In her opening monologue, first-time host Awkwafina noted how inspired she was by Lucy Liu hosting Saturday Night Live nearly two decades ago. It was a heartfelt moment, one undercut by a lackluster episode that no host could have salvaged. Look, it’s a miracle a live show like this doesn’t miss the mark as often as this episode did. If one were being optimistic, one might say this is the exception that proves the rule.
SNL never has been nor probably ever will be a topical program from start to finish. That’s just not in the show’s DNA. Expecting the show to turn into that in its 44th season isn’t fair. The majority of each episode often has nothing to do with anything going on in the world that week. The show simply wants to make people laugh. Dealing with actual events for ninety minutes might have been impossible for SNL as presently constructed. But failing to distract them in a moment in which many viewers needed an escape from reality only compounds the issues in this week’s installment.
When the season’s over, few will remember much about this episode, but here are three sketches people may discuss until former head writer/”Weekend Update” anchor Seth Meyers returns to Studio 8H next week.
Brett Kavanaugh Post-Game Cold Open
Fair is fair: Last week I criticized the show for bringing in outside talent to play main roles in the premiere’s signature sketch. Spearheaded this time around by Beck Bennett’s disappearing act as Mitch McConnell, the existing cast got to play every character in this cold open. And for the second week, SNL opted to not have Alec Baldwin or anyone else portray President Trump on-air. While Baldwin will probably appear at some point before the midterms, the show works better at this point when referring to the president instead of actually portraying him.
The sketch itself was hit or miss, but is included here simply because of its topicality. There were some technical challenges with the music that buried a lot of the better jokes inside the GOP locker room, but that didn’t hinder Cecily Strong’s MVP performance as Maine Senator Susan Collins. “I’m a guy’s gal: I can party with the big dogs!” she says at one point, an incredibly subtle, devastating line in a sketch that primarily favored blunt force execution.
There’s not much to “analyze” here, save for providing a transcript of every text that appears in this short film. (There’s a whole sketch based around the #BelieveMen hashtag waiting to be written, and that’s a sketch I’d watch, but I don’t know if it’s a sketch SNL would actually air.) One imagines that President Trump will not have the same access to this service as he does to his Twitter account, but one has also imagined a lot of things that one thought would never come to pass, so one simply has to hold one’s breath and open another bottle of Pinot Noir in the meantime. It’s nine in the morning, you say? One does not care about the concept of time in this matter.
I don’t know anyone that thinks this new service will end well, so maybe people will talk about this sketch in the days/weeks/years to come due to its predictive accuracy. Maybe this is actually the lead-up to NBC’s long-cancelled show Revolution: Reaction to the emergency texting program led a desperate scientist to enact to a worldwide permanent electrical-power blackout, which in turn sets up a reboot that program. Hey, every other show is returning to television. Why not this one?
Weekend Update: Pete Davidson on Kanye West
So the good: No one is better at SNL right now at being themselves while talking into camera as Pete Davidson. It’s a narrow lane at this point to be sure, but it’s a skill that has propelled him to stardom all the same. In various eras, such as the early 1990s, SNL has had a cavalcade of performers that could do this. With its current cast primarily skilled in ensemble sketch comedy over stand-up prowess, Davidson (alongside Leslie Jones) has the inside track in Season 44. Using Davidson to address the controversy over Kanye West’s off-air rants last week allows the show to have its cake and eat it too: It prospers from having Kanye West on in the first place, and prospers for mocking it a week later as well. The show is absolutely masterful at keeping itself in the daily news cycle even though it only airs once a week, and there’s no hating the game at play here.
So the bad: In a week in which the atmosphere was ripe for any female cast member on the show to also talk into camera as themselves, not a single one did during the entirety of “Weekend Update.” I’m not saying for a second that the show stifled any voice that wanted to speak. I’m just stating that it’s a missed opportunity. We know all about how Pete Davidson feels about wearing stupid hats in public with Ariana Grande. But I would have been far more interested in hearing from Cecily Strong, Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Leslie Jones, Melissa Villaseñor, Heidi Gardner, Ego Nwodim, or even a female member of the writing staff making an on-air appearance in this same slot. We know the SNL point of view through the sketches it produces. But we too infrequently know the point of view of its cast, whether female or male.
SNL is bigger than any one performer, which is why it’s in its fifth decade. But the Not Ready For Primetime Players are more than cogs in a machine, and knowing what they think goes a long way towards contextualizing the comedy this show produces. Knowing what they think about Kanye West is fine. Knowing what they think about the world in 2018 is vital.