The host and musical guest are set for the first Saturday Night Live of 2022. Barring any unforeseen circumstances (more on which in a moment), West Side Story star and Tony nominee Ariana DeBose will headline the 10th episode of the sketch series’ 47th season, alongside “Late At Night” rapper Roddy Ricch.
The episode marks more than just SNL’s return from its customary winter break—it should also mark the show’s return to mid-pandemic-business-as-usual, after the surge of COVID-19 cases prompted by the Omicron variant muted the holiday revelry of the December 18 telecast hosted by Paul Rudd. Of that episode, which fleshed out Rudd’s sparsely attended induction into the Five-Timers Club with re-gifted sketches from Christmases past, The A.V. Club’s Dennis Perkins wrote:
I suppose some might quibble about the seemingly slapdash selection of old holiday sketches SNL trotted out in this unnervingly sparse trouper’s effort to fill 90 minutes of network airtime. Saturday Night Live’s had to scramble before in its long, long history, whether coping with drunk and/or intransigent hosts or the occasional anthrax attack. But this was different. With the five hardy souls on hand gamely ensuring that the show must, indeed, go on, the empty Studio 8H sounded cavernous, and oddly funereal. When [Tina] Fey (filling in for an absent Colin Jost) and [Michael] Che sat on director’s chairs and rattled off the night’s Weekend Update material to [Tom] Hanks, Rudd, and Kenan [Thompson] seated in the empty front row, the cutaways for their reactions were chillingly intimate, their laughter the knowing camaraderie of people living through something powerfully strange and potentially perilous, together.
Of course, there’s no reason to expect that the same fate will befall DeBose’s big moment—no reason other than the hosts of the other Lorne Michaels-produced late-night shows taped at 30 Rockefeller Center coming down with COVID in recent weeks. January 15 is a whole nine days away, but just in case, maybe somebody should be checking the Broadway Video archives for re-runnable vintage sketches. If it’s not safe for DeBose to do a comedic riff on “America,” maybe we can just spool up good ol’ “Space Pants” instead?