SSaturday Night Live returns from its hiatus with a message from Joe Biden (James Austin Johnson). The president is exhausted and frustrated by our “cold and dark winter” of resurgence of Covid, but he knows how to make the virus disappear: “STOP. SEEING. SPIDER MAN. Think about it: when did Spider-Man come out? December 17. When did each person receive Omicron? The week after December 17. Stop seeing Spider-Man!”
Responding to questions from a skeptical press corps, Biden links all of our ongoing crises to Spider-Man: Inflation? “Spider Man!” Right to vote? “Think people can focus on voting rights when Spider-Man’s Aunt May is a smokeshow?” Russian troops moving to Ukrainian border? “If that doesn’t sound like a job for Spider-Man, I don’t know what is!”
We then get a visit from an alternate version of Joe Biden (Pete Davidson) from a different world within the multiverse, who reveals that our collapsing timelines started as “a joke in 2016 when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series”. It also reveals that everyone in the “real world” is better off… except for Pete Davidson. “Your world might be more fun for him,” he says, offering zero explanation (or punchline).
While it’s by no means a big open cold, it does at least have a real story arc. It certainly beats the rambling, walk-up cold opens we were getting before the break. This is a step in the right direction.
West Side Story co-star and Golden Globe winner Ariana DeBose is hosting for the first time. The young breakout actor is proud to represent not only the Afro-Latino community, but the Broadway community. Feeling that everyone “needs a little Broadway right now,” she sings a medley of songs from her film alongside West Side Story superfan Kate McKinnon (who, like the general public, is stayed away from the film while it was in theaters). DeBose nails the classic tunes, but the whole thing is unfortunately hampered by McKinnon, who only sings slightly key off and wiggle limbs. As far as West Side Story sketches go, the show gave us a lot better.
An NBA halftime show on TNT covers a game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Sacramento Kings, currently scored at 268-1. The Sacramento players and coaches all tested positive for Covid just as the game was about to start and had to be replaced by fans and on-call staff. Interviews with the Kings’ brutalized substitutes have the same pace and quickly become tiring, but the back and forth between show hosts Charles Barkley (Kenan Thompson) and Yao Ming (Bowen Yang, playing Yang via Lurch from The Addams Family ) is a constant source of amusement.
Following the recently released trailer for their upcoming series Bel-Air – a dramatic reimagining of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – Peacock drops a teaser for “the next 90s show about the black experience to be given a serious remake and High Stakes”: Family Matters. This new release, simply titled Urkel, gives audiences “the goofy characters you loved in the ’90s without any fun or charm.” Steve Urkel (Chris Redd) is now an angry nerd from a broken home, trying to stay alive on the mean streets of “Chi-raq”, while neighbor Carl (Thompson) is a gritty cop with a temper of hair trigger. It’s nearly impossible for SNL to properly parody Bel-Air, given how absurd it already is, but they do a solid job here.
Next is an ad for Ron and Donna Lacatza’s Formal Emporium, in which the husband and wife owners (Davidson and Sarah Sherman) of a girls’ dress rental store spend all their time humiliating their teenage son Donovan (Andrew Dismukes), a clumsy nerd with constantly smeared lips, a “wet, wet ass” and a violently unbalanced love of the song Get Low. The sketch is an admirably crude showcase for Dismukes — quickly eclipsing Kyle Mooney as SNL’s go-to dweeb — but the other cast members don’t acquit as well. Davidson’s impersonation of Adam Sandler is so blatant it’s distracting, while Sherman’s one-note performance is utterly indistinguishable from every other character she’s portrayed thus far (including her- even when it appeared in the weekend update).
Next, Redd plays New York City’s new mayor and “barbecue’s dashing uncle” Eric Adams, who is obsessed with bringing “arrogance” back to his town. Responding antagonistically to questions from the press, he defends the various controversies already plaguing his administration, such as his decision to keep schools open amid the Omicron wave (“There are too many swagless parents out there- bass who don’t give their kids swagger back home”), his insults to “unskilled” workers (“By unskilled workers I meant people with lousy jobs”) and his brother’s appointment to the head of his security department (“JFK named his brother…but unlike JFK, I’m not going to blow my mind, I’m going to get some!”). Redd brings a little too much legitimate bluster to his characterization of Adams, but the impersonation is deadly.
The musical guest of the evening is Bleachers, who performs How Dare You Want More. During the weekend update, Michael Che invites Sesame Street’s Elmo (Chloe Fineman) to comment on his rivalry with pet rocker Rocko. Elmo apologizes and tries to move on, until Che brings Rocko in, sending Elmo into a jealous rage.
This segment represents the absolute worst quality of the show today: its shameless regurgitation of popular memes on social media. For Saturday Night Live to rush and try to squeeze a little more relevance out of ready-made jokes is downright insulting. The only thing that keeps a sketch like this from being outright plagiarism is the lack of authorship inherent in memes.
In the fourth Sound of Music parody the show has done since 2016, DeBose plays the von Trapp children’s new nanny. She attempts to teach children to sing using a random array of references to Homer Simpson, Queen Latifah, Peter Gabriel, IUDs and more. There’s a palpable theater-kid energy to the proceedings that should entertain Broadway nerds even if it bores everyone else.
The bleachers return to the stage to perform Chinatown. Next, Debose and McKinnon play a married academic giving a “free, sold-out lecture” at Cornell University about the ancient Greek poet Sappho. Their peers wonder if their translations of newly discovered poems were influenced by their personal lives, given that the verses contain arguments with a former lover named Nancy, references to “Helen of Generes” and Gillian Anderson, and the lyrics of ‘Indigo Girl.
The closing sketch takes place at the Texarkana Longhorns chain restaurant on New Year’s Eve. The frustrated kitchen staff wonder why their shift manager adds “lurrr” to the end of every sentence, leading to a fight and then to a reconciliation. A totally no-laugh skit where the sole purpose seems to be to find out which cast member can do the worst accent (DeBose takes it a mile). It’s not particularly offensive on its own, but coming as it does at the end of an episode that smacks of East Coast superiority enough – with the toothless sketches centering on Broadway shows, New York politics and liberal university – can’t help but leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It feels like watching a bunch of smug high school drama kids making fun of their school’s poor, stupid hayseeds.
The episode had a few redeeming moments – mostly thanks to Redd, who continues to become one of the show’s most reliable performers – but it suffered a noticeable drop in quality halfway through which it didn’t. is never given back.