SNL came back with a bang on Saturday night. The kind of bang you hear when a Kia Picanto crashes into a dead yak.
Watching the episode, I had some enthusiasm for certain parts and felt worried about others. It struck me that those emotions mirrored many of my feelings about rooting for a football team that’s rebuilding. Maybe you feel the same way. So grab a Jamocha shake from Arby’s and let’s chronicle the similarities.
Note: Laughter is my favorite thing so I’m partial to shows and people who make me laugh. However, I am not the god of comedy and neither are you and neither is Lorne Michaels. No one has a line on what’s objectively funny because funny is so subjective. Everything weighs into the creation of a bit on a show like SNL. Great comedy is like magic, and so is shit comedy because even shit comedy is hard. Comedy, in general, is brutally difficult and I’ll die on the hill that great comedy is harder to make and more elusive than great drama.
Because of that, we may not agree on specifics. I may like performers that you don’t. My brother-in-law told me he only used to watch SNL for Kyle Mooney and I know that statement will blow some people’s minds. In the words of Coach Beard via Ted Lasso “different people are different.”
I love Saturday Night Live, even when it blows. Because comedy is hard.
So, now that SNL is in sort of a rebuilding phase, let’s look at how the emotions compare to those of a rebuilding NFL franchise, and the decisions that can make a fan base groan.
The list of outgoing players has some variability to the quality and amount of playing time each received. But that’s a lot of skilled players to lose in one off-season. Especially when you realize that they’re being replaced by about half the bodies. Now, who knows? We might look back upon the incoming draft class and think that they’re all Hall-of-Famers, but how a player looks on draft day is often wildly different than they look on the field under the lights. Let’s hope these newbies are all All-Pros.
When the shit hits the fan on game day, sometimes you want to just fall back into the things that worked, even if it’s been a while. The season 48 premiere had some of that, especially when we first saw Trump in the Manningcast. I’m all set with Trump parodies. I never want to see him painted in a comedic light again and maybe that was the commentary surrounding his inclusion, but I’d just rather leave him absent. Let’s come up with some new plays, team! Lorne called Season 48 a “season of changes” so let’s start with a game plan that doesn’t include any version of normalizing that traitorous bag of shit.
Sometimes you have to build the gameplan from the inside out and feature your veteran presence. In the NFL it was the legendary Frank Gore, who seemingly never aged and gave his all on every play. When you had Frank Gore on your team, you had a mythical being. You need the hardest three yards you’ve ever seen in your life? Give the ball to a 36-year-old Frank Gore and stand back. He retired with 16,000 rushing yards and earned every last one of them. I just realized that I’ve never seen Frank Gore smile and I’m still terrified of him.
Kenan Thompson is Frank Gore. I don’t care what the sketch is, Kenan improves it. I don’t think there’s a better face comedian in history and I’m including Jim Carrey because after a while his schtick could feel tedious (even though you can come back to it years later and enjoy it). Kenan’s never does. I have no idea why. Just in tracking all the laughs of the season 48 premiere, Kenan still led the league. How? It’s amazing and he’s amazing. Sixteen years in the NFL for Frank Gore and approaching 20 years on SNL for Kenan Thompson.
In the opening credits we see that Sarah Sherman is still a featured player rather than a main cast member.
Sarah Sherman is a god damned ray of sunshine and possibly legit insane and also the closest thing SNL has to an IT girl. Whatever it is, she’s got it. Being on SNL doesn’t seem like a job for Sarah Sherman. It seems like she just loves it. I’m gonna channel my inner Denny Green here.
Bad coaching decisions lower the quality of the whole franchise. You have to believe your eyes with talent evaluation and I’ve seen shit turn upside down for Sarah Sherman mid-game and she handled it with playoff form.
In fact: The prop disaster was the most watched part of the video. Talk about unflappable.
I know what my eyes tell me and my eyes say she’s a starter and wherever Denny Green is, he agrees with me and he’s still mad about letting Chicago off the hook.
Sometimes you look through your depth chart at a certain position and you think, “okay: if we lose this starter, this backup has enough juice to take over the job.” And then you get to game day and it becomes clear that you haven’t developed that skill set enough in the backup and the downgrade is glaring. The position, in this case, is generic boring white guy.
