‘SNL’ Taps Into Anxiety About Biden, Kanye and Super Mario

'SNL' Taps Into Anxiety About Biden, Kanye and Super Mario

It was a week with way too much news, so rather than try to contend with it in a customary opening sketch leaning on celebrity impressions, “Saturday Night Live” — looking to build on the momentum of last week’s offbeat season premiere — began with a game show.

As he explained the premise of “So You Think You Won’t Snap,” Bowen Yang addressed the camera directly: “Hello, America,” he said. “Have you noticed everyone around you is angry and crazy? People are flipping out at Target. Stabbing is back. And the only thing that can cheer us up is watching a sexy show about Jeffrey Dahmer. We are living on the edge, and tonight I’m here to push us over.”

The challenge he posed to the players was to simply listen to him read news headlines and keep their cool. The first contestant, a music professor and self-described “white yoga teacher” (Heidi Gardner), was given a glass of wine as Yang recounted recent events including the war in Ukraine, the bridge explosion in the Crimean Peninsula and President Biden’s sobering remarks on nuclear Armageddon. Those did not faze her, but when he played a video clip of Biden awkwardly evaluating his own mental focus on “60 Minutes,” — “Oh, it’s focused” — Gardner snapped and chugged the wine.

Another contestant played by Chloe Fineman was told she could strike a Frontier Airlines flight attendant (Sarah Sherman) standing nearby when the headlines got too real. Unmoved by news about the difficulties facing Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign or a survey of children who dream of being influencers, Fineman lost it when she was played a trailer highlighting Chris Pratt’s voice in the “Super Mario Bros.” movie. “He’s supposed to be Italian!” she shouted.

Kenan Thompson lasted as long as he took Yang to say “This week, Elon Musk—— ” before he trashed the table in front of him. And when Devon Walker was shown a photograph of Ye (formerly Kanye West) wearing a “White Lives Matter” T-shirt, he put a hot iron to his ear.

Concluding the segment, Yang announced, “When we come back, we’ll show an 80-year-old man an episode of ‘Euphoria.’”

Simply by giving the host’s role to Brendan Gleeson, the veteran character actor (“In Bruges,” “Paddington 2”), “SNL” signaled that it was going to make unusual use of its principal celebrity guest.

“SNL” continued to waste no time introducing its four new featured performers, spotlighting all of them in this filmed segment that, initially, seemed to be about the advice they’re receiving and the lessons they’re learning in their first weeks on the job.

Walker, Michael Longfellow and Marcello Hernández relayed the tips that Lorne Michaels and other “SNL” veterans had shared with them: Mainly, don’t try to do too much or put pressure on yourself to get a sketch on the air.

Molly Kearney, however, received a different kind of counsel: “On Day 1,” Kearney recalled, “Lorne pulled me into his office and said, ‘Molly, there’s only one reason you’re here. I need you to kill Vladimir Putin.’ He hands me this gun and says, ‘Don’t worry, the serial numbers have been scratched off. They’ll never trace it back to us.’ I’m like, us?”

Over at the Weekend Update desk, the anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che riffed on some recent stumbling blocks that Republican candidates for the US Senate have encountered.

Jost began:

The midterms are only a month away, and is it just me or are some candidates trying to lose? Let’s start in Pennsylvania with Dr. Oz, seen here telling the audience how many minutes he’s lived in Pennsylvania. [The screen shows a photo of Dr. Oz holding up his hand with all five fingers extended.] A review of scientific studies published by Dr. Oz revealed that his experiments killed over 300 dogs. But eventually he got the recipe right. [The screen shows the package for a product called “Dr. Oz’s Organic Meatballs.”] Dr. Oz has refused to comment on the report that his research killed over 300 dogs, though it’s possible he couldn’t hear the question over the wood-chipper. [The screen shows an image of Oz about to insert a dog into said garden tool.] But don’t worry, Dr. Oz won everybody back last night when he gave a speech in front of Hitler’s car. Worse, he then got into the car and backed over a dog.

Che continued:

Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker denied reports that he paid for a girlfriend’s abortion, saying, “I send money to a lot of people.” Before adding, “You know, for abortions.” 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.

A coming live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid,” starring Halle Bailey as Ariel, has been a source of inspiration for Black girls who want to see someone like themselves in a lead role, as well as a target for online trolls. But when Ego Nwodim came to the Weekend Update desk in the guise of this character, she explained she didn’t want to be anyone’s hero, and gave evidence for why she probably shouldn’t be.

First, she explained to Jost that he did not have to call her “Black Ariel”: “You can just call me Ariel,” she said. “I don’t call you ‘white Colin’… to your face.” She went on to say she supported Sea World and the Iraq War, was responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and wasn’t very smart: “I’ll deadass bite a worm on a hook,” she said. “Gets me every damn time.”

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