Christopher Walken Is An Old Reliable But Lazy Celebrity Cameos Are Dragging Down ‘SNL’

Hey Lorne Michaels, your actual cast members are funny, too
Christopher Walken Is An Old Reliable But Lazy Celebrity Cameos Are Dragging Down ‘SNL’

Last night’s Saturday Night Live debut for host Nate Bargatze was a solid entry. Hey Bargatze, knock it off with the self-deprecation — you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like you! But the season’s third episode continued a dispiriting trend, featuring celebrity cameos that deliver more obligatory applause than actual laughs. 

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It’s been this way all season. When Pete Davidson hosted the kickoff episode, Travis Kelce showed up at the end of a sketch about the NFL’s obsession with Taylor Swift to literally wave to the audience. The crowd went nuts — not because Kelce said or did anything funny, but because, “Holy crap, that’s Travis Kelce!” Is that John Mulaney telling a joke in the Please Don’t Destroy videoTAYLOR SWIFT is introducing Ice Spice? Bananas! 

Depending on how you look at it, things were even worse last week when Bad Bunny took the reins. Last season’s best host, Pedro Pascal, showed up like a driving instructor, sitting in the passenger seat to make sure Bad Bunny didn’t accidentally steer the show off the road. Pascal actually being hilarious helped, a compliment we can’t give to Mick Jagger. The Rolling Stones frontman appeared in two different sketches, neither of which made us forget he’s a much better musician than a comic. 

With Bad Bunny, I get it — he’s a first-time sketch comedian so let’s throw him a life preserver. But you can’t make that argument for last night’s SNL. Even though Bargatze has never hosted before, he knows his way around a punchline. His opening monologue killed and his understated delivery was effective in sketches like this one, in which he plays a white chef from Rhode Island who wishes he didn’t win a soul-food cooking contest. 

The sketch was on its way to being one of the night’s best — until Heidi Gardner’s host character introduced Top Chef icon Padma Lakshmi to bring the bit to a screeching halt. After the applause — because she’s Padma Lakshmi? — Lakshmi struggled to read cue-card lines for a part that was completely shoehorned in. 

More effective was the show’s cold open, with Mikey Day inexplicably doing Joe Biden in place of James Austin Johnson. (Is SNL getting ready for the inevitable Biden/Trump debate sketches in which Johnson can’t be in two places at once?) It’s the same tired cold-open premise featuring a political figure running through the week’s hot-button topics, punctuated with a surprise appearance by seven-time host Christopher Walken as the Spirit of Halloween. 

Like Pascal, Walken earns his laughs but that’s not the point. Michael Longfellow’s new Mike Johnson impression was doing just fine before being swept off the stage to make room for someone more famous. The more non-sequitur celebrities arrive for their “Hey, I recognize you” claps, the less screen time there is for the show’s overly large cast. In the Bad Bunny episode, unannounced guest Pascal had more time on the show than Longfellow, Andrew Dismukes, Chloe Fineman and Kenan Thompson combinedaccording to the stat-masters at the SNL Network.  

In the show’s early days, Lorne Michaels would send Gilda Radner or John Belushi onstage to talk about themselves for a few minutes. Michaels instinctively knew the audience needed to get to know the anonymous performers in order to root for them as the season went on. It’s a lesson he has apparently forgotten.

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