Something that’s become ever more evident with the viral success of the morning-after YouTube “cut for time” sketches is how Saturday Night Live is quickest to shave off its best stuff. (Presumably in favor of allowing Alec Baldwin to portray Donald Trump’s real-life evil buffoonery as mere buffoonery.) SNL’s long been known to allow more conceptual bits to dangle precariously right up through dress rehearsal before the intended audience discomfort is deemed proof that the sketch in question just isn’t worth bumping in favor of that week’s recurring celebrity impression or game show piece, with some of the show’s smartest (and weirdest) writers more often than not finally leaving the show in frustration. (Sometimes going on to create their own brilliant sketch shows that prove there’s room in the format for the strange, wonderful, and genuinely off-putting.)
Former SNL writer (and one-season featured player) Mike O’Brien is one such alum, whose more idea-driven oddities found occasional place on the show while, one presumes, more often his oddball sensibilities elicited blank stares from Lorne Michaels and the studio audience. Yet, former head writer Seth Meyers has made it his mission to give over his Late Night gig to his SNL-jilted former colleagues in the form of recurring feature Second Chance Theater, which means that, on Monday, America finally got the chance to experience “Unicorns.”
The sketch, involving original sketch star Jason Sudeikis reprising his role as a father whose gift of actual unicorns to a birthday party full of delighted kids goes horribly awry, is, indeed, a thinker. In the sense that some might think, “Why am I watching Mike O’Brien’s embittered unicorn trainer speculate graphically about how he now has to put down a herd (whoops, actually a “blessing”) of the majestic beasts before they spread their presumably enchanted conjunctivitis to some adorable partygoers?” With some sly Zoom editing (and help from the stars’ impressively game kids), the sketch more than proved itself worthy of taking the place of, say, “The Californians,” if just for a night. In the post-sketch post-mortem, Sudeikis explained how his unrevealed backstory for his character informed the sketch’s even darker (than unicorn slaughter) ending, while O’Brien—currently creator of the magically resurrected A.P. Bio—confessed that his sketch becomes less about mythical beasts than the stuff his chain-smoking trainer’s got going on inside. And while original intended unicorn trainer Betty White wasn’t into the whole idea, maybe she would have been more receptive to the “Stephen Hawking in a strip club” sketch O’Brien wrote with John Mulaney.