Culture Trips

Saturday Night Live: John Krasinski hosts strong first episode of 2021 | Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live returns from the holiday hiatus to find the country in 2021 much-changed. Given all that’s happened, it makes sense the show would attempt to cover a range of topics in their cold open.

On What Still Works, talk show host Kate McKinnon attempts to figure out which parts of American society are still functioning. The answer, depressingly but not surprisingly, is pretty much nothing.

A discussion of government sees national disgrace Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (Cecily Strong) espouse various nutso conspiracy theories, such as how “the California wildfires were caused by Jewish space lasers” (which is not made up).

Moving on to the stock market, the new majority shareholder of GameStop (Pete Davidson), rambles about “stonks” before it dawns on him that “the entire system is a joke”. Other guests include creepy Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, a Pinocchio-like Mark Zuckerberg, and a recently vaccinated OJ Simpson.

Last up is Super Bowl-bound quarterback Tom Brady, probably “the only thing in America that still works…and the only goddamn thing this country can rely on,” even if he is a “weird Trump guy”.

Despite low energy, this was still an improvement over the season’s other cold opens. And, much like real life, it’s a massive relief not to have to see or hear Donald Trump anymore.

Host and star of The Office John Krasinski has to field demands from the audience to “do Jim” and “kiss Pam”. He tries to move on, but The Office fans are unrelenting. He decides to oblige them, but since Jenna Fischer isn’t around to reprise her role, Pete Davidson fills in for her, and he and Krasinski share a big wet kiss to loud applause. In case it wasn’t already obvious, Krasinski was clearly booked as host to remind viewers that NBC’s Peacock app recently started streaming The Office…

In newly-Blue Georgia, a small-town sheriff brings his college student cousin to the local diner and introduces him to the surprisingly liberal townsfolk. SNL has gone to the “conservative stereotypes being super-woke” well before, and like those other times, the joke falls flat right away. This may actually be the worst example.

Luckily, things rebound in the following sketch, in which Krasinski plays a high school varsity star standing up to a group of bullies picking on his dweeby little brother.

But in his impassioned defense he ends up revealing how deeply, deeply messed up his sibling truly is actually, running down his various humiliating medical issues – “prescription charcoal underwear for his medical gas”, “a birthmark shaped like a Swastika”, “his inverted nipples…his inverted foreskin” –as well as some disturbing habits, such as a troublingly close relationship to his mother and the fact that he carries “a list of jock’s names in his wallet”.

Funny, dark, and weird, this is also an excellent showcase for cast newcomer Andrew Dismukes.

On financial talk show The Dividend, an economist Zooms in to discuss the GameStop controversy, only to have the interview derailed by his horrifying twin children, two golden-haired demon spawn from out of an old horror movie or Twilight Zone episode. A clever, unexpected premise, some great visual gags and a couple strong punchlines combine to make this sketch a clear winner.

Inspired by Nicole Kidman’s performing the theme to The Undoing, we are treated to a montage of other actors adding words to the themes of their own shows, including Anna Joy-Taylor singing about “chess and drugs” for The Queens Gambit and Julie Andrews crooning over the “colorblind sex” of Bridgerton. Also included are – surprise – The Office, as well as the newly rebooted Frasier, which the show makes sure to mention is coming soon to Peacock.

A Covid bubble of friends find their game night interrupted by the FBI, who arrest the host, Brad, for storming the capital (he readily admits, “I wiped jelly on a statue and put Pelosi’s phone down my pants”). The other friends try to get on with their night, but one after another they’re booked for the same crime and taken away.

The night’s musical guest is Machine Gun Kelly. He performs My Ex’s Best Friend.

On Weekend Update, Colin Jost and Michael Che are joined by MY Pillow CEO Mike Lindell (Beck Bennett), who was recently banned from Twitter for spreading lies that allegedly helped inspire the insurrection at the Capitol.

The “normal American ex-crack addict turned CEO and adviser to the president” defends himself from these charges while scream-reading an insane passage from his autobiography. Bennett is great here, his performance highly reminiscent of Mr Show-era Bob Odenkrik.

Next, Michael Che welcomes the stars and creators of the Netflix docu-series Pretend it’s a City, Fran Leibowitz (Bowen Yang) and Martin Scorsese (Kyle Mooney). Yang does a pretty bang-on impression of the acerbic New York intellectual, whose every sardonic line causes Scorsese to break out in uproarious laughter. By the end of it, the famed director is ripping out his iconic eyebrows and collapsing onto the ground.

A classic 1991 episode of Supermarket Sweep (“Jeopardy for food”) sees “very good friends” Kris and Gina competing. The “gal pals” telegraph that they are actually a couple throughout, and the show ends with them getting engaged.

All of this goes over the head of Krasinski’s doofy host. The whole thing is very scattershot, but fans of Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon will be happy to see them back together again.

A brainstorming session for Subway sees a hip millennial marketer make a pitch for protein bowls, or “sandwiches without bread”. The idea is a hit with the Subway executives, but not with Rocky and Dino, two old school, New York ad men who’ve been with the company for decades.

They want to “bring back Jared”, going so far as to threaten to kill themselves if their bosses go along with the “baloney bowls” idea. There’s some funny stuff here – who doesn’t love a good Jared Fogle joke? – but it kind of sputters out.

Machine Gun Kelly returns and performs Lonely.

In the final sketch of the night, we find a couple in bed, post-coitus. The woman is surprised at how good the sex was, especially since her lover insisted on wearing a weird stove-top hat during it. He decides to let her in on his secret: it turns out Ratatouille (Kyle Mooney), from the Pixar movie of the same name, was hiding underneath and controlling him during sex.

It’s then further revealed that the “sex rat” is himself being controlled by one of the insects from A Bugs Life. The sketch kind of flails after the first funny reveal, but it picks up during its closing moments with the introduction of Pete Davidson as Anton Ego (formerly a food critic, now a sex critic and window peeper), for whom he’s a dead ringer.

This wraps things up, but not before the excitable Machine Gun Kelly celebrates a bit too hard during the curtain call and takes a tumble off the stage, a moment that’s sure to be memed-to-death by the time you read this.

The distracting shilling for Peacock aside, this was one the strongest episodes of the season, thanks to a handful of sketches that actually used clever premises and which played to Krasinski’s strengths while allowing the regular cast to shine.

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