Why Are ‘SNL’ Episodes the Laziest After the Show Takes A Break?

Whenever ‘SNL’ takes a break, the first show back feels incredibly sluggish
Why Are ‘SNL’ Episodes the Laziest After the Show Takes A Break?

A weird trend on Saturday Night Live works just the opposite of how you think it would. Because the show’s schedule is absolutely grueling — meet the guest host on Monday, pitch ideas and write sketches for a day or two, build sets and costumes, then perform a live, 90-minute show less than a week later — the cast and writers can’t keep up the pace for months on end. So SNL settles into a groove in which it produces three or so episodes in a row, then takes a couple of weeks off to recharge the batteries. With all the extra time to percolate on new ideas, you’d think the first show back from a break would be amazing. Counterintuitively, those shows are often among a season’s worst.

Take the first few months of 2024, for example. After a long holiday break, SNL returned with its uninspired Jacob Elordi episode. It didn’t help that Elordi’s sketch-comedy chops are suspect, but blame the rested writers who scribbled out lazy variations on “he’s hot” sketches to fill the show. After the next break, it was Shane Gillis’ turn at bat. The back-from-vacation staff chose to “play it safe all night, a decision that didn’t yield much comic gold.” On the flip side, the Josh Brolin episode came on a back-to-back-to-back. The writers should have been exhausted, but it was one of the year’s most inventive shows. Funny how that works.

Last night it was poor Ramy Youssef’s turn to lead the show after a hiatus. Unfortunately, the funny performer was handed a bunch of sketches that were pulled out of the freezer and microwaved for lukewarm laughs.

Case in point: The show’s leadoff sketch rehashed a bit that wasn’t particularly memorable the first time around. Remember “Couple Goals,” the game-show parody from last year’s Quinta Brunson episode where a husband’s secret fears are exposed? Brunson and Kenan Thompson sold a solid sketch with over-the-top performances, but the ho-hum premise didn’t beg to be repeated. This was the best SNL had after three weeks to come up with new ideas?

Last night continued with uninspired jokes about tired late-night monologue fodder like Ozempic, Boeing (really? still?), Joe Biden’s age, Donald Trump’s bombast, George Santos and Law & Order-style cop shows. Not exactly cutting-edge stuff.

The best chance for fresh laughs came during Youssef’s monologue. He’s an accomplished stand-up, and material about being a Muslim in 2024 America is new territory for SNL. The relaxed Youssef did fine, but every time he tip-toed up to an edgy subject (Palestine, a trans president), he delivered what felt like a pulled punch — enough to get a reaction from the audience, then on to lighter stuff before anyone could get too uncomfortable. Not enough tension, too much release.

The show’s most interesting sketch was its last (another inexplicable SNL tradition), with Youssef leading his band through an NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Bowen Yang played Elliot, a 35-year-old intern who wants the group to keep down the ruckus because he’s working on a new podcast about A.I. and rural queers. The bit was promising enough to hope Youssef gets another shot at this SNL hosting thing, preferably on a night that’s not right after a break. 


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