Saturday Night Live Recap: Quinta Brunson Teaches How It’s Done

Saturday Night Live

Quinta Brunson
Season 48 Episode 16
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

Saturday Night Live

Quinta Brunson
Season 48 Episode 16
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: NBC/Will Heath/NBC

After two weeks off, the cast and crew of SNL came back rejuvenated as hell with a crackling live-wire extravaganza. The show hit a season low last month with Woody Harrelson’s episode, which was mired by simple premises that mainly produced variations on a single joke. This week’s show, led by up-for-anything debut host Quinta Brunson, was the spiritual opposite. Most of the sketches could scarcely be described in a single sentence. It was high-concept, through and through. Even “Weekend Update” had an avant-garde premise, getting through two full minutes of muted laughter from the studio audience before Michael Che revealed he coached them not to laugh at Colin Jost; meanwhile, the Please Don’t Destroy guys ditched their formula entirely to play different characters for the first time. Not every single sketch fully connected, but they were all imbued with a risk-taking vitality that was riveting to watch.

Here are the highlights:

Trump Indictment Cold Open

Donald Trump only got indicted Thursday evening, meaning James Austin Johnson and the other writers had just 48 hours to put this sketch together. You wouldn’t know it from watching. The jokes are brutal, and there are so many of them. A loose framework about Trump putting out an album entitled Now That’s What I Call My Legal Defense Fund gives Johnson songs to jump into and guests to bring on in between joke riffs. The funniest aspect may be the parts where Johnson breaks kayfabe to speak directly to the SNL audience while remaining in character. “That’s a very real thing, very disturbing,” he says when first mentioning “Justice for All,” the hot new single by Trump and the J6 Prison Choir, and later on, he pauses to say of his pal Don King, “He murdered a guy, can you believe it?” Making this sketch all the more clever, though, is that promoting an album with an infomercial feels like a natural next step for Trump after he released his own brand of NFT trading cards earlier this year.

Quinta Brunson Monologue

This monologue has everything: a feel-good story about Brunson’s lifelong desire to host Saturday Night Live, a heart-filled message about the importance of teachers, and a killer joke about the pristine whiteness of Friends. Although she puts most of her introductory emphasis on Abbott Elementary, the hit sitcom she created and currently stars in, it’s Brunson’s experience with the HBO series A Black Lady Sketch Show that is perhaps most crucial to her performance on SNL. Her palpable excitement during the monologue betrays the fact that she handles every sketch to come like a seasoned sketch-comedy pro, because she is one.

“Drug Dealer”

Speaking of pristine whiteness, this silly sketch exists solely to rake Caucasity over the coals. Despite the complicated setup, it’s essentially a symphony of “Yo Mama” jokes about white behavior, and I felt most personally attacked by the Noah Baumbach one.

“Couple Goals”

For the first several minutes of this sketch, the jokes are few and seem designed to elicit only small, nervous laughter. It’s not even clear what exactly is happening: Is this sketch really about a guy who is terrified, for the most selfish of reasons, that his wife will become gravely injured like his mother? By the time it becomes clear that, yes, that is indeed what’s happening, the sketch is well on its way to a knockout of a punch line that makes the whole journey worth it. SNL sketches rarely get this dark or reward patience so richly.

“Weekend Update”: Marcello Hernández on Being a Short King

Marcello Hernández and Michael Longfellow seem to be locked in some kind of arms race to determine which new cast member can get more and funnier desk pieces on “Update.” This week, the two went head-to-head in the same episode. Though Longfellow’s performance as Michelangelo’s David certainly had its moments, Hernández took a subject lingering in the discourse for a long time — short kings — and presented what felt like the definitive take on them. There’s a lot of funny stuff happening here — from the interplay with Colin Jost to the alternate titles for short kings to the long list of diminutive male celebrities — and it all gels together in a satisfying way. Although Hernández may have won this round, the comedic battle between him and Longfellow on “Update” is like a reverse Alien vs. Predator: No matter who wins, we win.

Stray Observations

• In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it joke, the full name of the game-show host in the “Couple Goals” sketch is revealed to be “Bob Dabilda.”

• The traffic-altercation sketch would have hit so much harder had it been 90 seconds shorter, but it was still inventively staged and well performed. Mikey Day mimed the act of peeling a carrot in order to communicate “shame on you” so many times that I just assumed it was the actual correct ASL sign for that phrase. It turns out it’s not, though.

• I may admittedly have limited knowledge about the internal mechanics of bridal parties, but between the complicated T-shirt survey and forcing the group to write original lyrics set to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme, the Netflix cult-doc parody appeared to be hewn out of the painfully lived-in experience.

• The best “Weekend Update” jokes tend to be topical but unexpected, succinct, and with a strong visual element. This is the platonic ideal of a “Weekend Update” joke: “Trump is reportedly being charged with 34 counts of business fraud. Business Fraud is also what they call the Trump costume at Spirit Halloween.”

• Bowen Yang’s gloriously weird midwife sketch may have had the most “ten to 1” energy of any sketch I’ve ever seen that did not, in fact, air at ten minutes to 1 a.m.

• It is a testament to Brunson’s comedic range that she could mirror Sarah Sherman’s uniquely horny energy in the “Bosses” sketch so effectively but also make it her own.

• This week’s Please Don’t Destroy sketch contributed an iconic mispronunciation of the word bodega to the canon with “bah-duh-guh.”

SNL Recap: Quinta Brunson Teaches How It’s Done