One of the difficult takeaways from the premiere was the fact that with Alex Moffat gone the bulk of the generic boring white guy duties are going to fall to either Mikey Day or Andrew Dismukes. And sure, you can try to wedge poor James Austin Johnson in there but seeing him in anything just provokes a Trump-based gag reflex.
It’s a shame because in this episode the ideal generic boring white guy was Miles Teller, who hearkened back to the salad days of Beck Bennet and Taran Killam and Jason Sudeikis before them. He showed some excellent generic boring white man range and it seemed to just come very naturally to him. The generic boring white guy role is a fairly important and underrated position on the team, actually. There’s such a glaring hole that you almost need to go to the practice squad and break glass to see if Colin Jost can take a few snaps.
Poor Mikey Day gets shit on more than a porta-potty toilet seat at a rebuilt motorcycle swap meet but I really like him. Still, he has a lane, and when he’s outside of it or asked to stretch, sometimes he doesn’t have the gear for it. Case in point, his Adam Levine was way off the mark, to the point where it hurt the overall sketch. If you didn’t know that was supposed to be Adam Levine, you wouldn’t have guessed it with 20 guesses. That’s not on Mikey Day. That’s on the writers who served him up unprepared like that. They could have written someone he could play. Ditto Army Hammer. Hell of a choice, gang. Who was plan B? O.J. Simpson? Anyway, he gave it his best, that’s just not how you use Mikey Day. Even the Netflix show Cake hosted by Mikey Day isn’t the best use of Mikey Day. This is how you use Mikey Day.
Alan Lazard is an excellent wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers, but when future Hall-Of-Famer Davante Adams took his show on the road, the Pack tried to sell us that Lazard would step up and fill his shoes. I had trouble buying that premise. It’s not that Lazard isn’t skilled: he is and I’m a big fan. But does he have that next-level juice that it takes to produce when you go from the opponent’s second or third best cornerback to their A1 shut-down corner? Thaaaaaaat’s a pretty tall order. My guess is no, and that the true #1 receiver in Green Bay is rookie sensation Romeo Doubs, but it remains to be seen.
I’ve been crazy about Bowen Yang since the first time I saw him on SNL. He cracks me up. I love his mannerisms and when he plays angry and his hilarious line deliveries. He has outstanding timing and is gifted at physical comedy. He can read a room and is never, ever sick at sea. My brother-in-law, of course, isn’t a fan. You know, the one who loves Kyle Mooney. But I say that just to hammer home the point that comedy is hard, and people have oppositional comedy polarity and also that, in general, my brother-in-law should be shot from a circus cannon into the rings of Jupiter.
One of my favorite parts of last season was sort of waiting for Bowen to make an appearance. I would sit in front of the TV like a dog at the window waiting for his owner to come home and when Bowen was in a sketch I would jump around and lose bodily control and lick my balls. Figuratively.
Bowen Yang is a clutch player. Whenever he showed up in a sketch, it meant shit was about to get funny. He was like a dash of spice, used judiciously, it could bring a dish to a whole new level. But what happens if you overspice? What happens when you start to use the same spice on the entree and the salad and the dessert? Does the spice lose its spice? Is it possible to be overbowenyanged? God, I hope not.
Does Bowen Yang have the particular set of skills to go from a complimentary sailor role to the venerable captain of the H.M.S. Pinafore? I’m leaning toward yes.
Every once in a while, a team gets a great gadget player. Someone who can play multiple roles on the team. Once upon a time it was a guy like Percy Harvin who could play running back and receiver and return kicks and punts and all kinds of things. The 49ers have a player like that named Deebo Samuel who is all things to all people and I wish I could eat a Caesar Salad and be his best friend every day I love him so much. Deebo plays football like Sarah Sherman plays comedy. All love. Nothing held back. It’s a blast to watch. And Deebo? Yeah, I’ve seen Deebo smile, but on the field he’d scare me every bit as much as Frank Gore.
This also happens on SNL. There are a couple of types of gadget players. The first kind is your Jay Pharoahs and your Melissa Villasenors. The impressionists. Now it’s definitely James Austin Johnson. They can deliver some pep when they nail a depiction, but they tend to be a liability in sketches.
