Saturday Night Live
Maybe it was the slow but steady growth over the six seasons of an unassuming Canadian export. Maybe it was because people needed simple joys in the early days of quarantine. Maybe it was all about recognizing amazing eyebrows. Whatever the reason, Schitt’s Creek swept its Emmys categories in 2020 and co-creator-showrunner-writer-actor-director-producer Dan Levy’s star rose significantly with American showbiz types. Levy, like last week’s host, John Krasinski, represents a decision on the part of SNL to start the year with some gentle, loving, reliable comedy. He rose to the occasion during the show, showing fans a lot more than just little permutations of David Rose.
As usual, this week’s sketches are presented here ranked from best to worst.
In this parody of ’90s phone-sex commercials, we learn what really makes people in their late 30s horny: real-estate listings. Zillow is there to fulfill hot, late-night desires with expensive properties that let surfers enjoy fantasies of lives unlived. The tone is right, the innuendo is pitch-perfect, and the observation at the heart of the sketch is painfully apt. The writers also take a really fun turn with the appearance of ReMax realtor Donna Lazzarini (Cecily Strong). In just two brief moments, Strong douses the fires of real-estate lust with a bucket of ice-cold reality. While her part amounts to a walk-on, she still kills. While Gen Z may not have direct experience with the source material, this will be the water-cooler bit of the week for the middle-aged.
While Joe Biden is the focus at the outset of Update, it’s Marjorie Taylor Greene and Donald Trump who unsurprisingly get most of the attention. Colin Jost pulls apart Greene’s defense of her noxious conspiracy theories (“Nobody’s perfect”) with precision. Jost also gets points for introducing Trump as a “former social-media influencer,” and egging him on to testify in next week’s impeachment trial. Michael Che has a great joke about Jeff Bezos stepping down as Amazon CEO, though it takes a second to sink in with the audience in 8H. The first guests are Lowell Fitzroy and Janet Noonan (Mikey Day and Heidi Gardner), self-appointed culture warriors who cancel toddlers online. The characterizations take a backseat to the writing here, which is really sharp. Even those on the left will recognize how closely this exaggerated outrage comes to real behavior online.
The second chunk of Update is significantly shorter, and none of the jokes live up to the material in its first segment. Kenan Thompson and Chris Redd come on as the YouTube sensation TwinsTheNewTrend, who make reaction videos for old songs. As there’s a good amount of acting apparent in those videos, that’s the game here as Che plays everything from “Baby Shark” to the SNL theme. As with the Twins’ channel, the individual lines don’t matter as much as the vibe and their reactions. Redd and Thompson bring an enthusiasm that makes up for the lack of scripted gags.
Super Bowl Pre-game Show Cold Open
A massive slate of CBS hosts (Kenan Thompson, Beck Bennett, Chris Redd, Mikey Day, Alex Moffat) consider the upcoming Super Bowl match-up; there’s talk of pre-game rituals, previews of commercials, and chats with the teams’ coaches. When coupled with last week’s opening, this one indicates SNL is taking a helpful post-Trump breather from the usual political sketches. The game, we’re told by multiple news outlets, represents a chance for America to set aside its partisanship for a few hours. Here, there’s a lot of funny tit-for-tat involving ostensible advertisers, and the Papa John’s ad is both the most unsettling and closest to home. Aidy Bryant’s turn as both Andy Reid and Bruce Arians is particularly delightful, right down to a winking, self-referential gag that confirms she’ll need a moment to change costumes.
Super Bowl Pod
A group of friends (Beck Bennett, Heidi Gardner, Chris Redd, Kyle Mooney, Dan Levy) gather for the Super Bowl and take off their masks because they’ve all been doing “everything right.” In their quest to remain safe and socially distant, however, each friend has had some lapse of vigilance. This scene, undoubtedly, will be taking place in some form across the country today — just as it has for many months among those who wrestle to balance personal responsibility and otherwise normal social behavior. The confessions all have fun twists to them, and the character’s ready excuses for their friends are spot-on. Having the cast eat chili with their hands (to avoid sharing utensils) is a nice way to heighten their automatic justifications for bad behavior.
