Season 48 of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" is a bit of a mess. The sketch comedy series lost talents like Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant and Kyle Mooney in what is likely the largest single-season turnover since the mid-1990s. To replace cast members audiences know and love, producer Lorne Michaels has hired a bevy of new, mostly green comedians who are trying to find their footing. But the biggest problem is a series of lackluster hosts who lack, well, luster. And humor.
Once upon a time, hosting "SNL" was a must-do for actors releasing major movies or campaigning for an Oscar, a stop for the biggest music acts dropping new albums and a welcome home for veteran comedians. This year, the hosts may be just as unrecognizable to some viewers as the new Gen Z bit cast members trying to make it.
This year, we got a star of the biggest movie of the year, "Top Gun: Maverick," but not the star: Miles Teller is nice, but he's no Tom Cruise. We also got an actor on the hunt for an Oscar, Brendan Gleeson, but the Irish thespian is not exactly a household name, like his "The Banshees of Inisherin" co-star Colin Farrell, who simply popped in for a quick cameo. And unprecedentedly, two musicians – Megan Thee Stallion and Jack Harlow – did double duty as musical guests and hosts, something once reserved for champion "SNL" hosts like Justin Timberlake (although they both did their level best). This past Saturday, "Nope" star Keke Palmer offered an above-average episode for the season (and announced her pregnancy live on air), but she was the exception to the rule.
And yes, comedians Amy Schumer and Dave Chappelle jumped back into Studio 8H for some yucks. Schumer was fine, but Chappelle was a controversial choice after his comments on his Netflix comedy specials were widely criticized as transphobic. Chappelle side-stepped his own controversy and instead created a new firestorm when discussing antisemitic comments made by Ye (formerly Kanye West), in a borderline-antisemitic monologue of his own that has been condemned by the Anti-Defamation League.
That's not to say that the cast doesn't matter – it does. And so far, the new kids have performed decently, with a few memorable turns by Devon Walker and Molly Kearny, especially. But in a "rebuilding year," as the sketch comedy series called itself in the season premiere, with so many veterans gone and so much of the cast unfamiliar and from a new generation with its own sense of humor, the host becomes that much more important. They are meant to be the sun around which a slightly unfamiliar troupe of "Not Ready For Primetime Players" revolves.
But "SNL" isn't getting the talent it used to, at least not for hosting duties. An A-lister like Farrell or Tom Hanks can just pop in for a sketch or two while B-listers like Gleeson and Harlow do the very hard work of actually showing up every day for a weeklong show-writing intensive.
The bigger stars are eschewing the full hosting gig because it's simply easier to pop in, get a standing ovation from the audience and head on out without losing any sleep. Even with Chappelle as host, perhaps the most famous this year, the episode still had a cameo from Ice-T. Other "special guests" this season make up a strange and motley crew that includes Jon Hamm, Shaun White, Jeff Probst and Bobby Moynihan (back for a Halloween David S. Pumpkins sketch with Hanks and a "Weekend Update" appearance that made it seem like the new cast wasn't good enough).
There is perhaps something better on the horizon as "SNL" finishes out 2022 with the double act of Steve Martin and Martin Short and "Elvis" crooner Austin Butler. But we'll see if Butler can measure up.
Every new season of "SNL" is inevitably compared with the dozens that came before it, every new cast is forced to try to measure up to the likes of Kristen Wiig or Bill Murray, and every year fans hem and haw about how the venerated sketch comedy institution "isn't as good as it used to be."
After some growing pains and a few bad sketches, most seasons do measure up, and some even go on to be all-time greats, whether because of political sketches during an election year or great chemistry among the cast. But no matter how great the cast is, the ecosystem of "SNL" just doesn't click if there isn't a good host at the helm.
Or, at least, if there isn't at least one good host at the helm of an entire season.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'SNL' Season 48 review: Lackluster hosts are the problem