The fact that Liev Schreiber hosted a stronger episode of Saturday Night Live than Steve Carell tells you all you need to know about the unpredictability baked into the show’s DNA. That fact says absolutely nothing about the two men involved but rather the unpredictable nature of a show that starts from scratch each time out. Last week, I noted that the show’s efforts toward post-election bipartisanship seemed a promising way for the show to proceed after the midterm elections. But that also assumed a world in which SNL has the luxury of thinking about “episodic theme” instead of thinking, “Dear God, what will make people laugh 72 hours from now.” Everything thematic about the show only appears in the rearview mirror. The show’s future is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, with those involved praying it’s not a train about to run them over.
At roughly the one-third point of this season, it’s tempting to look into that rearview mirror and boldly declare some trends. But the only real trend is the show attempting to find its voice. The most memorable moments have revolved around the show attempting to smooth over things that have gone wrong rather than celebrating what has worked. Kanye West’s meltdown and Pete Davidson’s apology to Dan Crenshaw will probably be the things most people remember about Season 44’s fall run. That’s not a way of announcing the death of the show, or how it has not been funny in years, or any of the other talking points that were stale back in 1976. When you attempt to do a show in the way SNL does it, there’s almost a guarantee of inconsistency. You can either lament the built-in misses or marvel when it connects. Given its 44-year run, it does the latter far more often than could possibly be expected.
With that, let’s see what people will be discussing around the Thanksgiving dinner table this week.
When not topical, this week consistently dove into the realm of the absurd. More than any other episode this season, each sketch seemed to be one 10-to-one segment after another. There was an Adult Swim quality to the outing that undoubtedly pleased some and befuddled others. Tastes may vary among which of these were more successful, so let’s just choose the more successful Thanksgiving-themed sketch for our purposes here.
Two elements make this stand out. The first is execution: Carell and Cecily Strong deliver the in-sketch song without tripping over each other, and the other cast members deliver their interjections in a crisp manner. The difference between a great sketch and an interminable sketch hinges on this execution, and while it might seem mundane if not outright insane to praise SNL for doing what it’s supposed to do, it’s worth noting the high degree of difficulty on display here.
The second aspect that makes this sketch rise to the top is the fully-formed logic baked into its seemingly anarchic narrative. It doesn’t make any initial sense that two strangers would know a Thanksgiving song that no one else did, only for them to enthusiastically join in one by one. But having Strong’s character be some sort of supernatural Thanksgiving imp that infects people with the power of song for the purposes of robbing them blind actually provides rules for the previous five minutes spent in this sketch universe. It’s a detail all too many sketches fail to deliver in a successful manner, and provides a clever retrospective framing around what just unfurled.
Steve Carell Returns to SNL Monologue
We’re in a reboot/remake/reimagine culture, in which anything and everything you have ever seen is ripe to reappear. So it’s only appropriate to have Carell’s monologue deal with the topic that has followed him around for years: Will we ever see more episodes of The Office? Carell’s reticence to even contemplate this possibility is well documented at this point, so putting him under fire on nation television seems like cruel and unusual punishment. But it also provides an opportunity for some big cameos as well.
Ellie Kemper, Ed Helms and Jenna Fischer all appear in this monologue to boost the chances that Carell will say yes and, just as importantly, boost the signal of this monologue to ensure people talk about it. Perhaps that’s a cynical, but still accurate, way of describing this segment, which will inevitably whip up a fresh round of hot takes about the viability of another edition of The Office on NBC. Given the palpable outrage heard during the bait-and-switch final moments — in which Carell seemed ready to make a surprise announce of the reboot, only to cruelly snatch it away like Lucy Van Pelt snatching the football away from Charlie Brown — it’s clear that many are dying to see new episodes of The Office. But with Carell both firmly entrenched in the film world and by all accounts eager to move on from the franchise, it will be interesting to see if this monologue does more good or harm amongst the show’s fervent fanbase.
Message from Jeff Bezos
By the time you read this article, you’ve probably also read a tweetstorm from President Trump about this sketch. It seems designed in a lab to achieve that precise response. SNL continues its recent Season 44 streak of talking about Trump rather than actually portraying him onscreen with this pre-taped segment that feels like a “Weekend Update” segment transferred to film. Carell’s Bezos purposefully waits after each “dad” joke he delivers, delighting in the sarcasm he unleashes toward the president over the location of his new offices, the new delivery option (Amazon Caravan), and the sheer wealth gap between himself and the president.
It’s worth noting, however, that this sketch is positioned as a David vs. Goliath fight. In fact, it features one of the richest people in history and glosses over what is by, most accounts, an incredibly unfair deal for the citizens in New York City and northern Virginia. Aside from a brief mention at the outset that literally no one besides Bezos seems thrilled with how the headquarters lottery went down, the sketch plants the Amazon CEO firmly on the side of anti-Trumpers. This isn’t so much of an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” scenario but rather a recasting of Bezos as a man of the people. Whether that was intentional or not is up for debate (which there will no doubt be this week, thus meriting its inclusion here). But when combined with Colin Jost’s seemingly pro-Amazon segment in “Update,” it certainly seems like SNL is all in on their newest neighbor in Queens. How this plays out in future episodes will certainly be interesting to see.