“You know what, I love your enthusiasm, but you guys can’t clap for everything.”
Maybe playing Ted Lasso is rubbing off on Jason Sudeikis. Or maybe he was just always hiding a streak of affecting genuineness through his long and suddenly world-bestriding comedy career. But the former Saturday Night Live star’s monologue managed to find the perfect sweet spot between reverent and maudlin when it came to putting his life in Studio 8H into perspective. It’s not everybody who can pull the whole, “look around you” card to an audience without coming off corny, but Sudeikis’ palpable love of the place and his part in its long and storied history got to me (and, seemingly, the audience).
Calling out past stars like Gilda, Eddie, Farley, and Fey, and then, pointing to the musical stage, to the likes of Elvis Costello, Kanye (or Ye), Nirvana, and the Stones, Sudeikis urged the in-studio crowd to simply appreciate how much of what’s happened in that room has changed the world of comedy. Or the world of TV. or, hell, I’ll say it—the world, full stop.
Sudeikis finished up by hedging that tonight’s Season 47 episode “probably won’t change your life,” but, hey, they’re not all winners. Still, SNL, as Sudeikis noted, “changed my life, twice,” as cast member and, before that, as an at-home watcher, dreaming of following in some famous footsteps.
Summoning “all our collective comedy heroes” while citing “all the brilliance that’s happened in here” might elicit eye-rolls from those critics who’ll prepare their lists of terrible sketches and disastrous, credibility-destroying booking decisions, but for current unlikely purveyor of televised decency and forthrightness Sudeikis, the clutter is all part of the magic. (Running through the various substances and influences that shaped the show throughout the decades, Sudeikis pointed to “Starbucks and unhealthy comparisons” as a formative pairing.)
Mentioning his current, Emmy-sweeping gig as the world’ favortie dispenser of aphorisms and home-bakes, Sudeikis seemed truly, happily bewildered that Ted Lasso has been so popular, partaking as it does in two things Americans purportedly hate, “soccer and kindness.” (I’d also note the improbable success of the “TV commercial to hit TV show” concept, with apologies to the Geico cavemen.) It’s easy to chuck darts at the popular consensus about a pop cultural landmark, as carefully crafted, reductive, and lazy as such buzzed-about enterprises generally are.
But Sudeikis’ journey from ten-year SNL mainstay (or “a performer’s dozen,” according to Sudeikis), to Emmy-winning actor and unassuming onstage spokesperson for Saturday Night Live’s legacy is pretty hard to puncture. Sure, he and Season 47 kickoff host Owen Wilson probably don’t reminisce fondly about Hall Pass, but, in returning to 30 Rock and Studio 8H, Jason Sudeikis put forth a very Lasso-esque sense of generously clear-eyed perspective. During the goodnights, Sudeikis cited the “you can’t go home again” cliché, and, while not outright ignoring the partial truth of the idea, added sincerely, “it’s really nice sometimes.” And, you know, this was.
The Best: Too often, a returning cast member’s hosting stint turns into a creaky showcase for past glories. (Sorry, Wiig.) Sudeikis’ tenure on the show was never really about tee-balling broad characters into the cheap seats, though, and his time tonight was spent reminding us just how great he’s always been at elevating ensembles.
With that spirit in mind, I’ll say I really appreciated the parent-teacher conference, where Sudeikis’ unassuming teacher makes a gradual, heavily reciprocated pass at Ego Nwodim’s concerned mom. Saturday Night Live’s writers (by inclination or executive mandate) are far too invested in grounding a joke in mundane reality for my taste—this time it was Kyle Mooney rather than usual tut-tutting figure Mikey Day calling out all the flirtatious shenanigans passing between his wife and Sudeikis’ teacher.
Not to bring up an impossibly high bar or anything, but the Arthur Pewtie Python sketch set this same concept in a strange alternate world where Michael Palin’s soon-to-be-cuckolded milquetoast’s ineffectual obliviousness lands in a loony but soulful twist. Here, Kyle’s funny drawing out his hubby’s “hold me back”-style impotent anger, but there’s no final snap to yank the premise somewhere more interesting.
Still, Sudeikis is such a contained and magnetic sketch actor that his on-the-make teacher’s laser focus on Nwodim’s very receptive parent is a playfully intense little two-hander. Both make the back-and-forth tickle with comic heat, neither tipping things too far into absurdity or broadness (until the inevitable desk makeout session). Sudeikis’ slyly inappropriate, “Well, you don’t know me very well, do you, miss thing?” lands just as hard comedically as it does erotically for Ego, and things just play out from there.
