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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Zach Vasquez

Saturday Night Live: Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell try an average episode

Left to right: musical guest Willow, host Brendan Gleeson, and Chloe Fineman.
Left to right: musical guest Willow, host Brendan Gleeson, and Chloe Fineman. Photograph: NBC/Rosalind O'Connor/Getty Images

This week’s new Saturday Night Live attempts to mine some humor from the noticeable uptick in public anger and insanity – “People are flipping out at Target, stabbing is back, and the only thing that can cheer us up is a sexy show about Jeffrey Dahmer” – with a new gameshow that intentionally pushes contestants over the edge.

On So You Think You Won’t Snap, host Morgan Freegirl (Bowen Yang) reads news headlines to level-headed contestants until they flip out. From President Biden’s apocalyptic rhetoric, to Kanye West’s latest lunatic escapades, to the trailer for the new awful-looking Mario Bros movie, to Elon Musk just being Elon Musk, it doesn’t take long for the guests to start chugging wine, assaulting flight attendants and burning themselves with hot irons.

While slightly less lazy than the standard run-through of headlines in most cold opens, this one feels a bit smug, especially in its digs at Musk and West, both of whom the show was plenty happy to bring on in the past. That’s not to say the show shouldn’t lampoon former guests when they make the news, but in both of their cases, SNL ceded them its platform when they were already at peak insufferability.

Brendan Gleeson hosts for the first time. The great Irish actor is an inspired but unexpected choice, something he seems aware of, telling the audience “if you don’t recognize the face, I’m that fella you’ve seen in that thing you can’t remember but you think you kind of liked”. Not used to telling jokes, he opts to play a tune instead. While tuning up a mandolin, he runs through a series of anecdotes so gentle and low key that for a brief moment it seems like we’ve wound up in an episode of Prairie Home Companion. Things briefly pick up when Gleeson’s Banshees of Inisherin co-star Colin Farrell joins him on stage, but it all makes for an unfortunately awkward start to the show.

On CNN, a White House reporter interrupts the latest Ukraine coverage by breaking news about the Try Guys scandal, explaining to Ego Nwodim’s very confused anchor, “The Try Guys have released an official YouTube video clapping back at ex-Try Guy Ned Fulmer, the wife guy Try Guy who disrespected the brand by making out with one of the Food Babies at the Harry Styles concert.” She tries to steer the conversation back to real news, only to be interrupted by the Try Guys themselves (Yang, Mikey Day and Andrew Dismukes) who deliver a ridiculously overwrought statement about the “trauma” they’ve suffered from their former member having a consensual affair with “a side piece”. The visual of the cast (particularly Yang) dressed up as the three doofuses gets a big laugh, but this is a prime example of SNL picking at the scraps of a story after social media has already moved on.

In a pre-filmed segment, the show’s new featured players Michael Longfellow, Devon Walker, Marcello Hernandez and Molly Kearney talk about their time on the show thus far. The guys all share Lorne Michaels’s sage advice and encouragement, but Kearney has had a different experience: “On day one, Lorne pulled me into his office and said, Molly, there’s only one reason you’re here: I need you to kill Vladimir Putin.” They then proceed to give a harrowing account of a failed assassination attempt and close call with capture and death. It’s a decent introduction to Kearney, but it never gets as crazy as we’re hoping.

In a scene from Netflix’s extremely controversial new movie Blonde, Marilyn Monroe (Chloe Fineman) listens to fan mail read to her by two assistants (one of whom is played by Gleeson in drag). They start out sweet and adoring, only to grow increasingly cruel: “Marilyn, you are a whore … no one will ever love you, you disgusting tramp …”, “Marilyn, you dumb baboon, your brain is in your butt and I’d like to kick it …”, “Norma Jean, it’s your dad. Not a fan.” It’s one joke repeated a half a dozen times with no twist or payoff, and Fineman’s Monroe is indistinguishable from the majority of her high-pitched celebrity impressions.

At an audition, a young actor is overshadowed by his grandfather when the photographer (Dismukes) becomes smitten with him. Gleeson strikes different silly poses, before Farrell shows back up and joins in on the fun. Like everything so far, it’s overlong and feels weirdly disjointed, but Gleeson and Farrell have such great chemistry that they manage to mostly salvage it.

A new Please Don’t Destroy short sees Martin, Ben and John playing incoming seniors in high school. Their end of year celebration is ruined when the fourth member of their clique, Porkchop (Gleeson), reveals that he’s actually “a 67-year-old Irishman”. The boys are shocked, even as they realize the truth has been staring them in the face the whole time, what with their friend’s penchant for drinking “a glass of whiskey with a big square ice cube”, taking blood thinner medication, and acting “weirdly comfortable being ass nude”. Gleeson’s great comic timing comes through much better here than on stage.

Then, on Weekend Update, the hosts take on fresh midterm scandals surrounding GOP candidates Dr Oz (“Dr Oz has refused to comment on the report that his research killed over 300 dogs, though it’s possible that he couldn’t hear the question over the noise of the woodchipper”) and Herschel Walker (“After news broke that Walker paid for his ex-girlfriend’s abortion, he raised more than $500,000, because dollars are the only thing Walker IS willing to raise”).

Update’s first guest is Black Ariel (Nwodim) from Disney’s forthcoming live-action Little Mermaid. She talks about how unfair it is that she’s been turned into a role model, given that she’s the spoiled daughter of royalty and “stupid-stupid: my brain’s half fish, I’ll dead-ass eat a worm on a hook”. She wants to get ahead of things by admitting to hating the ocean and being pro-Sea World (“I met Shamu, and let me put it like this: I’m glad his ass is locked up”), supporting the war in Iraq (“Got nothing to do with being in the sea, just wanted revenge for 9/11”), and causing the BP oil spill (“I ran up on that pipeline drunk as hell one night, did a little damage”). No one in the cast is as good as Nwodim when she’s playing exasperated and self-deprecatingly dumb.

Next, new cast member Marcello Hernandez joins the desk to talk about his love of baseball. Leaning into his own ethnic heritage, he makes the case that Latinos make for more entertaining players, acting his thesis out in energetic fashion. SNL wisely seems intent on showcasing its new members’ personalities upfront this season, rather than letting them languish in the background.

On History Channel’s Ancient Empires, two warring tribes make a peace pact in order to fight a common enemy. Sealing the deal with a blood oath, Gleeson’s commander accidentally cuts too deep and ends up bleeding all over the place, much to the disgust of his new allies. It’s another sketch based entirely around one joke, but it’s elevated by some good, gory effects work and Gleeson feeling much more at ease.

The episode wraps up with a marketing meeting for a new Denver travel campaign in which Sarah Sherman’s pitchwoman shows off the grotesque new googly-eyes she surgically swapped her old eyes out for. Sherman’s weirdo body horror comedy proved hit or miss last season, but this sketch is probably her best yet, her ridiculous freakouts earning the biggest laughs of the night.

This episode suffered from a noticeable jankiness, but unlike last week’s season opener, it actually picked up some steam as it went along, thanks to the welcome return of the Please Don’t Destroy crew and Sherman, a good showing from Nwodim, and the continued showcasing of new talent.

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