‘SNL’ Recap, Season 48, Episode 2: Brendan Gleeson Hosts

Photo: NBC/Will Heath/NBC

When people talk about how SNL has fallen off — which they’ve been doing for nearly half a century now — they often add, paradoxically, that they haven’t watched it in ages. One can’t claim with any authority that the show is in a permanent rut, though, just by cadging clues about its contents from a thumbnail of whatever sketch went viral any given week.

During the Trump years, SNL developed a reputation for being overly topical and hyper-fixated on the then-president. While some of that reputation was certainly earned, there’s no reason it should carry on indefinitely. This season kicked off last week with a self-aware summary of what viewers seem to expect from the show these days; this week, it continued to dash those expectations. Instead of a cold open dwelling on one major political moment — and making that moment “whatever Donald Trump did” — the show kicked off with an omnibus of political and social disasters from around the world this past week, anchored by a devilish Bowen Yang game – show host performance. And although Trump somehow stayed near the forefront of the news during an extra-chaotic week, he remained absent from the episode entirely. Rather than focus on one exhausting aspect of what’s making the world awful right now, the show seems more interested in capturing what it feels like to be constantly awash in an orgy of awfulness.

This approach continued with a sketch about the Try Guys. Instead of simply clowning on the overexposed trio for releasing, as Gawker put it in a brutal headline, “their first funny video,” the show used that video to comment on a weird week altogether. The idea that its release would be considered breaking news on CNN speaks to the continued prominence of infotainment during a time of competing catastrophes. With this tactic, the show gets to have its cake and eat it too. (Or, in sketch-comedy terms, to have its pie and also have a pie fight.)

It highlights a thing everyone was talking about this week while acknowledging (a) how ridiculously tame it is for a national scandal, (b) how ridiculous it is that so many of us are so acquainted with all its gory details, and (c) how much more important news the video seemed to eclipse. (It also gets a lot of mileage out of distinguished character actor and this week’s host, Brendan Gleeson, saying “Food Babies.”) This sketch is doing a lot and doing it in a fun way, and it will be interesting to see how many people use a screenshot of it for a dismissive tweet about how SNL has nothing better to do than recreate the Try Guys video while the world burns.

Here’s hoping that instead they’ll just tweet about some of this episode’s many stellar moments:

The departure of so many veteran cast members last season — along with the temporary absence of Cecily Strong, who will be back in November — only further highlights the audience’s unfamiliarity with the show’s four newcomers. Rather than spoon-feed these folks bit parts until the audience can pick them out of a lineup, SNL is making a meal out of their novelty. The faux behind-the-scenes video format is a serviceable excuse to group the foursome together and let viewers get to know them.

It takes a moment, though, to realize this sketch is mainly a showcase for Molly Kearney. They may have only been in the premiere for about 10 seconds, but Kearney’s nervous energy and unpredictable delivery get a dynamite introduction here. The easy comparison is to Melissa McCarthy, but Kearney’s performance suggests untold dimensions that will be revealed over time. The other most notable aspect of this sketch is Marcello Hernandez’s running joke about how he will be a nonentity on the show — a joke that gets subverted later in the episode with an at-bat at the “Weekend Update” desk, on the topic of Dominican baseball players, which he knocks out of the park.

Once the premise of this sketch is revealed, there doesn’t seem to be many new places for it to go. And there aren’t! However, host Brendan Gleeson serving “cute shyboy” is pretty irresistible, as is Andrew Dismukes’s orgasmic reaction to it, and the walk-on cameo from Gleeson’s In Bruges partner Colin Farrell allows them to double down on both. Kudos to whoever thought to throw in a bizarre Back to the Future riff at the end — “Hello, Tiger Beat Magazine? It’s your cousin, Marvin Tiger Beat Magazine” — for catering to my exact sense of humor.

The first proper Please Don’t Destroy video of the season (they co-wrote last week’s BeReal banger but didn’t star in it) finds the trio duped into friendship by Gleeson’s secretly 67-year-old undercover high-schooler. It’s another winning effort, elevated by crackerjack editing and joke specificity. (I LOL’d at the glass of whiskey with one big square ice cube.) This sketch also establishes that the group — who spent the summer filming their debut feature for Judd Apatow — may now be regularly venturing out of the office, opening up lots of fun possibilities.

In keeping with the other zigs and zags on topical material, this “Update” desk piece about the upcoming live-action Little Mermaid doesn’t even touch on the conservative backlash. (Possibly because there was another conservative backlash to a cartoon character this week, Lesbian Velma in an upcoming Scooby-Doo movie, skewered separately on “Update.”) Nor does Ego Nwodim’s Black Ariel — “Um, you can just call me Ariel” — traffic in any obvious jokes about Ariel’s Blackness. Instead, the central joke is that this Ariel is an undersea celebrity who should be nobody’s role model, regardless of interspecies skin color.

Well, it didn’t take long into the season for the show to swing a spotlight over to Sarah Sherman. The sublimely strange, and strangely sublime, recent addition to the cast introduced herself last year mostly through “Weekend Update” appearances as Colin Jost’s new tormentor. “Eyes,” however, is easily her funniest contribution to the show yet. It more successfully marries the mindfuck body-horror element of her comedy with SNL’s mainstream sensibilities than the hypnotically gross meatball sketch, and without sacrificing any of her edge. Come for the sight gag of an ad exec with surgically implanted googly eyes, and stay for that ad exec pitching terrible slogans for Denver while panicking over the possibility of tears drowning her brain. If “Eyes” is any indication, hiring Sarah Sherman is only going to make SNL more like her, rather than the other way around.

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