I’m torn, as this wasn’t the funniest sketch of the night, I suppose. (Check the recurring sketch segment for some serious throwback belly-laughing.) But, as a showcase for how a performer like Sudeikis can make everything better, this one stood out.
The Worst: Apart from the host who shall not be named, this season hasn’t featured many real clunkers. If I had to choose the bottom spot here (and it is my format, so I guess I do), then the Mellen pre-tape didn’t do much beyond put Sudekis in an Ellen Degeneres wig. Still, that was pretty amusing, as the premise (that dudes need a daytime talk show, too, preferably hosted by a nut-tapping bro who interviews “cancelled” figures like James Austin Johnson’s excellent Louis CK) gave Sudeikis a chance to show off his ability to play grinning a-holes.
Name-checking such demographically douchebag-heavy audience feeder-sources as Barstool Sports and 4chan, the piece depicted a daytime haven for ugly pranks (Gritty bursting in on women’s bathrooms, Kyrie Irving getting a sneaker-upper on-air ambush vaccine), show-provided towel-snapping, and the occasional visiting “heroic psychopath.” (Alex Moffat as accused rapist and hair-trigger human knuckle sandwich, Conor McGregor.) It’s fine, but, like a few near-misses tonight, just never found a groove.
The Rest: I suppose the same could be said for the nonstick underwear for dudes commercial parody, although Chris Redd kept popping in to turn up the strangeness, which I appreciated. Starting out as a he-man ode to manly sports underpants (“That ain’t gonna cut it, hoss,” smirks Moffat’s gym rat of those normal undergarments), the piece gradually revealed that the real draw to these drawers is their revolutionary ability to conceal the various accidents such whiskey-drinking, iron-pumping dudes routinely deposit in their sweats.
A shit joke is a delicate thing, and the sketch escalates the telling absurdity of guys’ insecurity about incontinence, as James Austin Johnson’s post-workout underwear-hiding is transformed into the somehow less onerous task of double bagging the pants and socks his teflon panties soil instead. And Redd, as a husband listening helplessly to his wife phoning a friend about his skidmarks, can only mumble an abashed and unheard “I’m a man...” Not the best commercial parody, but it went in an unexpected direction and kept finding ways to up the ante. Plus, the glory shot of that fried egg sliding effortlessly over the nonstick pants made me laugh, as I am twelve.
The Annie musical number should have been better, as the lavish song-and-dance greeting for Melissa Villaseñor’s orphan makes increasingly uncomfortable room for Sudeikis’ sketchy Warbucks henchman, Ricky. Sudekis, again, elevates, and his leather-jacketed Ricky is a funny characterization in search of a more realized sketch.
As the streetwise and shady element of the otherwise sunny parade of happy menials working for a little girl-adopting billionaire with a grinning hatred of unions and the New Deal, Sudeikis’ Ricky unsuccessfully waves off any concerns about just what Daddy’s actual deal is. (It turns out Warbucks leads a cabal of masked plutocrats who ritually consume human flesh.) Aidy and Chloe stand out as two of the most lived-in servants, but the sketch never kicks into gear, ultimately. Still, the sight of those Eyes Wide Shut types marching on for their meal of either “Italian or Greek” (or both) gave me the willies, so that’s something.
The Founding Fathers sketch, too, was inadequately fleshed out, leaving a silly, promising idea (and a funny turn from Andrew Dismukes) in the what-might-have-been category. That Dismukes’ FF proposes the sort of hidden treasure map that future Nicholas Cage movie franchises are built on is a funny germ of an idea that never grows into anything special, sadly. The anachronism of Dismukes pitching a “sick-ass treasure map” on the backside of the Declaration Of Independence eventually brings all of his founding colleagues on board, much to the relief of Aidy and Aristotle Athari’s leather-clad time travelers (who were worried the founding document will be boring). It’s goofy, which is nice, but, again, nothing ever comes together.
Michael Che loves to piss people off. Being the sort of equal-opportunity offender that that entails means getting overly lauded by those who agree with you, but Che really went all in on ensuring America’s ranting-est, angriest right-wing loonies will be lighting up NBC for the next day or so. A joke about angry Walmart customers segued into a slam at January 6 insurrectionists, while another about Donald Trump’s already calamitously shady and incompetent social media site noted that hackers could save themselves some time and just get members’ info from the publicly available sex offender registry.
Remember kids, it’s not punching down if your targets are actively attempting to set up an authoritarian white ethnostate. Che continued by targeting the right (yeah, to me) people, turning a joke about Chicago cops refusing vaccination on the punchline, “usually, Chicago police can’t wait to take the shot.”