Then you have your “Update” Hosts. These are gadget players who are just sort of better at playing themselves. When they show up in sketches it’s often like something terrible has gone wrong and someone caught a flash flu backstage. They have the same vibe as Jack Nicholson in a film: he’s always Jack Nicholson, no matter who else he’s supposed to be. This group has your Colin Josts and Michael Che’s and Jimmy Fallons and John Mulaneys and Pete Davidsons and Dennis Millers and Norm MacDonalds. All smart and funny, and with immense talent, but not exactly great at inhabiting personas not their own.
Then there’s the ultimate gadget player. Someone who can sort of just become anything and still maintain the same level of funny throughout. Phil Hartman. Steve Martin. Bill Hader. Will Ferrell. Mike Myers. Dana Carvey. You can plug them in and no matter the sketch, they kill it or die trying which is sometimes just as funny. It’s like magic. Beck Bennet was in this group, though he’ll never get the credit for it. That dude straight-manned so many home run sketches on the SNL stage.
There was a time, years ago, when the SNL Writing staff would write the tiniest shining glimmer of an idea with very little development, and then they’d throw the remarkable Kristen Wiig onstage with that what felt like a slightly undercooked script and she’d make it work. I would just watch wide-eyed like Homer Simpson as she would weave the funny in with little to no help. Half the time you can see her reading cue cards and she still delivers the lines perfectly in character. It’s just staggering.
But that only works with a generational talent like Kristen Wiig, and outside of Kenan Thompson, I’m not sure they have another person like that on the current team.
When that doesn’t happen, people panic. And then they go blue. Now I love me some racy humor. The racier the better, but in the right place and with the right dosage. A little blue humor goes a loooooong way.
However, with a cohort of die-hard fans who started watching Saturday Night Live when it began in 1975, SNL has a broader demo than it may like. For some of these stalwarts, a “don’t @ me bro” joke doesn’t always land, and further complicates the basic task of being broadly funny. Case in point, my 77-year-old mother-in-law watched Ego Nwodim and Heidi Gardner rub up and down against a pair of tumescent ding dongs during the Caribbean Queens sketch and yell “My Guy’s Got A Hardy!” and she was like what the heck am I watching? She actually called me up to talk about it she was so disappointed with the new cast and the writing. It was like comedy therapy which I just this second decided to trademark and make a career out of.
What are you going to do? Go watch the other prestige Sketch Comedy show? Sure, you can find various tangential approximations of it but SNL is a monopoly. I don’t know what happened with Chris Redd (and from a talent standpoint, you can’t let Chris Redd walk), but it’s not like Chris Redd just took a better offer from SNL’s competitor. Players on SNL have a tiny window of time to hawk their respective wares enough to garner them stunt casting roles in film or network television after their shit runs thin on Saturday nights. Superstars might get an HBO show or headline something on Hulu. David Spade was interviewed the other day saying he only spent six seasons on SNL and he has no idea how the modern casts manage to stick around for longer just because the pace of the work is grueling. But what other option do they have that can give the same visibility and size of audience for their line of work?
The NFL is also a monopoly. If you’re a fan that gets nauseated by the league, which happens to any sane person 3-10 times per season, where else can you go for the level of play? Nowhere. The college game is a sloppy mess when you’re used to the quality of NFL play. But that’s just the fans. The average NFL player gets three years to make a lifetime of money before they’re used up and left for dead. If you’re lucky, you might get a coaching gig somewhere or have enough of a following to host a podcast about your college football program. If you’re a star, you may get a coveted network TV gig or end up in a booth. Short of that, you’re on your own. It’s not like you can go play in the rival American-style football league because that doesn’t exist. It’s not like you can play elsewhere in the world. You can’t join a professional football team in Athens or Tokyo or Sydney. Hell, even Roy Kent knew that a busted-all-to-hell knee wouldn’t stop him from getting on a soccer team in America. But for football, it’s the NFL or bust and for the vast majority of players the answer is bust.
I could spend all afternoon writing about how magnanimous the NFL has been to players of color over the years, how it bends over backward to make sure they have health care and that they have long-term stability after sacrificing their brains in the gladiatorial arena for millions of frothing fans. I could write that but I’d be lying through my teeth. White players have always had the spotlight, and don’t even get me started on the artificial barriers for Black quarterbacks, Black coaches, and Black executives in 2022. 2022! We’re supposed to have flying cars and shit by now and people are still trying to prevent Black coaches. It’s like society just doesn’t value them in the same way and is actively working to keep them down.
