Saturday Night Live Recap: Woody Harrelson Gets Wasted

Saturday Night Live

Woody Harrelson
Season 48 Episode 13
Editor’s Rating 2 stars

Saturday Night Live

Woody Harrelson
Season 48 Episode 13
Editor’s Rating 2 stars
Photo: NBC/Will Heath/NBC

An SNL monologue isn’t always a weather vane for how the rest of the episode will turn out. The host could be a stand-up comic who kills for ten minutes up top before having a mediocre rest of the night, or it could be a rising star who sings a jokeless song about how New York is the best or whatever and then delivers the goods in one solid sketch after another. This week’s episode, though, had the least funny and most discomfiting monologue in ages, which proved to be a prescient indicator of things to come.

Something was in the air in Studio 8-H during national treasure Woody Harrelson’s latest SNL monologue, and it wasn’t weed smoke, just bad vibes. Weed was part of the problem, however. Somehow, nobody seems to have told the host — an elder statesman of marijuana advocacy — that weed is now legal in nearly half the country and thus no longer particularly cool. It’s awesome, but it isn’t cool. It’s what your dad eats a little of in gummy form to fall asleep faster. And yet Harrelson’s monologue leaned heavily once more on this most creaky aspect of his public persona, either affecting being stoned, actually being stoned, or making a compelling case for the long-term degenerative effects on the public-speaking ability that come with being stoned all the time. In any case, things got off to a rocky start with the fifth-time host emerging, arms akimbo, alluding to an imminent induction into the Five-Timers Club that didn’t happen. (During the closing credits, fellow five-timer Scarlett Johansson finally presents him with a ceremonial jacket.) What exactly is going on here? If Harrelson wasn’t going to get his jacket, then it should have either gone unmentioned or it should have at least had some joke attached to it. As is, it seems as though some backstage drama spilled over into the spotlight, or Harrelson misread the cue cards. What followed makes a strong case for either possibility: The host rambled through a halting and overlong story about getting stoned in Central Park three years ago while reading a movie script. It was a massive dud well before it culminated in an antivaxx conspiracy theory with the “script” turning out to be an allegory about Big Pharma orchestrating pandemic panic to sell unnecessary vaccines. Harrelson has a right to his opinions, but it’s neither a defense of Big Pharma nor liberal priggishness to suggest that this bizarre and unfunny polemic should have been left out of the show. One wonders how it ever made it in to begin with and whether its inclusion had anything to do with the Five-Timers Club misfire early on. Ugh: Conspiracy thinking begets further conspiracy thinking.

Post-monologue, the odds were still in the show’s favor. Harrelson has been a reliably funny presence in film and television for over 35 years, and the episode had nowhere to go but up. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Rather than get high with this episode, Harrelson gets wasted.

One of the most scathing critiques of the show comes from an old episode of The Simpsons in which Krusty the Clown hosts SNL. During a sketch called “The Big Ear Family,” Krusty walks onto a living-room set wearing giant prosthetic ears before revealing an equally large Q-tip. When nobody laughs, he groans: “This goes on for 12 more minutes.”

No single sketch from this week’s episode is quite that bad. A couple of them are pretty great, even. However, several seem to have one central joke, like “The Big Ear Family,” established early on and then repeated ad nauseam with little to no heightening or evolution. There are the nosy prison guards who continue to be nosy, the guy who intermittently passes out during a theme park ride and keeps doing so, the mother who is creepily enamored with her son and remains as such, and so forth. Loads of successful sketches throughout history have hinged on one main joke, but the best ones never feel that way. In a morass of sketches that miss the mark, the most consistently entertaining part of this episode was the succession of goofy wigs Harrelson donned throughout the night.

Here are the highlights from the episode.

Trump Train Visit Cold Open

Although James Austin Johnson continues broadening his range — his Bill Walton during this episode’s “Weekend Update” is a hoot — Trump is still his greatest asset. Johnson’s command of the former president’s stream-of-consciousness prattle is unparalleled, and it’s put to worthy use here in mimicking Trump’s odd recent address to the residents of East Palestine, Ohio. When he gets back on track after a side tangent about Rihanna by saying, “But your train exploded …” viewers can’t help but explode with laughter.

Please Don’t Destroy — The Stakeout

It would be a little funny if, in this sketch, Martin Herlihy and John Higgins were simply dating each other and excluding Ben Marshall from post-work hangs. Since this is “Please Don’t Destroy,” though, Herlihy and Higgins instead have a “secret beautiful life” together — complete with dino nuggets for their children — while holding auditions for Marshall’s replacement. Zany maximalism is the trio’s superpower, and they continue finding fun ways to apply it.


This sketch wrings every last drop of humor out of using military call-and-response cadence to discuss non-military topics, but it’s more lasting contribution is, of course, introducing to the world the majestic phrase, “Mr. Dingleberry’s Goochballoon.”


Once you know how “Cologuard” actually works, it sure seems weird that the anthropomorphic boxes from those commercials are so chipper. This episode’s standout sketch takes this observation to its furthest conclusion, with sentient Cologuard boxes that are a little too happy with their lot in life. Every fresh detail here is funnier than the last, especially Thomas the box’s preferred word for defecation: “unleash.” Also, as much as I dragged the monologue’s overdependence on Harrelson’s prodigious weed use, the meta-joke about it at the end of this sketch is a perfect grace note to end on.

Weekend Update

“Update” felt looser and zippier than usual in this episode, which worked to its benefit. Che and Jost both deliver some of their jokes with genuine surprise and delight, like they’d either never seen them before or the jokes had been tweaked since they last saw them. Considering the history of such things on the show, perhaps that’s exactly what happened.

Stray Observations

• The guy in the audience whom Harrelson points to during the monologue and claims as his weed-smuggling manager is, in fact, his actual manager: Jeremy Plager.

• I love that Kenan Thompson’s jail guard distinguishes which pop culture Chucky he is referencing as “Rugrats Chucky, not Knife Chucky.”

• While the above mentioned theme-park-ride sketch is a bit too repetitive, Thompson’s passed-out face makes for an even better special effect than the green screen here.

• The fact that Harrelson mentions the Five-Timers Club jacket, seemingly improvised, while introducing musical guest Jack White for the first time, is another hint that something went awry during the opening monologue.

• The “Hippo” sketch waits just the right amount of time before revealing the sausage fingers on Harrelson’s fat suit.

• In the “Beautiful Gym” sketch, new cast member Michael Longfellow is confined behind a piano that’s mostly in the background for the second time in the past two months.

• Interestingly, Harrelson played a coach during each of his last two SNL episodes, but did not do so this time — despite playing a coach in the forthcoming movie he is there to promote.

Saturday Night Live Recap: Woody Harrelson Gets Wasted