By Mick Reilly | May 2, 2022
“Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”
Saturday Night Live’s forty-seventh season is wrapping up soon with three episodes left. The latest season of NBC’s long-running sketch comedy show started on Oct. 2, 2021 and will conclude with 21 episodes on May 21.
The season contained plenty of first time hosts, as well as a few repeats. John Mulaney and Paul Rudd joined the likes of Steve Martin and Tina Fey in the Five-Timers club, as well as musical guest Arcade Fire having performed on the show five times. Acts like Rami Malek, Oscar Isaac and Billie Eilish made their debut. The one host who was neither a first timer nor a fifth timer was also the worst one.
Jake Gyllenhaal hosted the show for the second time on Apr. 9, 2022, the 17th episode of the season. The “Ambulance” actor might as well have stayed in that ambulance because, by God, this sucked. The episode started with a political cold open of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, played by cast member Ego Nwodim, meeting with other African American history Icons like Harriet Tubman, Clarence Thomas, and Jackie Robinson. Unfortunately, they forgot to put jokes in it. While probably difficult to make fun of such important figures, the cold open probably would have fared better if it lampooned Judge Jackon’s confirmation hearings instead.
The rest of the episode didn’t fare well, with pointless and annoying songs that weren’t particularly funny, like “Truck Stop CD” or Gyllenhaal’s monologue, which broke into an off-key and unrelated cover of Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” The episode featured other lame sketches, like “Why’d you like it?,” A game show asking contestants why they liked peoples posts on Instagram. Spoiler alert: This sketch has one joke that they repeat for what felt like 100 times, the contestants wanted to have sex with posters.
Gyllenhaal’s low energy and the lack of good ideas coming from the writing staff killed this episode, though “Dream Home Cousins,” which made fun of HGTV shows like “The Property Brothers,” was a bright spot.
However, throughout all the awful comedy that they did do, the biggest loss of this episode was what they didn’t do: bring up Gyllenhaal’s dramatic former relationship with Taylor Swift. The relationship was recently back in the zeitgeist due to the release of a subsequent and number one charting Taylor Swift song “All Too Well (10 Minute Version),” a 10 minute verbal slam dunk on Gyllenhaal. Other stars embroiled in public conflicts haven’t been afraid to poke fun at themselves on the show, so why should Jake? Kim Kardashian hosted the second episode of the season, hot off her divorce with Kanye West, and made no effort to shy away from that in her monologue or the sketches. Gyllenhaal could have at least said something, especially because Taylor performed that very song on the show in November.
The worst sketch of the season belongs to episode five, hosted by Kieran Culkin of HBO’s “Succession.” Culkin’s episode, though positively received, featured a fair amount of cringe comedy. Culkin fails to pull it off on the level of Michael Scott in “The Office” or Buster Bluth in “Arrested Development” because it just generally isn’t in his comedic range. In “Weatherman,” Culkin plays a weather reporter who failed to report on an impending natural disaster because he was too busy dressing up as a turkey and preparing a fall rap for Thanksgiving. The sketch is a slog to get through due to Culkin’s poor delivery and grating voice – and memorably awful in a way that few others are.
Not every episode is a loser like Kieren Culkin’s or Jake Gyllenhaal. Several stars hosted episodes that ranged from alright to really good. Rami Malek hosted the third episode of the show, and brought with him a good ability to make fun of himself. Such occurrences happened in sketches like “Celeb School Game Show,” in which Rami Malek and Pete Davidson play each other and make fun of the way Rami’s eyes look. Comedian Jerrod Carmichael was dubbed “the least famous person to ever host SNL” but delivered a strong monologue about the recent slap at the Oscars. John Mulaney hosted for the fifth time, and even though some sketches like his Broadway Musical parodies are starting to feel dry and repetitive, plenty of his new ideas killed, like “Monkey Trial,” an absurdist bit about a judge who is also a monkey.
Even in the worst episodes, one segment of the show is consistently funny. Weekend Update, starring head writers Michael Che and Colin Jost, will be at least a 7 out of 10 every single episode. The pair have incredible chemistry with each other, often making jokes about each other and themselves. The duo’s dynamic is best exemplified during their “joke swap” bit, where Jost and Che write offensive jokes for each other and make them read them for the first time live on air. The duo didn’t get to write them this season for the Christmas episode, though the season finale joke swap will indubitably be hilarious.