With all its boldfaced greed, the NFL still hasn’t figured out that when they finally — again, I repeat, it’s 2022 — have their first Black OWNER that whatever franchise it is will immediately sell millions of jerseys. On day one. I guess some things really are more important than money, and somehow the lack of Black ownership just isn’t the center of conversation the way you’d hope it would be.
A version of the same thing happened on SNL this week. So much of what was posted online was about the host, Miles Teller, and how he did or didn’t validate people’s level of dislike for him. Does Miles Teller have a punchable face? I mean, yeah? But he also has a potato-fed all-American everyman who should never have made it this far vibe that is moderately endearing. I don’t personally have much of a take on Miles Teller except to say that he’s among this generation’s head-scratching leading men, all of whom confound me. As a Gen X’er, I don’t think they make leading men these days the way they used to, but I’m guessing that’s what my dad’s generation said about the Brendan Frasers and Adam Sandlers and Pauly Shores of the world when compared to the Robert Redfords and Paul Newmans and Sean Connerys. I suppose I’d concede that Harrison Ford has as much potato in him as Miles Teller when all’s said and done.
You know who has no potato? Kendrick Lamar. I’m not one of those people who has been able to stay cool while they raised kids. I’m lucky if I’m familiar with three of his songs. I have friends who swear by his talent but I never really experienced it for myself until the SNL episode. It’s immaterial what I think. Listen for yourself. It’s like inviting a Ferrari to a rickshaw convention. For most of the episode, you had this preseason football vibe where nothing feels as tight as we expect it, and then Kendrick Lamar comes on and all of a sudden you’re transported by a master. I came away an instant believer.
That was the best thing about the premiere, but SNL had some other positive choices, and we saw potential in flashes here and there.
I really enjoyed the cold open Manningcast segment, though I gravely disliked the framing of Eli as the ‘dumb’ brother. I’m not saying Peyton isn’t a hoot, but Eli is a goddamn jewel. He alone can tear Peyton apart on national television, make fun of his head size, and put Peyton in his place. Does he sound like a goofball? Yes. I’m not sure he was born with fully functional lips, but he’s the best of the Mannings and I’ll meet anyone for sabers at dawn who says differently. Never forget that he beat Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl — not once but twice. Patriots fans are the third worst fan base on the planet after Raiders fans and Eagles fans and even the biggest douche in a Gronk jersey had a begrudging respect for Eli Manning. I’ll never forget reading a Patriots message board where people were making fun of Eli and then one person writing “Yeah but we’ll never truly be safe until that goober retires.” Goober 2, Patriots 0. Lastly, as a huge fan of women’s soccer, I really appreciate that Eli is a part owner of Gotham FC and that not only does he stump for the team, but he actually straps on some mits and gets peppered with shots.
Here are my favorite Eli SNL moments:
And here’s Eli in goal. Such a mensch.
What I liked about the Manningcast is that it was at least fresh and had that meta element about it. I thought it was a super clever way to intro new cast members, make them look stupid as hell and thus endear us to them. I loved how it got in Bowen Yang’s head. Was it funny? Sorta? It was more amusing and charming than ha ha funny, but it’s one of those things where you can get behind the concept, even if it’s not airtight out of the gate.
It felt like watching the Seattle Seahawks this year. They parted with their longtime superstar quarterback Russell “DangeRuss” Wilson and tried to give his job to a stilt with good hair named Drew Lock. When it became clear that Lock was, as the French say, un buckette of merde, they gave the keys to Jets washout and perennial loser Geno Smith and the football world braced for the pain. But then something magical happened. Geno matured. In the last ten years, suffering indignities and bouncing around as a backup, Geno seems to have picked up a trick or two and it’s a pleasure to watch. Geno Smith will never be an All-Pro but watching him have some hard-earned success is a delight and I think every NFL fan of any stripe is not only thrilled to have been wrong about him, but rooting for him to keep it going.
