Since kicking off Season 46 last fall, Saturday Night Live has been running closer to business-as-usual than almost any other late-night show during the pandemic. Still, if you look closely, there are differences: Their audience size has been reduced, which has often made studio reactions more muted; the schedule has featured more episodes in a row and yet longer breaks in between; and the host bookings feel less tethered to the usual promotional cycles of big movies, TV show premieres, and awards season.
Case in point: 10 months after Schitt’s Creek ended, four months after the show’s historic Emmys sweep, and two months after his co-starring role in Hulu’s Happiest Season, Dan Levy took a victory lap this week with his first Saturday Night Live hosting gig. In other words, he wasn’t really there to plug anything so much as have fun with the opportunity.
As a comic actor, Levy showed up ready to do silly character work and blend in with the cast in a way that was often endearing—especially once he got through that backstage-tour monologue. As Levy ran the audience through a variety of exaggerated COVID protections, the sight gags just didn’t land and Aidy Bryant’s safety supervisor character emerged to crickets.
It was a rough start, but that wasn’t Levy’s fault. The monologue has become increasingly awkward in the small-audience pandemic era, especially when the host can’t just try out a stand-up set (which briefly became an unexpected event last fall). Once he finished, though, Levy jumped into a fairly consistent, if not quite spectacular, episode of SNL.
Read ahead for some of his best moments…
Editor’s Note: Phoebe Bridgers served as the evening’s musical guest, and she was equally terrific. Replay her performances here.
Let Dan Levy Be Your Guide
Levy actually played tour guide immediately after the dire monologue, only this time with some of his strongest character work. In the sketch above, he plays a newly over-caffeinated tour-guide trainee at Universal Studios, merrily oversharing with a variety of people on the tram. Though Levy’s antics are the comic engine, it’s the ensemble work that makes the whole thing hum. Mikey Day’s premise-explaining straight-man routine can be exhausting, but it’s put to good use here, especially against the interjections of Ego Nwodim as the tram driver and the invaluable Kenan Thompson as a game passenger. There’s also a kind of guest-host charm in performing a character who seems like it could be recurring. When a cast member trots one of these out, it’s often accompanied by dread that we might see it done to death over the next few seasons. But if Levy hosts again in a couple of years, and we check in again with this guy at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I’ll be delighted.
Recurring Character Watch
Speaking of recurring characters: SNL hasn’t been doing them much in regular sketches the last few years, and that’s a relief of sorts. But they do recycle sketch formats, which probably makes sense from a strategic point of view. Without catchphrases or outlandish costumes, it has the effect of reintroducing a sketch that might have gone over well without necessarily becoming universally well-known. This can still be irritating when certain sketches are repeated beat-for-beat, but it’s not the case for this Cecily Strong-driven bit with her and Levy as bartenders singing portions of a “football song” they insist is actually incredibly well-known. Its previous incarnation was at Thanksgiving, two-plus years ago (see that darker iteration below). This time it was more Broadway-inflected than rock and roll, different and distanced enough to work a second time around.
This Week in Weird SNL
Most of the big sketches this week were fairly straightforward concepts: an oversharing tour guide, friends passively-aggressively sorta-objecting at a wedding, and, in another pandemic-referencing sketch, a group of friends at a Super Bowl party, reassuring themselves about how safe they’ve been during COVID while actually showing how they’ve compromised their quarantines. Did anyone else feel uncomfortably seen by this? For the most part, this sketch was more a heightening of an extremely recognizable real-life phenomenon, with references to 20-person pods and regular attendance of wrestling clubs. But I give it the “Weird SNL” spot for the way that Beck Bennett, who never disappoints, off-hands, “Ohh, TikTok, all the little videos,” which is not really a punchline but got a big laugh from both the studio audience and myself.
The show did two pre-taped ads this week, both featuring Levy seamlessly blending in with the cast: First advertising Zillow as a new form of porn or phone sex (eh, it’s more straightforward than it sounds), and then getting the Lorne Michaels “Why Now?” Award with a decade-later follow-up on Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign for LGBTQ+ youth. The latter is especially funny, as Levy, Bowen Yang, Punky Johnson, and Kate McKinnon update characters’ lives following high school.
Another big highlight of this episode were the two performances from Phoebe Bridgers. But, apart from a rambling cold open and a lifeless monologue, there weren’t any real big duds this week. I even particularly enjoyed this silly Kenan-and-Redd bit about guys reacting to songs they haven’t heard before (and which much of the rest of the world knows very, very well).