end of her second song was insane (and it was nice to see the fine art of guitar-smashing return to the stages of SNL) and now we're adding another name to our list of artists we need to hear more from.
After a couple of initial glitches, the cold open was a nice dig at Super Bowl pre-game shows. While The Papa John's-QAnon commercial hit on so many levels, I thought the standouts were Aidy Bryant doing double-duty as Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians (Bryant had me with the "ask slowly" moment), and Beck Bennett's Boomer Esiason. I wish it wasn't the end of the NFL season because Bennett's Esiason has a ton of over-the-top, inappropriate potential.
I was surprised they went the "backstage tour" roue with the opening monologue instead of "audience Q&A"- and a little disappointed. When SNL would "take us backstage" in the past, it's worked because there's been a full live studio audience to hear reacting and usually random stuff going on in the hallways and dressing rooms. This one didn't have that (understandably in some instances considering COVID) and it came across a little too quiet. Of course, Eugene Levy in a glass case can save any sketch or monologue- and it was a nice segue to the next sketch.
This sketch and the "It Gets Better" sketch later are all you need to know in this episode about why Levy's popularity is on the rise. His jacked-up-on-caffeine tour guide trainee was spot-on with his obliviousness to what he was saying and who he was saying it to (and I can now add "softener" to my sexual innuendo dictionary). Also, props to Mikey Day's senior tour guide for being the appropriate "Ted Knight" for the moment and Bowen Yang's oh-so-appropriate cameo that goes oh-so-wrong.
All you need to know how well this sketch hit with viewers is that "Zillow" was suddenly trending on a Saturday night- with a whole lot of people suddenly feeling like SNL is tracking their real late-night online deep-dives.
All I'm going to say is this. I can think of at least five people in my life who I wish I could send this to anonymously as a bit of a "woke wake-up" call. Bryant's nightmarishly funny "Dangerous Minds-gone-wrong" teacher, in particular:
"Weekend Update' was a standout yet again, and that's mainly because I believe in Colin Jost and Michael Che as a writing team and as individual writers who are committed to maintaining the tradition of being SNL's "news desk." Perfect example: the duo has enough of a comfort level so that Che can make a joke about Jost teaching disgraced country music singer Morgan Wallen (looks like the SNL debacle was foreshadowing) how to use the "n-word" for them to take a bigger shot at the singer who should've never been given a second chance in the first place. Also, TwinsTheNewTrend should be a recurring thing for Kenan Thompson and Chris Redd because it worked. Finally, that "Cancel Children" segment with Day and Heidi Gardner is a perfect example of how if you're going to go down a route that's going to make the audience moan with discomfort then make them feel so uncomfortable that they can't help but laugh. I was surprised and impressed by how far they went with the "tweets" (the "c" in "c-section" standing for "cancel" was just one example) and Day and Gardner sold it with just the right about of douchey.
The easiest, down-n-dirty takeaway from the following sketch is that Levy and Kate McKinnon need to star in an R-rated buddy road-trip comedy as soon as possible. But don't sleep on Ego Nwodim, who has been a constant of comedic quality this season, or Day for giving back to Levy and McKinnon as good as they were getting and Punkie Johnson is strong support..
One of the best sketches of the night, swaying back and forth from the absurd (McKinnon's iguana nightmare) and the all-too-real (Levy, looking like he's auditioning for The DaVinci Code) to the feeling judged (Yang's social media nightmares trying to fit in) and the brutally real (Johnson, with some sage advice on when and when not to wear shorts). And through it all, a realistic recognition and celebration of the "It Gets Better" movement ten years later.
Which isn't to say that everything was a hit for us. "Hot Damn" left me staring blankly at the screen- not a reflection on the cast as much as it just didn't work for me and felt like a "ten-minute-five-minute" sketch. "Super Bowl Pod" suffered from a build that went nowhere, with the point across by the first minute- leaving three minutes for a lot of dead horse-beating. As for "Men's Cosmetics," I like it but would've enjoyed it more about a decade ago because most guys these days know they're using pretty much the same kind and amount of product now as women do (just look at the annual sales for men's care products).