The 2016 episode schedule has somewhat hurt Saturday Night Live. Overall, it's been a good season, but the fits and starts with which it airs episodes has produced a disjointed effect in which it's difficult for those onstage, in the writer's room, or at home to develop any particular sort of rhythm. Bad episodes get amplified when aired adjacent to a long off period, and good episodes get lost when seemingly 50 new television shows debut during hiatuses.
So it's encouraging that SNL is kicking off a three-episode stint, giving a needed sense of continuity as the end of the season looms. Peter Dinklage performed well tonight, but there was a rusty, unfinished nature to many sketches that made me think that this show would have been markedly better with just another day to tweak, rehearse, and refine. There were lots of interesting concepts, but few solid start-to-finish sketches.
Sure, there were plenty of Game Of Thrones jokes scattered throughout the episode. But the strongest material lay elsewhere. While not an episode that I imagine will stand out when people look back on Season 41 as a whole, there were still some good sketches to be found.
Naked And Afraid: Celebrity Edition
From a sheer "opposites attract" perspective, having Leslie Jones be one of Dinklage's primary comedic partners is the kind of thing that makes sense on paper but luckily really shines in practice. His introverted energy coupled with her abundance of outlandish charisma makes for a perfect odd couple pairing here. Having them naked? Just an added bonus.
It would probably be a must-watch sketch if it were just Jones calling Dinklage "Tyrion" the entire time while covering leaves and twigs with hot sauce. Instead, the former has lustful eyes for the latter from minute one, which leads to one of the more amusingly awkward spooning sessions committed to camera. ("How is there not an open sexual harassment suit against her?" Dinklage wonders at one point.) Jones has been a highlight of this entire season, continuing her work behind the "Weekend Update" desk and bolstering her sketch performances as well. A promotion to repertory cast this summer would be both unsurprising and deserved.
I can't defend this choice in any intellectual manner. All I know is Peter Dinklage screaming about space pants while looking like David Bowie and sounding like early-80's Devo is comedy gold. There are few equations that mathematically yield "guaranteed comedy," but apparently this is one of them.
There are lots of things that go into making a great SNL host, and one of them is putting an entire sketch on his or her back and lifting the entire endeavor from the depths of mediocrity. It's one thing for a cast member to do it, but it's something else altogether when a host can do it. Dinklage was so committed that he basically made up for the dull, mistake-riddled intro and Gwen Stefani's flubs as well. The other great part of this sketch? Pete Davidson, who between this and the Larry David "Kevin Roberts" sketch is carving out an interesting series of "characters that are intrigued and delighted by the insanity going on around him."
This one falls squarely in the "walk right up to the line without being censored" subgenre of sketches, in which past iterations such as the Janet Jackson "cork soakers" and the Shia LeBeouf "Sofa King" extravaganza. Like most sketches tonight, this appeals towards the puerile side of things, but not every SNL segment can be an intellectual exercise. In fact, a sketch like this represents a seemingly conscious effort on the show's behalf to move away from topical humor as much as possible and focus on more timeless forms/subjects of comedy.
And look, it doesn't get more timeless than crude sexual visual puns. Those have been around since man first learned to draw, and far be it for SNL to break from such lengthy tradition. I almost wish the sketch hadn't overtly named the glory hole from which the various phallic food objects emerged, as any shock value from actually saying "glory hole" actually took a little away from the proceedings. Still, Dinklage and Aidy Bryant were game as returning customers to this peculiar restaurant, and both Vanessa Bayer and Beck Bennett played their confusion and slight arousal to maximum effect. As with most sketches, you probably won't remember this come May (or even next week), but it satisfied just fine in the moment.