Saturday Night Live struggles to find a punchline or a point this week

Photo:  SNL
Photo: SNL

After Aubrey Plaza, the booking agent of Saturday Night Live might be building an HBO-to-SNL pipeline with this week’s first-time host Pedro Pascal. A timely selection, Pascal has become an increasingly known household name after decades of somewhat anonymously guest starring on serial television. A star on the rise, Pascal has an impressive resume of big-budget prestige television work like Game of Thrones, Narcos, The Mandalorian, and most recently, The Last of Us. The show made great use of his versatility with him portraying a hot teacher, recovering coma patient, critical mother, and flirtatious waiter among others. An eager and enthusiastic host, his talent and charisma were squandered on a slew of unfocused and middlebrow sketches.

Best sketch of the night

HBO Mario Kart Trailer - SNL

Similar to “The Black Lotus,” SNL excels at spoofs of contemporary entertainment as with this week’s “Mario Kart Trailer.” The mix of the committed dramatic performances by Pascal and the cast with HBO dystopian house style creates an entirely believable world. It’s a stupid concept, but one you can definitely imagine going into development. The design and post-production teams continue to impress by putting together such professional packages in such a constrained time frame. They certainly deserve to form their union. It’s hard to pick a favorite part. The best part might be Pascal’s serious delivery in Mario’s cadence or the perfect casting of Chloe Fineman as Princess Peach, but it’s probably the tortoiseshell bullets.

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Worst sketch of the night

The Big Hollywood Quiz - SNL

It was difficult to narrow down just a single worst sketch of the week. It wasn’t that the sketches were particularly awful, but rather they collectively felt pointless. I’ve landed on one that felt tailor-made for me. “The Big Hollywood Quiz” promised a hilarious dive into popular culture and film history. For perhaps the first time in an SNL game show, the contestants were oddly qualified and knowledgeable about the subject matter. However, when questions shifted to the most recent films and television programs the contestants were bewildered. The joke is that the contemporary media landscape is littered with so much content that nothing connects. While the observation is accurate, it’s also not very funny.

Swiftest sketch of the night

Spy Balloon Cold Open - SNL

Cold opens often focus on current events, but tonight’s has to be one of SNL’s quickest turnarounds. After a few days of politicians and news programs obsessing over a Chinese balloon drifting across the United States. Essentially hot air and latex became the hot-button issue of national security and a potential catalyst for a new cold war. It is one of those real-life events that is so ridiculous it’s easy to imagine it as an unused storyline from Veep. Kenan Thompson’s character perfectly captured the gravity and frivolity of the situation complete with a birthday balloon prop. The peak of the sketch was Bowen Yang’s appearance as the balloon, which proves his preternatural ability to give life to inanimate objects (like his iceberg a year ago).

Derailed sketch of the night

Fancam Assembly - SNL

Framing a sketch around Pascal as a hot teacher in an assembly full of Gen Z students was a good concept. The generational clash and linguistic misunderstandings were ripe for comedy. However, as soon as the sketch was about to get really interesting it took a crowd-pleasing twist. Proposing that the Gen Z vernacular might be the result of stunted developmental issues resulting from the pandemic was a twisted take that should have gone further. Instead, the sketch swerved into a cameo by Pascal’s longtime friend Sarah Paulson, which thrilled the crowd, but derailed the sketch.

MVP of the night: Ego Nwodim

Lisa from Temecula - SNL

Bowen Yang seemed like a shoe-in for the title this week since he appeared in nearly every sketch. However, a final performance by Ego Nwodim changed everything. Looking past reusing the same exact set for two consecutive sketches, Nwodim’s titular role in “Lisa from Temecula,” was probably the funniest part of the episode and the rest of the cast would agree. Nwodim had everyone in the scene breaking character in response to her delivery and physical comedy. It was Nwodim’s knack for portraying aggressively confident, exceedingly delusional, and perpetually suspicious characters combined with the visual gag of the shaking table that made for the night’s funniest moment. The deadpan reading of “oh, cause we black” resulting in Yang losing it should earn Nwodim an Emmy nomination this year.

Stray observations:

  • They should invite Sarah Paulson to host.

  • Did everyone else notice the two shaky camera moments?

  • I’m almost certain I’ve heard ‘a condom in Nick Cannon’s wallet’ joke somewhere else this week, but can’t remember where.

  • Ego should get to do more character work. “Lisa from Temecula” could be a recurring character like Debbie Downer.

  • Reusing a set back-to-back. I wonder if SNL is going through budget cuts.

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