That’s the main takeaway after Driver’s third successful stint at the center of the show. Even if this episode had its share of shocking duds, the ratio between good and bad content skewed far more towards the former than the latter. This is an episode in which some great material didn’t make the cut below: the incredible Cecily Strong/Mikey Day material in “The Science Room,” Driver’s invocation of Abraham H. Parnassus in “Medieval Times,” and Melissa Villaseñor’s incredibly smart song “White Male Rage” during “Weekend Update” all would make the cut in a weaker installment.
Driver’s most successful quality is to marry his normally intense performances with an innocent awkwardness that blunts its impact. No one wants to see Marriage Story in Studio 8H, yet Driver’s performances here are of a piece with his more dramatic work. Rather than shy away from it, he recalibrates it to invoke surprise, and thus laughter, by moving ever so slightly off-kilter through the choices he makes.
Overall, this was a very successful start for SNL in what is arguably going to be its most important season since…well, 2016. Let’s see what lessons the show has learned from that year as we move through the back half of this season. For now, let’s look at three sketches people will be talking about until NFL star J.J. Watt hosts next week.
Adam Driver’s Chill Monologue
Honestly, if this “Adam Driver invokes the spirit of Mitch Hedberg” monologue had lasted the entirety of the episode, I would have been completely fine with it. With certain hosts, the monologue is the scariest part of the show, a time in which their vulnerability and utter fear can be detected through the screen. Here, Driver owned the stage by letting pauses work in his favor rather than against him. These Pinter-esque silences forced people to lean in rather than watch through their fingers.
Depicting the highlights would just involve a bulleted list of every joke in the monologue, but I have to give a special shout-out to the end in which he states that he’s dragging the monologue out so a sketch near the end of the show gets cut. “I play a woman,” he says, “And I can’t decide if it’s transphobic or really dated.” In a monologue that’s more absurd than grounded, that’s a hell of a mission statement snuck into the frivolity. The best SNL moments of the past few seasons have seen the show overtly confronting its own trappings in order to produce comedy that better reflects the times in which it’s produced. What may have seemed to some like a throwaway line by Driver works better as a declaration of purpose.
Alan Dershowitz Argues for Trump Cold Open
SNL isn’t exactly known for going near the third rail when it comes to comedy, but just about everything involving Adam Driver’s gleefully incorrect performance as Jeffrey Epstein essentially tap danced upon it. Yes, this sketch is nominally about the current impeachment trial and the involvement of Alan Dershowitz (played by show alum Jon Lovitz) in it. But really, things only kicked off once the proceedings went literally to hell and Satan (Kate McKinnon) introduced Dershowitz to the origin of podcasting, Fast Passes, and other things we take for granted here on Earth.
Driver was already one of the best hosts the show has seen over the last few seasons, but his simple delivery of, “Just hanging!” had to cement him in the Hosting Hall Of Fame. It’s the perfect combination of joke and actor coming together to produce a perfect comedic moment that had the audience quite literally gasping for air. Epstein later saying that his version of the Devil is “a woman my own age” put a capper on what was an instantly iconic performance, one that is already meme’ing its way through social media feeds by the time you read this.
Once again, a political cold open succeeds due to depicting the circus around President Trump rather than the man himself. Staging the impeachment trial in Hell itself (along with the author of “”Baby Shark”, Flo From Progressive, and the recently “deceased” Mr. Peanut) did more than simply having Alec Baldwin recite actual Trump dialogue could ever do.
Writing about sketches that take the underlying sentiment of a nation and focus them into four minutes of comedic brilliance is what I live for. Being able to synthesize a collective angst and channel it into a concentrated burst of truth that somehow makes us laugh is what the show can do better than anything else in the history of television, and it’s what makes covering the show so worthwhile.
Other times, I just like to hear Adam Driver sing a song in a ridiculously low voice.
There’s no real “there” there with this one: like “D*** In A Box,” the song takes its time (see what I did there) to build to the punchline, with everything else afterwards allowing people to enjoy the reveal. Chris Redd and Kenan Thompson do their normally great work here, and musical guest Halsey steps in to add to the proceedings, but it’s really all about Driver intoning, “Three bubbles, baby.” That’s just comedy right there. In fact, I looked up “comedy” on the Merriam-Webster dictionary to confirm, and the first result was a .GIF of that moment. So it’s official.