Saturday Night Live
The Office has been, for many, as essential 2020 viewing as Tiger King or The Queen’s Gambit. More than the forthcoming release of A Quiet Place Part II, or season three or Jack Ryan, this explains the timing of John Krasinski’s first SNL hosting gig. Like the episodes of his feel-good, family-friendly web series Some Good News, he was served up like so much chicken soup for the pandemic-weary soul. While success at SNL is never a foregone conclusion, Krasinski came in with the right skill set to excel as a straight man. He’s a genial, unflappable Regular Joe who can lean coy or catty, as the circumstance requires.
As usual, this week’s sketches are presented here ranked from best to worst.
While it takes Update some time to get on track this week, the segment does have some great jokes. The best construction goes to Michel Che’s gag about how he’ll be celebrating the new Harriet Tubman $20 bill. There’s a smart idea in Colin Jost’s about GameStop and the silly 2013 movie Now You See Me, but it requires just a bit too long of a walk to get there. Beck Bennett comes on as MyPillow Founder Mike Lindell, a “normal American ex-crack addict” who just happened to recommend martial law to former President Trump. While the decision to lean on Lindell’s past as an addict feels a bit cheap, Bennett’s commitment to his gawping, rapturous character is admirable. The description of his first, otherworldly communion with a pillow is worthwhile, too.
Once the hard jokes in Update move away from politics, they get more consistent. Whether they’re about the continuing toll of the coronavirus or new consumer options from McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, they feel both smart and breezy. Fran Lebowitz (Bowen Yang) drops in to complain about the same things she’s been complaining about since the ’80s, and Martin Scorsese (Kyle Mooney) loses his shit laughing. Yang is a surprisingly good Lebowitz; he’s got the tone, rhythm, and facial tics down. Mooney, for his part, provides just the right amount of over-the-top punctuation. It makes for one of the night’s best bits. Cecily Strong closes things out as Cathy-Anne, the woman always screaming outside Michael Che’s window. While there isn’t much new here, Strong’s confidence and precision makes the monologue work.
What Still Works Cold Open
Kate McKinnon, as herself, brings out representatives of institutions — social media, the stock market, the government — to find out whether or not they “still work” in 2021. Spoiler: Nothing works, not even the incredibly competent Tom Brady. This cold open deserves respect right away for stepping away from standard formats while still tackling national politics. The lunacy of Georgia rep Marjorie Taylor Greene (Cecily Strong) is a particular highlight, and the writers don’t have to push too hard to take her already insane views to further heights of insanity. Some choices do, at this point, feel redundant: O.J. Simpson already got the vaccine in the real world, which is odd, but the rote gags about guilt and ankle bracelets have remained the same since the mid-’90s.
Now that Georgia went blue in the presidential election and recent senatorial run-off, depictions of the state on TV shows have changed. People still have the accents, and visually fulfill their stereotypes, but they’re now Maddow-loving, avocado-toast-eating, MAGA-scorning residents of “Stacey Abrams country.” It’s a fun fantasy, and some of the reveals (e.g., “the Good Book” is a copy of Michelle Obama’s Becoming) are pretty playful. The sketch continues to provide opportunities for the other shoe to drop, so when it finally does, it’s satisfying.
While Zooming in from home about the GameStop stock madness, a financial correspondent (John Krasinski) frightens a couple of cable hosts with his excessively creepy twins (Kate McKinnon, Mikey Day). Before their first appearance, the unsettling props nicely foreshadow the arrival of the scary kids. The wigs, costumes, and makeup all provide a lovely The Shining-meets-Little-Lord-Fauntleroy vibe. Some careful choreography from McKinnon and Day sell the creep factor, though the best detail of the sketch has to do with which twin gets to apply mustard to their toast. Throughout, Krasinski’s fatherly pride and casual insouciance do a nice job of grounding out the weirdness.
In a time long ago, way back in the ’90s, a lot more lesbians lived the lives of “friends” who just happened to bunk in close quarters and behave like married couples. On this classic episode of Supermarket Sweep, Kris and Gina (Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon) have all the answers and all of the love. SNL writers know its hard to go wrong with the Bryant and McKinnon combo, and here they get to play together while playing on some ideas about discreet gay relationships of the past. The sketch does have a nice climax built in, as the ladies’ love derails the game (and the rest of the participants are oblivious to its barely disguised subtext).
