As Saturday Night Live heads into its holiday stretch of episodes, it hit its first speed bump of the season this week. This has nothing to do with host Harry Styles, who gamely led the proceedings with all the aplomb one would expect. Instead, this was a simple case of many ideas not working out as expected. Other than the atrociously long cold open, nothing about the show was particularly bad. It was just…there. Overt successes are as easy to write about as overt failures. With a middling episode like this, the waters get much murkier.
One moment in particular sums up the near-misses that cropped up all night. During the “Weekend Update” segment, Michael Che delivered a short monologue about how he wouldn’t mind if President Donald Trump went to jail, even if he hadn’t done anything wrong. Given the traditional demographic of Studio 8H, this should have been met with warmth, if not outright applause. And yet, no one seemed comfortable with the idea. I’d argue that’s a good thing from a morality perspective (arguing for false imprisonment seems like a strange idea), but really weird from a comedic one. Che’s bits have been solid all season, but this one fell flat. He could tell it right away, but he also seemed perplexed why this one failed when everything else this season has landed.
That was this episode in a nutshell. Nevertheless, some segments did truly work start to finish. Let’s see what people will be talking about until Will Ferrell returns to host next Saturday.
Harry Styles Monologue
Equal parts Steven Wright, Zach Galifianakis, Eddie Izzard, and that kid who always got the lead in your high school plays but you couldn’t begrudge him because, come on, he deserved it, this monologue confirmed Styles’ innate comedic dryness, timing and confidence. This guy knows he has the audience in the palm of his hands, and thus doesn’t mind calling attention to the artifice of the monologue itself to derive laughs that aren’t on the page. There wasn’t much of a flow, but the consistent, non-sequitur asides still added up to a fun segment.
He could just wink for seven minutes and earn peals of applause, but instead he goes for a cheeky deconstruction that wouldn’t have been amiss in a Norm MacDonald “Weekend Update” segment. As with his musical choices, it’s great to see Styles refuse to coast on what made him popular, taking some risks with the fame afforded him. He insists that he’s using the monologue to confirm his status as a “serious musician,” but afraid at any moment to show that he’s not actually playing the piano. It’s kind of flex, but it still serves to demonstrate that the show was in good hands with him as host.
With a concept and melody so deceptively simple, it’s amazing the show hasn’t really attempted something like this before. The idea is blindingly obvious once you see it onscreen, yet it’s the genius of this sketch to pluck it out of the air and plop it onscreen. What initially seems like a potentially mocking song turns into something silly and ultimately sweet. Plus, you get Harry Styles dressed up as a dog adorably eating garbage. Win-win!
While the sketch’s first half is just fine, it really takes off once it turns into a personified Calvin And Hobbes cartoon. Styles as Doug, Joan’s adopted Chihuahua, has a fantastic over-the-top delivery that pairs well with Aidy Bryant’s adulation. “I love you just the way you am” is another line that has no right to be as funny as it is, but Styles’ commitment to the bit makes it (literally) sing. It’s also a great nod to the fact that everything Doug says is filtered through Joan’s imagination, so naturally he inherits her lack of skill when it comes to coherent musical rhyme schemes.
“Harry Styles is my dog boyfriend” is enough to make this the most potentially meme-able moment in SNL Season 45, but what makes it linger is Joan awarding Doug “Best In Show” in the sketch’s final moments. With that, the segment turns away from being about a sad woman who fantasizes about dating her dog into a celebration of how that animal helped her fill an emotional void at a difficult moment in her life. It’s something many pet owners will instantly recognize, and while it’s supremely cheesy, it’s also wondrously effective and affecting.
In an episode where many sketches fail to even get off the ground, this one soars by transplanting the rhythms of “The War In Words” into the cockpit of an airplane. As with that sketch, it lays its cards on the table early: In this scene, an initially puzzling exchange builds and builds until chaos reigns, but it works specifically because the execution of said build fulfills its comedic promise.
Had it simply been Scooby-Doo fanfic continually deployed via intercom, this sketch would not have been included here. But it not only digs the pilots deeper and deeper as they seek to recover from the hole they have dug for themselves, it also lets the passengers on the plane individually shine. Kenan Thompson saying “Hakuna Matata” alone might have merited the segment’s inclusion. It’s one of those moments that’s easy to overlook but succinctly demonstrates how Thompson can own a sketch even while being fifth on the call sheet. Likewise, Bowen Yang continues to make the most of his screen time here as a “sky liaison” (definitely NOT a flight attendant).