Saturday Night Live wants you to know that it’s still fun. “Trust me when I say this: It has only been good here at SNL,” the host, Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy, said in his monologue, without a hint of irony. Given the state of the world, that’s a dangerous statement to make: The show has been through a turbulent year of struggling to find humor in definitively not-good times, Dan Levy. Are you sure you’re talking about the right show?
And yet, Levy was right. SNL had a wholesome air to it this weekend, with a series of consistently earnest moments. One featured a bar full of patrons breaking out into song instead of watching the Super Bowl. The 10-to-one time slot, usually reserved for wild, eccentric swings, was dedicated to a sketch about the “It Gets Better Project,” featuring the LGBTQ cast members’ childhood photos. A segment in Weekend Update even highlighted the twin YouTubers who react to old songs with over-the-top, delighted awe. Levy helped establish the heartfelt tone from the top when he caught up with his father and Schitt’s Creek co-star, Eugene Levy, in a sweet reunion at the end of his monologue.
That the show continues to stay away from sketches focused on the week’s political headlines has made it less biting, but also more consistently funny. The lack of celebrity impersonations suffocating the space left room for precise character work from the cast throughout the night. Weekend Update again featured a few jabs at Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, but it skimmed past political barbs in favor of giving the cast opportunities to debut new guests to the desk. Though these choices may seem as if the show is playing it too safe, they slyly underline the pervasive discomfort and anxiety about the pandemic and the political moment. Sketches felt familiar in their setup, but their lighthearted tone and specificity drew attention to how unfamiliar our circumstances have been, like a modest magic trick.