Pandemic Game Night
Before friends in the Warren Street COVID Bubble can begin playing a board game, the FBI arrives to arrest one of them (Beck Bennett) for participating in the Capitol riot. It’s a big shock — and only the first of many arrests. At its heart, this sketch is about seeming betrayal within a pandemic bubble, and how someone might do the worst thing without their friends knowing about it. But because its focus is the violent insurrection, it feels like more of a rote indictment of the rioters — and makes the sketch feel lazier than it is. It has a couple of nice threads, though, including its shocked disavowals (“Not sweet, racist Angela!”) and the props each of them cart away upon being arrested, e.g., that single, stolen lectern.
This short film is a twist on the high-school movie scene in which the big brother (Krasinski) swoops in to protect his dorky sibling (Andrew Dismukes) from the school bullies. In this case, as the big brother presents his defense, he ends up revealing sadder, weirder facts than the bullies could have ever imagined. It’s clear where this one is going from the first gag, so the comedy relies on the specifics used to torture the dork. Some are unusual and clever; some are shit jokes. More interesting are the dork’s own whispered defenses, which make things more interesting than the expected humiliation.
Opening Credits Songs
As Nicole Kidman sings “Dream a Little Dream,” the theme for The Undoing, this soundtrack imagines other celebrities singing themes to their TV shows. This sets up a number of quick impressions, and while a few have craft to them, some are there just to help communicate a gag. Cecily Strong’s Julie Andrews and Chloe Fineman’s Kim Cattrall feel the clearest and cleanest; the funniest ideas come through with plays on The Queen’s Gambit and Succession. The last theme, which involves John Krasinski narrating his way through the opening montage of The Office, will no doubt satisfy the most fans. As a package, they’re cuter than they are funny, but the idea is interesting enough to carry a sketch.
John Krasinski Monologue
While Krasinski lets the audience know what a fan he is of SNL, and how honored he is to host, audience members (Alex Moffat, Ego Nwodim, Kenan Thompson) think of him as Jim from The Office to the point of delusion. Eventually, he kisses “Pam,” who is just the most proximate living person onstage (Pete Davidson). The pacing and the energy in this bit feel a bit off, but hey, it’s only the second sketch after a long break. Most importantly, it sets up Krasinski as the affable, charming everyman who most people know from the show they’ve been binging just to restore their emotional ballast.
After some great sex, an impressed woman (Chloe Fineman) finds out that her lover (Krasinski) has a Remy-like rat (Kyle Mooney) pulling his strings just like in the movie Ratatouille. Apparently, the rat gave up cooking after seeing an issue of Hustler magazine. SNL squeezed this in at just a couple minutes to 1am, and though there’s a funny premise here, it feels like a fragment of a sketch rather than something with an arc. Aidy Bryant in a roach costume? Always welcome. Pete Davidson chewing the scenery as a peeping tom “sex critic”? Sure, sure. There’s fun to be had here, though it’s not a great cohesive whole. At the least, the sketch nods to the crowdsourced pandemic musical by calling the rat Ratatouille.
All SNL sponcon can’t be Sara Lee or Totino’s. This sketch is ostensibly about Rocky and Dino (John Krasinski and Beck Bennett), the heavily accented, o.g. admen of Subway who feel threatened by new guy Brandon (Andrew Dismukes). But the star is really Subway, and Subway’s new Protein Bowls — for all those times you crave bologna atop a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce. Subway lets SNL writers make a Jared joke, hoping consumers will recognize that Subway is a company of good sports. There is a fun moment in which Rocky and Dino recreate their failed “$5 Footlong” jingle, but that doesn’t make it worth sitting through.
What signals a return to SNL normalcy more than a sloppy bit of snogging in the opening monologue? While the pandemic rages on, the show continues to find ways to make things look as they might in any other year — anyone worried about the health and wellbeing of the stars, well, that’s why you’re cringing on your couch at home. Krasinski does exactly what is expected of him, to play that affable everyman without making too much of a fuss. He doesn’t make much of a mark, but he doesn’t leave behind a stain, either. Odd, though, that Pete Davidson didn’t coax his pal, the musical guest Machine Gun Kelly, into some weird cameo.
Next week, another representative of a show that became pandemic comfort food comes to SNL: Dan Levy of Schitt’s Creek, with musical guest Phoebe Bridgers.