With roughly a quarter of this season of Saturday Night Live now complete, we have enough of a sample size to declare that the show is having an excellent year. With five episodes in the books, there hasn’t been a remote dud in the bunch, and all pre-season missteps are far in the rear-view mirror at this point.
In her second time hosting, Kristen Stewart isn’t any more comfortable at being alone on stage on live television, but she’s still excellent at being part of the SNL ensemble. Whether working in a World War II weapons factory, using a language app to converse to children, or creating adult entertainment out of constellations, Stewart was up for anything this week and always seemed like a cast member rather than a host. (That’s a compliment.)
With a short break before Harry Styles pulls double duty on November 16th, let’s see what sketches people will be talking about over the next two weeks.
If this sketch were a streaming show, it would have 10 episodes, each with a length of over 56 minutes per ep, and STILL not have covered as many emotional twists and turns of this four-minute sketch. There’s something thrilling every time the SNL writers can concoct a fully fleshed-out world within one of its segments, and this largely three-person sketch paints a vivid, complicated picture that needs no more than it depicts to sell its reality.
Also, Aidy Bryant over-pronounces a lot of words that end in “-or,” which is never not hilarious.
Going through the sketch beat-by-beat would devolve into a series of quotes, with its rapid-fire, screwball-comedy pace yielding wave after wave of revelation and escalating insanity. Instead, I’d say that this sketch is a perfect encapsulation of trying to maintain control in an otherwise insane universe. Having the perfect paint color (sorry, “colour”) in your living room seems like a smart way to create an oasis. Yet here it turns into a prison. It’s not just a financial prison (it seems like Aidy Bryant’s character spent her inheritance on it) but a physical one as well (simply touching the wall necessitates a full re-do of the room).
Taking this silly sketch about expensive paint and turning it into a meditation on the inherent fragility of safe spaces in 2019 is undoubtedly a stretch. But SNL has been sneaky good at sneaking the psychological zeitgeist into ostensibly non-topical sketches all season. Most sketches this week involved being essentially horny on main, which is certainly another example of anxiety manifesting itself. The show’s at its best when it’s an open wound, offering laughter but not always comfort.
Elizabeth Warren Town Hall Cold Open
Just as Elizabeth Warren is most likely studying how to avoid Hillary Clinton’s outcome in the 2016 Presidential Election, so too is Kate McKinnon likely studying her Clinton impression from that time in order to meet the current political moment. If both SNL and McKinnon portrayed Clinton as an overconfident, inevitable outcome that year, this portrayal is simultaneously more reserved yet infinitely more outraged. Had Key & Peele not already stolen the concept of the Anger Translator, SNL might have employed one for Warren’s Cassandra-esque warnings.
Each question from this town hall asks a fundamentally incorrect question, which Warren calmly but surgically dismantles. People ask about her plan to pay for Medicare For All, but she notes that similar questions were never asked to Bernie Sanders. Attendees are afraid to lose their insurance, but no one seems particularly happy with what they currently have. McKinnon’s tempered anger always seems like a powder keg ready to explode, and that’s what gives her performance an edge that her Clinton impersonation never did.
At the same time, the sketch has no optimism about the implementation of Warren’s ideas. In-sketch Warren admits that funding sources are political landmines, and basically make her plans DOA. Even when she “shows the math” to counter audience skeptimism, attendees still seem more enamored of “cool” candidates rather than the one with concrete plans.
This pessimism is earned, but it shows how differently the show is treating this Presidential election than the last. Voters may not learn a similar lesson, but the show certainly has.
Corporate Nightmare Song
Recent bias being what it is…this is one of the sneaky darkest sketches the show has produced in the last three years. Despite the ringing pop-punk song (stolen from the best Sum 41/Green Day/Paramore/My Chemical Romance mash-up one could conceive) that fills this three-minute sketch, this is an instructional video on how a job meant simply to pay the bills now slowly turns into the thing that dominates your life for the next thirty years.
What’s striking here is how much validation these employees need, and how even the slightest amount of praise puts them into a new mindset altogether. It would be one thing if this sketch suggestions that their manager was doing an overtly evil act in offering praise and involving them in bigger projects. But it’s not: This is just a Middle Manager, who Sees Potential, and has no idea how badly these four need Parental Approval. Were he exploiting it, this would be a different (and ultimately lesser) sketch. Those in this sketch wear overt punk stylings, but one doesn’t have to be a Gerard Way stan to wake up one day and realize they have been at the same company they used to mock for several decades.
I have a feeling this sketch is the ultimate Rorschach test (and no, not in a Watchmen kinda way) of the week. I see it as a semi-heartbreaking tragedy. Others might use this as a motivational video on their Monday morning stand-up to get through to their teams. Others will dismiss the employees’ punk affectations because they chose to work for that soulless company in the first place. Others will say these kids never believed in anything in the first place, and just rebelled out of their own form of conformity to each other. Others will say these kids will change the company from the inside. Others will resent the implication that their punk ways can be so easily muted by a man with a corner office. These are all simultaneously viable! That’s why it will be discussed well into the holiday season.