What’s a term for the midpoint between avidly viewing for entertainment, and hate-watching? That’s where I am with Saturday Night Live, as it meanders its way through these peculiar years. But this weekend’s episode was just outright funny, in a way I can’t remember the show being in years. And especially when the Pokémon showed up to give free Xboxes to all Americans.
It seems fairly uncontroversial to say that SNL’s best recurring feature at the moment are the Please Don’t Destroy videos created by a group of the show’s young writers. (Hell, the show doesn’t have a single recurring character of any note right now, so there’s not much competition.) This week’s was their best yet, during which the trio learn of a new covid-19 variant, but this one’s good. Well, just watch it:
Being a Brit, SNL wasn’t something I grew up with, and only really began to piece together its undulating history of quality in more recent years. But having become a regular viewer right at the last peak, it’s fair to say the show is currently in something of a trough. Despite some absolutely superb comedians on the current line-up, there’s a real sense of the doldrums, and one that had set in before all the lockdown measures started heftily messing with the program.
This Saturday’s edition didn’t start well, with a misfiring cold open in which Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong somberly walked out to introduce the (extremely impressive) Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York performing “Prayer For Ukraine.” It probably seemed like a nice gesture, but came off an inadequate sop, not least when it ended with McKinnon and Strong clopping back on in awkward silence to give a morose mumble of the show’s opening catchphrase, then the camera blunderingly tilting to show some some clumsily arranged Ikea tealights almost in the shape of the word “KYIV”.
Yeah, nope. A well-written piece of biting satire, ideally bringing back Beck Bennett to reprise his Putin, would have been far more honoring of Ukraine. Then the whole thing felt even more incongruous as fifth-time host John Mulaney came out to deliver a storming opening monologue about his recent time in rehab, setting up for what proved to be the most consistently strong (and outright weird) episode since Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader’s heyday.
That Please Don’t Destroy sketch was a perfect accompaniment for what felt like a genuinely brave piece of writing in the Covid Dinner Discussion (above), in which people at a restaurant dared to say out loud the unsayable words of the last two years. A positive covid variant felt like such an impossibly wonderful dream, not least given the whole new set of legitimate terror we now get to feel with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that I swear to you, when it announced that Pokémon were real I almost cried. Oh God, why can’t Pokémon be real, right now, while the whole world is a fucking shitshow?
Monkey Trial should have been terrible, but Mulaney made it hilarious. The Blue River dog food VT was just so utterly strange that it all came together. The Five-Timers sketch was a guest star bonanza with a good number of laughs. Even the stalwart family reunion sketch had a nice number of gags. And that Subway Churro musical? I mean, it was spectacular and terrible and dammit, I adored it. Sure, the Nickelodeon slime sketch didn’t go anywhere, but it was hard to care after LCD Soundsystem gave two stellar performances of such incredibly un-mainstream songs.
But most of all, it was positive covid, Paul Rudd’s twinkling eyes, and Pokémon at the White House that gave me genuine joy in a week where everything feels far too scary.