The 2017 time warp continues: While it may feel like this season of Saturday Night Live started a long time ago, this is only the seventh episode. As host, Saoirse Ronan acquitted herself well, although this is a show in which she served as ensemble rather than actual lead in most sketches. Nothing suggested the show was hiding her in any way, but the nature of the material meant there were few chances for her to stand alone in the spotlight.
As far as material, SNL is moving into what feels like consciously silly material to counteract the stress-filled mood of the nation right now. A few months ago, I would have suggested that was an ill-advised approach. Now? I appreciate the fact there are opportunities to watch something that has nothing to do with what fills up Twitter feeds and pundit-laden news programs. There’s plenty of time for that. A little time for something else is a welcome respite.
As such, most of this week’s selections are utterly devoid of the current cultural context, with one important exception. Here’s what people will be talking about until James Franco hosts next week.
Welcome To Hell
Back in 2013, this generation of SNL started a tradition with the short “(Do It On My) Twin Bed.” After the huge success of that piece, slickly-produced, insanely-catchy music videos featuring a majority of the show’s female cast turned into something of a staple. While often holiday-themed, this one turned its focus on the current landscape of sexual harassment, demonstrating how it’s anything but a recent phenomenon.
It’s something of a companion piece to Cecily Strong’s recent “Weekend Update” piece back in the Tiffany Haddish episode a few weeks ago as HR representative Claire. In both cases, the point of view is one of relief mixed with incredulity: There’s appreciation for recognizing there’s a problem, and anger towards those that think this just started recently. While not part of the core singing group, Melissa Villaseñor does key work here playing multiple women throughout history that suffered in silence.
The most effective part comes near the end, where the group retorts to those complaining that House Of Cards is now ruined for them. Comparing a Netflix show with the uncomfortable, often dangerous interactions that women experience on a daily basis (hopefully) shuts down at least some who watch this sketch. As for the others? Well, it’s likely we’ll see more sketches on this topic in the upcoming weeks. SNL consistently serves as a voice in matters such as this, and this season will undoubtedly have more to say.
I think we all have certain sketch premises that tickle us to no end. Even if the premise isn’t groundbreaking, and the execution isn’t anything extraordinary, it still makes us laugh. For me, the sketch subgenre of “everyone in the cast brings their best joke to the premise table” is always a winner, because it emphasizes the ensemble nature of the show and creates a form of healthy, onscreen competition in which everyone tries to be the strongest link. Usually these take the form of movie audition sketches (ie, what if Prince tried out for Star Wars), but here, it’s ordinary citizens we all probably recognize from our personal shopping experiences.
Now, there’s literally no shape to this sketch other than “absolute jerks assault Mikey Day’s perpetually put-upon employee.” And yet, there’s a crazy amount of backstory crammed into this assembly of one-liners. There’s no dramatic build towards a particular moment: Instead, the accumulation of characters creates a snapshot of a day in the life of someone whose day is always the same. Even if Day’s character hasn’t seen a particular individual before, he’s seen THAT TYPE of person before. That makes him ruthlessly effective at his job while also insanely cynical about the world around him. It also makes for a very funny sketch.
Full disclosure: I love Pete Davidson, and hate Chad. This character has never worked for me…until now. Having this guy just say “OK” in a monotone voice drove others into hysterics, and drove me to hit Fast Forward on the DVR. Much like “The Californians,” it was something I just accepted about the show, understanding that not everything would appeal to me. (Nor should it!)
The “less is more” approach makes Chad makes sense to me for the first time. By making him something others react to rather than the primary drive of the action, Davidson’s awkward energy turns into a catalyst for others to go absolutely bonkers. All of those bidding on a lunch with Chad get in some great one-liners, especially in relation to Chad’s impression of Jim Carrey as The Grinch. (“Oh Jesus Christ, this place is going to explode!” says Cecily Strong’s character, reacting as if a literal bomb was about to go off.) If this is how SNL uses Chad in the future, this would be a great way to get Davidson as much attention in sketches as he gets in “Update.”