Each episode of Saturday Night Live has its own rhythm, and this John Mulaney-hosted endeavor had that of a jam band that was locked in during a live concert. Most of the sketches were long. Like, really long. So long that the normal pattern of the 90-minute episode was essentially broken by the time the monologue ended more than 20 minutes into it. Still, one can forgive the overall small number of individual segments due to their overall quality, even as those segments often approached the ten-minute mark.
Other than “cold open,” “monologue,” “Weekend Update,” and “musical guest,” there really isn’t a set way to do an episode of SNL. The freedom is the point. This week, the show was so sure of its material that it nearly tripled the length of the average Season 44 monologue and had multiple sketches run longer than seven minutes. It didn’t feel the need to constantly provide new concepts when the ones they had worked so well.
Having too many great segments to include here is a great problem to have. Sorry, “Cha Cha Slide” and “To Have And Have Not”: On almost any other episode this season, you would have made the cut. This week? You’re on the chopping block. Just know that it’s not you: It’s the fact that this isn’t called “5 Sketches You Have to See.”
Here are the sketches people will be watching until Idris Elba hosts next week.
What’s That Name
SNL has done this sketch in the past with hosts such as Justin Timberlake and Paul Rudd, but all of them have been leading up to this installment. While earlier versions where great, this is next-level brilliant. I don’t want to imply this sketch series has a mythology, but every question anyone could possibly have about the logic of this self-contained universe has been answered at this point. It’s the Avengers: Endgame of the FGSU (Fake Game Show Universe).
Bill Hader, who also appeared in the cold open, demonstrates why he’s a first-ballot All-Time SNL cast member, serving as game show host/chaos agent Vince Blight. Hader isn’t doing anything particularly different from previous times serving in this capacity, but the specificity of backstory and intent are crystallized in this outing. Blight isn’t simply content to let the contestants hang themselves on national television. Now, he’s content to let his ulterior motives bubble to the surface, completely confident that laying his plans bare will have no affect on his ability to make the world burn. He is equal parts host of The Joker’s Wild and The Joker himself. It’s a bananas performance, one that undoubtedly will make fans of the show miss seeing him each week on their television. (Quick pitch: If/when Hader does host again, let there please be a sketch featuring Blight’s cadre of problematic bachelors, The Squad.)
Weekend Update: Smokery Farms
This show has a way of making the impossible seem mundane on a weekly basis. We just take it for granted that SNL can do the equivalent of walking across a tightrope while also juggling flaming swords while also blindfolded. That’s what producing a live show in this manner essentially entails. When the seams show, usually it means things have broken down. In this case, Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant confront the oncoming iceberg head-on and manage to steer the ship away from disaster. The results? One of the single funniest segments of any episode this season, all thanks to some surprisingly pungent meats.
A quick side note, but it’s relevant even while being a brag: I was lucky enough to see Oh, Hello during its Broadway run, and it was on a day in which John Mulaney revealed onstage via his character George St. Geegland that he had suffered from food poisoning all night. This made the recurring segment “Too Much Tuna” more fraught with peril than normal: As soon as the enormous amount of tuna descended on Mulaney, Nick Kroll, and special guest Jerrod Charmichael, absolute mayhem ensued. Mulaney realized about a half-second too late that this was a TERRIBLE idea given his real-life condition, and what unfurled was the tensest ten minutes of live theatre since the debut of ‘night, Mother.
That same tension suffused this “Weekend Update” segment from the moment Bryant noted the incredible smell coming from the meat basket prop. The fumes, giggles, and near-gagging soon became contagious. I don’t know how the sausage is made (pun intended) on show night, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn this was a different meat basket from dress rehearsal, and most likely not intended to break the two performers in the same way SNL would replace the cue cards to mess up Hader while performing Stefon.
While I’d enjoy a six-part documentary series tracing the origin of this meat basket, for now let’s agree that no matter its derivation, its presence amped everything up to eleven. I’d like to think the jokes about the “individually stupid and bad” animals that made up the basket would be strong enough to land a mention here (RIP, that one chicken that didn’t recognize itself in the mirror), but watching veterans Bryant and McKinnon struggle to keep things going while simultaneously one-upping one another with ad libs made this truly memorable. By the time McKinnon asks Colin Jost if he’s a “big meat boy,” this segment’s place in this season of SNL was sealed.
Topping last season’s “Diner Lobster” would be an impossibility. Even attempting to recreate its vibe seemed initially blasphemous. Why top perfection, O Ye Of Enormous Hubris?
Instead of going deeper, “Bodega Bathroom” goes wider, casting its net over the entire Broadway songbook. What initially seems like a simple substitution of Cats for Les Miserables turns into a feces-covered Spotify list of American songbook parodies.
Going beat by beat would be overkill, and I’m sure I missed as many references as I caught. But as with so many sketches tonight, the sheer amount of content here is absolutely astounding. A longer sketch is rarely a better sketch, especially if it’s a one-note premise that simply iterates for seven minutes. But here, there was something new every 60 seconds: more performers, more numbers, more production surprises (including a dual-rotating stage and a FLYING TOILET), and all of it worked tremendously well. A few microphone issues aside, this went about as flawlessly as could be expected given that it literally didn’t exist five days ago.
“Bodega Bathroom” didn’t provide the shock of “Diner Lobster,” but did prove it wasn’t a fluke. I’m very much looking forward to a Cabaret-themed sketch set inside a Duane Reade next season.