The reason the regular Christmas joke swap didn’t happen this season was because during the rehearsals for what was supposed to be Paul Rudd’s 5th hosting gig, nearly all the cast and crew caught the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus. Nearly everyone was sent home, with host Paul Rudd remaining, as well as cast members Kenan Thompson and Michael Che, with special guests Tom Hanks and Tina Fey. The episode proceeded with some of the pre recorded content already prepared before everyone went home, like “Homegoods,” a fake homegoods ad about two grandmothers who only want grandchildren for Christmas, a medley of some classic christmas sketches like “D*ck in a Box,” which as the name suggests, is about a d*ck in a box, and some Weekend Update-style jokes from Tina Fey and Michael Che. Overall, the episode did the best with what it had, and was somewhere in the middle of the pack – all things considered.
Three new cast members were brought on for the season, as well as a trio of writers who often make pre-recorded videos for the show. The new cast members, James Austin Johnson, Sarah Sherman, and Aristotle Athari are all excellent additions to the show. James Austin Johnson, better known by his initials JAJ, is a master impersonator of political figures like Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and Lindsey Graham. He often appears in the political cold opens, however he has also had good sketch appearances, like the milktoast husband in the aforementioned “Dream Home Cousins.”
Sarah Sherman comes from the school of absurdist comedy, making sketches like “Meatballs,” about a girl who has fleshy meatballs growing on her skin that sing a song when they see daylight.
Aristotle Athari has fun characters like Angelo, an improv musician who doesn’t really improv much at all and Laugh-o-Tron 3000, a standup comedy robot. Despite this, he has trouble finding a niche on the show and doesn’t get much screen time. The trio of new writers, John Higgins, Martin Herlihy, and Ben Marshall, better known as the name of their Youtube channel, Please Don’t Destroy, faced some allegations of nepotism at the start, seeing as two of their dads are producers on the show. Despite this, their quick, zoomer oriented sketches like “Rami Wants a Treat,” about Rami Malek wanting a treat for being on good behavior have proved their value on the show.
Only one musical guest has generated any real buzz on the show this season. Taylor Swift performed her 10 minute version of “All Too Well” on the sixth episode, hosted by Jonathan Majors, to the delight of many Swifties. Two hosts so far have pulled “double duty,” meaning they both hosted and were the musical guest. Lizzo and Billie Eilish performed well, although the poor sound editing and mixing of the show’s musical guests often make that part of the show bad.
One of the hosts who pulled double duty also had the decidedly funniest episode of the season. Lizzo came to the show full of excitement and joy that reenergized the cast from last week’s awful Jake Gyllenhaal episode. The cold open stayed light, relying more on the cast's funny impressions of celebrities instead of politics. The sketch “Trivia Game Show” broke from the tradition of having a game show sketch where the contestants are stupid to instead let the contestants revolt against the host, which was fresh and hilarious. Weekend Update featured a rare yet hilarious Melissa Villaseñor appearance, where she played Colin Jost's driver, who keeps accidentally making jokes about his nephew and then apologizing for them. Lizzo herself had excellent chemistry with featured player Andrew Dismukes, which presents itself in “Beanie Babies,” where Lizzo and Dismukes play a couple who just quit their jobs, thinking that they can retire on their beanie baby collection.
The best sketch of the season belongs to the Please Don’t Destroy crew, as well as Pete Davidson, with a surprise appearance from Taylor Swift. It jokes about Pete’s newfound fame, the Please Don’t Destroy guys general demeanor, and Taylor Swift’s ability to turn anything into a grammy winning song. Titled “Three Sad Virgins,” it features Davidson rapping about how all his friends are cool and famous, except these three sad virgins (referring to Martin, Ben, and John). The sketch escalates, with the three doing increasingly crazy stuff to try and be Pete’s friend. It features an incredible verse from Taylor swift as well as some funny commentary on Pete’s fame.
The season has had its ups and downs, but it was a strong one overall. With some excellent decisions on who should host like Jason Sudeikis, Zoe Kravitz, and Owen Wilson, as well as a cast that is operating at full capacity, the show has a bright future ahead.
All this being said, there are still 3 episodes left of the season, and anything can happen. Maybe Jake Gyllenhaal will get canceled. Maybe Paul Rudd will get a real chance to host for a fifth time. Maybe they’ll just let Lizzo host every episode from now on. If you want to find out, Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays on NBC at 11:30. Next episode is on May 7, hosted by Benedict Cumberbatch.