“They wrote me off, I ain’t write back though.”— ESPN (@espn) September 13, 2022
Geno Smith with a message ðŸ—£ pic.twitter.com/R1EaKpW3Dt
I love when you have a team pegged as a run-first operation and on game day they change it up and air it out. In some moments, the SNL premiere felt like that. I thought, for example, it was a bold choice to feature new cast member Michael Longfellow on Weekend Update as himself. That’s a Pete Davidson thing and I winced when he first started, expecting the obvious comparisons to reflect unfavorably, but he managed to bring the bit full circle and Longfellow deserves credit. I wasn’t as high on it as some people, and it’s going to take me a beat to get used to his luxurious Peter Gallgher eyebrows and the calming beauty of his serial killer face but the choice was notable and it landed. I ended up watching it a few more times afterward and liked him more and more.
The Chloe Fineman/Nicole Kidman sendup wasn’t always spot on, either, but I liked her getting a moment in the sun. There are some huge shoes to fill on the show and the only way to fill them is to try to start filling them.
Whenever a new NFL coach is hired it comes with a splash. They bring in their own people and sometimes a brand spankin’ new logo comes with them and the fanbase shudders with excitement and hope about the future. Sometimes those hopes pay off and sometimes you get Matt Nagy or Adam Gase.
SNL also changed coaches last season. Longtime SNL director Don Roy King hung up his skates and was replaced by director Liz Patrick. That, in and of itself, is enough to throw the whole operation off, but it hasn’t. Liz Patrick is a pro’s pro and there was actually a transition period between the two and a handing off of the baton that helped stabilize the show’s continuity. I absolutely love this video of them from Mara Webster, who was smart and informed and ran a fantastic interview. I think it’s impossible to come away from it not having a huge amount of respect for all three people in it and if you ever bump into any of them in the wild please buy them a plate of spaghetti for me and I’ll pay you back. Still, Liz Patrick admits that SNL has a sort of “way” it expects sketches to be covered, and that there’s absolutely a learning curve.
This week, rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett will take the reins of the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers. Pickett doubters say he has a noodle arm and “small hands” — not joking — and his hairdo says he’s got a John Deere lawn tractor he can sell you at almost wholesale prices. But I’m a believer. I love me some Kenny Pickett. If he is what I think he is, he’s walking into a loaded offense and all he has to do is just deliver the mail on time.
Of course, he has to face the powerhouse Buffalo Bills in his first game as a pro and that defense will most likely eat him like two-dollar street meat, but there’s always that glimmer of hope that he’s one of the chosen ones. That he has that oh-so-elusive set of skills that make him a legitimate NFL quarterback. There are only 32 positions on the planet with that job description and at most we have 20 players that can fill them competently. So fans like me hold their breath and drink in the hope. Maybe, just maybe, he can do it.
SNL season 48 feels a lot like that to me. I love a good shake-up. I love a good reset. I love taking stock and addressing your shortcomings in the bright light of day and then trying to go for broke to overcome them. I love SNL, no matter how people disparage it. What they do is amazing and overwhelming and noble. Sure, you can nitpick if the show seems to have lulls where the cast isn’t as sharp as you like or the prevailing humor doesn’t sync with your own comedic sensibilities, but it’s delivered so many laughs for so many years with so many cast members that it kind of blows my mind. Pure magic.
I know there may be some septuagenarians like my mother in law — an angel on Earth, by the way — who may feel that the show is decidedly catering to everyone but them. But we have some new faces and I promise you they’ve dreamed about this moment their whole lives. They can’t believe their dreams have come true and they’re going to spend the next eight months of their lives giving us everything they have. Maybe they’ll become the next Belushi or Farley or Poehler or Fey. Maybe they’ll crash and burn in front of our very eyes. But before we know either way, it’s a beautiful moment where we can live in the hope that this season will have us roaring with laughter. There isn’t a better cocktail than hope and laughter unless you can mix in a little sex and maybe winning some money and a delicious dinner and in the words of Steve Martin “revenge against my enemies. They should die like pigs in hell.”
That’s how long SNL has been making the funny and they know how to keep it going. So let’s hope for a great season 48! The brilliant Brendan Gleeson hosts next week! I’m giddy for it. Go Brendan Gleeson!
Go Molly Kearney!
Go Marcello Hernandez!
Go Michael Longfellow!
Go Devon Walker!
And, of course, Go Kenny Pickett!