There are certain episodes in which the host's enthusiasm during the monologue has you rooting for a great show just so she or he isn't disappointed by what follows. Such was the case this week, in which Sterling K. Brown's palpable excitement had me dreading a subpar Saturday Night Live episode. I don't know the man. I have no personal investment in his happiness. And yet, I still thought, "Yikes, it will be awkward if the material doesn't live up to his lifelong expectations."
That's a fairly insane way to mentally frame an episode of a live sketch comedy show, and yet it's the truth all the same. What ensued wasn't a bad episode, but it did feature a lot of missed opportunities. Other than the cold open (which might have been the best one the show's done in years), little of this will likely linger when one thinks back on the season as a whole. But it will linger in Brown's mind for years to come, and maybe that's enough.
For now, let's look at what people will be discussing until SNL alum Bill Hader hosts next week.
Bachelor Finale Cold Open
SNL has had far more success this season talking about Trump as opposed to having him portrayed onscreen. This might be the greatest triumph in this arena to date: From conception to execution, this sketch-long analogy compares the end of a popular reality show (The Bachelor) to the current plotlines of the world's most watched reality show (the Trump presidency). It has the absolute confidence to know it's going somewhere special, using its agonizingly awkward reenactment to set up some cathartic (if absolutely depressing) punchlines later.
Having Kate McKinnon perform Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" during the post-election cold open in 2016 was a divisive moment among the show's fans. Some saw it as the show lighting a candle in the darkness. Others saw it as a tone-deaf way for the show to excuse its part in his rise to prominence. But regardless of your opinion of that moment, it did set up an incredible contrast here with McKinnon's Robert Mueller demonstrating how much of that initial SNL optimism has been snuffed out. Mueller's confession that Trump will probably win re-election is a stark contrast from the SNL in which Lin-Manuel Miranda could boldly sing, "Never gonna be President now" in the wake of the Access Hollywood scandal.
This is either SNL growing up or giving up. Either way, it's remarkable and worth noting.
Weekend Update: Eric and Donald Trump Jr. on Chaos in the White House
In terms of reliable laughs, Alex Moffat's Eric Trump is as close as the show gets as this point. The blueprint is simple. It never varies. You know he's going to mime Donald Jr.'s movements and then follow up his brother's serious lines with a ridiculous non-sequitur. That's what he's always do, and all he'll continue to do. And yet, it always works! It's a Christmas miracle, and it's only March.
Case in point: Everyone knew that was a pop-up book that appeared onscreen halfway through the segment. Everyone knew Eric 1) wouldn't understand what a book was, nevermind what a pop-up book was, and 2) that he would be scared of, but ultimately delighted by, its contents. Exactly those two scenarios played out, and everyone laughed anyways!
Moffat is doing some seriously incredibly physical acting in these segments, and it only looks easy because he's so good at making it look simple. Moffat's Eric Trump is part of a long silent comedy tradition brought into contemporary context. If the cold open had us reaching for the booze, this one had us involuntarily spitting out our newly-poured cocktail.
Dying Mrs. Gomez
Full confession: I'm not actually sure this is a good sketch. But it is a great sketch, if that makes sense. It's a classic ten-to-one segment that owns its own weirdness with such confidence that it wins you over by the end. It helps that the hook of this sketch – the incessant repeating of the semi-loathed Nickelback song "How You Remind Me" – is completely cut off from this particular cultural moment. It makes no sense that this song is appearing in a sketch in 2018. It makes no sense why Mrs. Gomez went to so many Nickelback shows before her unfortunate demise. This sketch simply shouldn't exist.
And yet, there's something extremely cathartic about watching half a dozen individuals rock out to this song as if it's somehow tapping into a universal truth that sets them all free. In the SNL universe, "How You Remind Me" apparently serves the same purpose as the song at the end of Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure. One can imagine Mrs. Gomez's soul escaping from her body and then spreading joy not just over each continent on Earth but every planet in the solar system. Who knew Chad Kroeger's words and music contained the answer to life, the universe and everything?
An SNL writer struggling to come up with a comedy sketch at 4 a.m. on a random Tuesday in March. That's who. When life gets you down, banging your head to a catchy guitar riff is far from the worst way to break out of your funk. Maybe Robert Mueller should give it a try.