Saturday Night Live has an ensemble problem. Specifically, it seems to be annoyed it still has one.
I can’t think of the last time it had such a reasonably talented cast, and Beck Bennett and Kate McKinnon are probably two of the finest actors that have been on SNL in sometime.
Yet the show increasingly seems annoyed, especially in this back half, when it has to use them. It’s a bigger fan of its splashy celebrity cameos and the stuff that’ll go viral at the expense of actually managing to use its cast. It feels less like an incubator for talent at this point and more the starfucking comedy it’s been accused of being.
How’s the Cold Open?
Case in point.
Trump is outside of the ensemble, Kushner is outside of the ensemble, and Bannon is a member of the cast under a mask. That leaves ONE visible member of the cast (Bennett as Pence) who disappears pretty early on. It’s the Cold Open, but the “Live from New York…” goes to Fallon and Baldwin. That’s annoying.
It’s also that I am increasingly tiring of Baldwin’s Trump. It’s a plug-and-play performance where they seem to put the latest Trump stuff in his mouth without an idea of a consistent character (he’s sometimes really aware and sometimes not). He’s funny insofar as Trump is a hilarious joke, he’s not funny in anything they’re actually doing or pulling off.
The sketch just never pulls out of that initial nosedive problem. Fallon’s Kushner feels like a cop-out, a political character that is literally never loaded with an actual political statement. Bannon is still a funny concept, but one that has little beyond its initial concept. The sketch is kind of structurally formless, never really committing to any presence.
If I didn’t know better, I’d feel like SNL is lashing back against its “HERO OF #THERESISTANCE” status, but there is nothing so deliberate. They’ve definitely slid down hill since the great political sketches of the first half, and I think that might rest mostly on how tired Baldwin’s Trump is getting.
So, real talk, Jimmy Fallon was one of the worst SNL performers. He was perfectly fine at the Weekend Update desk playing foil to Fey’s more serious anchor. But as a member of the Ensemble? He barely was one.
Fallon sucks all the gravity of any sketch into himself and his direct partners. The corpsing that he became famous for isn’t irritating because it shows a performer who couldn’t keep it together, it’s the instincts of a performer who can’t not make a sketch about himself. Fallon demands all the attention at the expense of the other performers in any given scene.
Which MIGHT be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that his persona is so gosh-darned irritating. Fallon is a comedian so relentlessly inoffensive as to suck any comedy out of what he’s doing. That’s been his success, he’s so concerned about people not liking him that he can’t take a chance or tell a fucking joke. A host, never a comedian.
What Sketches Are Worth Watching?
“Take Me Back”
This is the kind of sketch that I wouldn’t terribly mind seeing more of. Short with a pretty decent punchline. I also like that Bennett’s Pepsi Director is now technically a recurring character. A little straining to keep topical, but it totally works.
“Before the Show”
I’m now pretty convinced that one of the new head-writers is an ex-theater kid. These sketches are consistently the most funny and real. Even if it’s the same joke, there’s such a specificity to the way these get pulled off and a real care to the whole thing that it comes out towards something around charming pretty much every time.
“Easter Message from Sean Spicer”
On the other end of the Baldwin Trump is the McCarthy Spicer. It’s the same character every time, yes. But McCarthy throws herself into the performance so hard that it almost doesn’t matter what’s actually happening, McCarthy is just having so much fun and it’s absolutely worth watching each time she shows up.
Just a goofy enough idea to kinda work and “Turn Down For What” may be the greatest comedy juxtaposition song ever made.
What Didn’t Work?
“Jimmy Fallon Monologue”
THERE’S NO FUCKING JOKES HERE HOLY SHIT.
Like, I get it. Fallon’s whole thing is that life is a party and please don’t get mad at me for doing anything. That’s fine, whatever. But there’s not even ostensibly an attempt at finding something funny or some pathos or whatever the fuck needs to be done. It’s Fallon dicking around for 5 minutes so he hopes we all find him charming. UGH.
“Celebrity Family Feud: Time Travel Edition”
I kinda put Celebrity Family Feud in here automatically because it’s perhaps the palest imitation of other sketches that at least ostensibly try to have some point outside of it. Celebrity Jeopardy had the brutal sort of mockery of celebrities with the exasperation of Trebek playing off of it.
Family Feud is trying to do that with none of the wit or the meanness. This one even less so, as it seems entirely based on some Jimmy Fallon trickery that ONLY seems interesting watching it live. Another sketch where, out of 9 performers, 1/3 are non-cast members. Annoying and not enough to make up for that.
“Civil War Soldiers”
Harry Styles’ part totally could have been played by a cast member.
Yeah, feels a lot like a Tonight Show sketch, something inoffensive and goofy and just bland bland bland. I’m all for having fun, but when it becomes the overriding mode to go bland at the expense of finding an actual interesting laugh, it gets annoying across a whole episode.
This is a total Fallon sketch, and I just don’t vibe with that.
“Sully and Denise”
Recurring character that’s definitely been run into the ground starring two people who aren’t on the show anymore? Check.
Considering they bring this one out every time Fallon hosts, it doesn’t really feel like a welcome return. It feels just like another part of this episode’s willingness to sacrifice its ensemble. I love Rachel Dratch though, so it is nice to see her around. She should host, she was always great at ensemble work.
I recognize that this one might be funny, but I just never found anything here. Big and loud and just kinda goes nowhere.
Jost and Che went dark this week, wow. Like, I guess we’re all feeling it lately, but the uneasy laughter at the North Korea jokes hits home. I think that works weirdly better for these guys, their groove and affability lets them end up having those darker jokes sail home a little better. Jost and Che are selling it hard, and they really should let themselves go bigger and darker. That might work better for them, give them a little more personality overall.
The two correspondents are both recurring, but reasonably welcome recurring characters. Jacob The Bar Mitzvah Boy is a reliable character, and I really like how Che interacts with Bayer here, even compared to Seth Meyers.
But I’m really excited to see Bruce Chandling. Mooney is a seriously talented performer and Chandling is what he’s particularly good at. Dark and understated and truly bizarre, Chandling is just such a deeply funny character for me in particular. Give him his own show I say, have him recur time and time again!
Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?
I’ll wait until Harry Styles’ second solo album to pretend to give a shit.
Ugh, this was a hard one. Just because no one got a real chance. So you know what? Kyle Mooney. I love Bruce Chandling.
Season so far:
Beck Bennett – 3
Kate McKinnon – 2
Bobby Moynihan – 2
Cecily Strong – 2
Mikey Day – 2
Vanessa Bayer – 1
Jost and Che – 1
Leslie Jones – 1
Kyle Mooney – 1
Kenan Thompson – 1
Melissa Villaseñor – 1
Ensemble – 1
Look, I will totally admit to my bias, but Fallon is absolutely the shit I don’t like in SNL. One of my least favorite performers who usually has had someone else to cut his presence. Here, he’s undiluted and irritating and the show feels subservient to his need to be the #1 performer at any given time.
This is perhaps the most indicative of an SNL where the need for attention and virality has overwhelmed what’s more interesting or important about the show. Let’s hope that passes come May.
Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)
- Dave Chappelle
- Tom Hanks
- Kristen Stewart
- Lin-Manuel Miranda
- Louis C.K.
- Emma Stone
- Aziz Ansari
- Scarlett Johansson
- Alec Baldwin
- Kristen Wiig
- Margot Robbie
- Casey Affleck
- Benedict Cumberbatch
- John Cena
- Felicity Jones
- Octavia Spencer
- Emily Blunt
- Jimmy Fallon