Lifting Our Voices
This BET special acknowledges the white allies that have been “part of the Black American struggle” since Harriet Beecher Stowe. A kooky math teacher (Aidy Bryant), an overzealous protester (Dan Levy), and a worshipful husband (Kyle Mooney) come on to reinforce their advocacy, Black friends (Punkie Johnson, Chris Redd, Ego Nwodim) in tow. The slightly misguided enthusiasms of each ally is laid out nicely, and all the white players dig into their self-deluded heroes. In particular, Mooney goes all in playing the cloying, creepy artist — and Nwodim looks about ready to crack while he goes on about greens on the stovetop and the “deep, sweet fruit” of their love. All in all, it’s a nicely cringey take on allyship that Kenan Thompson’s host sums up well: “This was fun. I doubt we will ever do it again.”
It Gets Better
This filmed short asks former youth participants what has improved in their lives in the ten years since the It Gets Better movement. While most things are positive, the subjects (Bowen Yang, Kate McKinnon, Punkie Johnson, Dan Levy) also have problems with taxes, iguanas, and criticism from other gay people. The message here is a subtle one, and well articulated: As the culture becomes slowly more accepting, the LGBTQ community faces “problems previously only available to straight people.” The particulars feel nicely honest, even if they’re uncomfortable: the organized bullying of other gay people, the legalization of gay divorce, the idea that wearing gym shorts makes people think that you’re a fighter, rather than your girlfriend. McKinnon has a lot of heavy lifting to do with the iguana stuff, but she makes it work.
A bar’s TV breaks during the Super Bowl, and while waiting for a new set, the bartenders (Cecily Strong, Dan Levy) try to distract patrons with an ostensible football song. The song, “Hot Damn,” becomes an elaborate number involving dance shorts, tap shoes, and carrying on about “football holes” and kissing between players. While there’s an awful lot of exposition and explaining to do in the sketch’s first half, things get much better once the song-and-dance takes over. The lovely silliness is exemplified by the collective dance break behind the bar. As all the patrons start to join in, Kenan Thompson is naturally left to react to all the wackiness — and keeps things just grounded enough.
Two wedding guests (Kate McKinnon, Dan Levy) wait until the middle of the ceremony to raise objections about the groom (Mikey Day) their friend (Ego Nwodim) has chosen. McKinnon and Levy have a nice agreement on the tenor of their partygoers: passive-aggressive, wheedling, and ultimately, fickle. As they dip and dodge the underlying truth, they work their way into a wordless squeal that’s the best bit of the sketch. It relies a lot on the chemistry between McKinnon and Levy, which is great, but it could use a few more hard jokes.
On the Universal Studio lot tour, a trainee (Dan Levy) who has had too much coffee veers off the usual scripted patter. His trainer (Mikey Day) can’t stop him from going on about everything from movie-related conspiracy theories to confessions about why Wayne Knight kills his erections. (From behind the wheel of the tram, on the subject of “softeners,” Ego Nwodim delivers the underappreciated line of the night: “Goofy dudes don’t get it slick for me.”) As it is with a lot of caffeine-goosed brains, there’s no real thread between the thoughts, and not all of them are worth airing. That said, Levy has a twitchy sort of giddiness to him that makes the sketch feel worthwhile.
Dan Levy Monologue
After reminding the audience at home about Schitt’s Creek, Levy takes viewers on a backstage tour for a look at SNL under quarantine. For the most part, this involves lots of plexiglass, antiviral mists, and pool noodles to enforce social distancing. Once Levy leaves the stage and starts moving through the hallways, the sketch has pacing problems. The patter can’t quite fill the gaps between gags, and the gags themselves don’t have much to them. (And some, like Kenan Thompson talking to people in those inflatable bumper balls, are a bit too far off to land.) The best moment arrives with Dan’s dad, Eugene Levy, who cheers on his son while enclosed in a safe, translucent box.
Despite this being his SNL debut, Dan Levy seemed at home and unfazed throughout the night. He was happy to get silly with the cast, and there was not a hint of David Rose’s entitled snottiness in any of the characters he played. The writers deserve credit for that, as well as for articulating a number of unspoken or under-appreciated bits of the zeitgeist. The underlying observations in “Zillow,” “Super Bowl Pod,” “Lifting Our Voices,” and “It Gets Better” were all carefully laid out, and show off the rewards of thoughtful social satire. Next week looks to be the last show of this run, with actor-director-badass Regina King hosting and Nathaniel Rateliff as the musical guest.
More Saturday Night Live
- Tim Robinson Describes the Coffin Flop They Couldn’t Film
- Jim Belushi Has Always Been an Outsider
- Tim Robinson Is Sorry for Yelling