Jost can be lazier in going for a punchline, facts be damned. His run about the recent, CDC approval of getting COVID boosters of either Moderna or Pfizer, led to some smirky skepticism about “mix-and-match” medications. It’s not a shitty joke because it’s lazy, it’s a shitty (and irresponsible) joke because it’s based on a hacky premise. The life-saving “mix-and-match” booster idea has been tested, vetted, and approved by scientists, doctors, and essentially everyone but smug Update hosts, making Jost’s joke that they’re “just winging it” lame on several levels. Not that anyone’s keeping score, but Che wins this Update in a better-written landslide.
What’s Up With That? is never going to get old, simply because the weirdness of the premise allows for infinite variation within its own loopy boundaries. And while Sudeikis inexplicably track-suited dancer (Vance, is his name) is technically the sort of broad returning character I said wasn’t Sudeikis’ bag, the mostly wordless side character is such a strange adjunct to all the rest of this pointlessly, hilariously overblown sketch’s pileup of nonsense that it plays less like an ego-stroke and more like the best sort of crowd-service. (Fred Armisen, underplaying for once, also pops in as the show’s saxophonist, Guiseppe.)
This time out, Kenan’s host Diondre Cole introduces a panel including Oscar Isaac, Emily Ratajkowski, and Succession’s Nicholas Braun, all learning that getting booked on What’s Up With That? means never getting to plug what they’re there to plug. (That Cole assumes that Braun is actually usual panelist Lindsey Buckingham dolled up for the Halloween episode is just Braun’s topping indignity.) The joke, as ever, is that Cole is more about infectious musical intros than actual interviews, leaving the (very real) major celebrity guests baffled and a more than a little annoyed.
But it’s the exuberant, lavish silliness of the bit that makes it work so well, even trotted out after all this time. The show’s bouncy theme song, Cole’s barely concealed anticipation, Sudeikis’ impeccably weird dance moves, the inexplicable additional guests (here, “Cubs pariah” Steve Bartman and the Halloween-themed Heebie-BeeGees)—I’ve never not left one of these sketches grinning like a dope.
Science Room was a funny enough but puzzling choice for the first post-monologue sketch. Sudeikis is unsurprisingly good as this outing’s TV kids’ show Mr. Science type, riding herd over Cecily Strong and Mikey Day’s perpetually clueless students. Still, slotting him into a pre-existing sketch that’s been played numerous times by different hosts doesn’t smack of ambition, and the joke—those dumb kids sure are dumb—doesn’t change appreciably to suit Sudeikis, specifically. Still, there are some fine laughs to be had, as Sudeikis’ patiently smiling host incrementally loses his cool at his TV students’ incompetence in answering the most basic science questions.
There’s one killer gag, as Sudeikis’ question, “What is matter?,” elicits Mikey Day’s guileless response, “Nothing, I’m good.” And Cecily, working those braces for all she’s got, joins in with Day to desperately guess what their increasingly irritated TV mentor is going for. (If his “Black Lives?” is wrong. Her “All Lives” is even more so.) It’s a good turn to have the kids’ stage parents come out to get berated in turn (“You have failed as a mother in ever way with this child!”), but the sketch peters out into amusing but predictable, sputtering anger from Sudeikis.
If there’s an emblematic role for Sudeikis’ light and dark sides, it’s The Devil. Appearing on Update (for an extended stay that, from the looks of things, bumped someone else’s desk pieces) as his Halloween store-look Satan, Sudeikis’ ever-avuncular Old Scratch rambles a bit more than usual, but everybody was loving it, so what are you gonna do.
Traditionally, the gag is that Satan is ultimately surprised at some newsworthy evil that even he couldn’t have come up with, but, here, he’s content merely to make some topical jokes and mug a bit. Instagram for kids? That was him. And climate change in Florida is just “pre-Hell,” what with the 100-year-olds and 100-degree days. Satan made the Astros win (although Sudeikis didn’t take a trident jab at the showtime-victorious Braves and their tomahawk-chopping racist fans).
Prince Andrew, vaping, bitcoin, those expanding internet ads that follow you as you scroll—all Satan, baby. This time, Sudeikis’ Satan also had Jost to contend with, pushing back on the anchor’s smirky joking with a threat to revoke their ScarJo pact. (“You baby-trapped her!,” Satan exclaims, horrified), and disclaiming all responsibility for QAnon. “Excuse me, don’t drag my good name into your sick fantasy,” the Lord of All Lies warned those still rocking the “Democrats eat babies for the Devil” cult. Sudeikis is just so at ease in character as this Devil, something that makes a point about the banality—and affability—of old fashioned, everyday evil in the face of those assholes who really work at it.
The cold open saw new (and increasingly ubiquitous) guy James Austin Johnson’s more-than-solid Joe Biden joined by both Sudeikis’ more garrulous, 8-years-ago version. This one was mercifully short, with me using “mercilessly” not because the sketch was bad (it was “breezy,” let’s say), but because these things have been so dire for so long that just watching the show go for one joke and move on was refreshing.
As far as satire goes, there’s not much to this one, with human roadblocks to progress, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema getting name-checked for their obstinate corporate shilling and obstructionism, and a few references to Joe Biden being old and somewhat retrograde in his sensibilities surrounding interpersonal contact. Sudeikis’ Biden, secure in his 2013-era lack of responsibilities as Vice President, attempts to get older Joe to relax and remember when everybody thought of him as “America’s wacky neighbor.”
It’s fine—seeing Sudeikis and Johnson’s dueling Bidens marks the passing of the torch between two very good impressions, if nothing else. And the joke of Alex Moffat’s forgotten “March 2021" Biden coming in to general indifference is at least as pointed about Saturday Night Live’s in-house issues as the sketch proper is about anything political.
Brandi Carlile is the name of the band, and not just the singer, apparently. The more you know, as Carlile herself impressed in her two stomping country-rock numbers alongside her songwriting and guitar partners, the identically head-shaven Hanseroth twins, and a drummer who looked like Animal from the Muppets wished to become a real boy. Nothing against performers whose appearances on SNL are more about showmanship than live vocals, but I’m always predisposed toward singers who are actually singing. Call me crazy, but there’s more energy to that, and Carlile injected some full-throated gusto into the show.
Thought for sure Kate would come back to team up with Sudeikis, but that’s why I don’t gamble. (Also, I don’t have any money.) In the building, although just about as absent from the proceedings tonight, were Bowen Yang, Punkie Johnson, and Sarah Sherman. Again, there are 21 cast members on this show at this point. I was able to go make myself a cold drink (and refill the ice trays) during the introductions.
James Auston Johnson is gunning for one of those mid-season, Amy Poehler-style bump-ups to regular cast. And Poehler was already a comedy legend (in certain, well-informed circles) before she came to SNL, while Johnson has just swept in and claimed his airtime through sheer talent—and SNL’s necessity. As poor Alex showed in the cold open, the show was in dire need of an actual fake president for the foreseeable future, and, thankfully, Lorne drafted for need, rather than going all Steinbrenner and shelling out for one of his famous friends to ham it up. Johnson’s Biden was joined by his excellent Louis CK, and , in the underpants piece, we even got to see his face without prosthetics. Another good night for the new guy.
“What the hell is that thing?”—Dispatches From Ten-To-Oneland
Like Sudeikis, Kenan Thompson is the best kind of scene-stealer. Rather than pulling focus by going huge, Kenan anchors this Indecent Proposal sketch with a precise loopiness, his propositioning millionaire changing up the amount of his “one night with your wife” come-on with deliriously slippery ease. With Sudeikis and Heidi Gardner’s failed casino gamblers all too willing to entertain the pragmatism of an initial $5 million offer, Kenan’s impeccably tailored creep alters the figure up and down with each successive pitch, until the desperate couple’s moral compass is left spinning wildly.
Comic actors like Sudeikis and Thompson are so valuable because they are so present, driving a spike right into the heart of any premise and forcing the escalating chaos to form around them. Here, the sketch doesn’t work without Kenan’s (possibly) rich weirdo’s effortless unknowability. Is he actually possessed of the “zillion dollars” he offers Gardner at one point? Well, he does produce an invisible briefcase with “$50,000 cash” as proof of another offer, assuring the confused and angry Sudeikis that at least 50 grand is easier to carry. When Gardner points out a flaw in his game, Kenan responds, smiling serenely, “Oh, beauty and smarts—I’m going to enjoy sleeping with you more now.”
- Citing current cast members’ requests for advice (on post-SNL careers, or just getting Lorne’s attention), Sudeikis offers up, “Win an Emmy. And if you can’t, win two.”
- Che, on the sale of a “Star Wars-themed” house in Florida, jokes that “Star-Wars-themed” in Florida just means “it was owned by siblings who kissed.” Tough Update tonight for Florida.
- Sudeikis’ Satan really enjoyed that lap dance from Lil Nas X, but needs a break from Rush Limbaugh.
- Sudeikis’ despondent gambler: “Your dad was right. I’m not a man, I’m just a little fat girl.”
- And that’s it for the first four-episode stretch of Season 47. See you on November 6 for Kieran Culkin and musical guest, Ed Sheeran. That’s our second Culkin in 30 years, people.