The first “Saturday Night Live” episodes of 2024 were underwhelming. The writers weren’t able to do much with Jacob Elordi other than thirst after his handsomeness, and Dakota Johnson didn’t bring much to the table other than enthusiasm for Justin Timberlake being there and a great roast of herself and Please Don’t Destroy. The episodes were so bad that we didn’t even do full reviews of them (in actuality, yours truly was traveling and then sick, but I certainly didn’t miss reflecting on those disappointing turnouts).
Thankfully, “SNL” finally picked up the slack with the third episode of the year, hosted by Emmy-winner Ayo Edebiri, the co-star of FX’s hit series “The Bear.” With a history in stand-up comedy, Edebiri has the perfect background for a late night sketch comedy series, so it should come as no surprise that she easily fit in with the rest of the “SNL” cast and delivered a fantastic episode.
So let’s dig into the highs and occasional lows of Ayo Edebiri’s episode of “Saturday Night Live.”
What was the best sketch of the night?
School Hypnotist – Every now and then, an “SNL” host comes along and turns in a character so good that it feels like it’s been soaking for years, just waiting for the proper debut. In this case, it’s Ayo Edebiri as Solomon, a young man who is “forced” to reveal that he’s bisexual in front of his peers, thanks to a hypnotist making a guest appearance in his class.
Edebiri is perfect as this eccentric, Steve Urkel-esque character with flairs of something Tracy Morgan might have done in his early years on “SNL,” almost like a Brian Fellow type. The way Solomon freaks out as the “hypnotism” continues is increasingly funny, especially as he starts speaking almost like a preacher, calling out bible verses as he tries to fend off this supposed Satanic evil. The later addition of Kenan Thompson only sweetens the deal, and it makes me wish Edebiri was part of the “SNL” cast so we could see this character become a recurring bit. She’ll just have to host again some time to bring Solomon back.
How was the rest of the episode?
Dune Popcorn Bucket – If you thought Film Twitter was the only place you’d be seeing jokes about the provocative “Dune” popcorn bucket that will soon be available for moviegoers to eat out of, think again. “SNL” latched onto the questionable collectible, which immediately prompted plenty of inappropriate jokes online. “SNL” took things to the next level by creating a romantic song about the “Dune 2” popcorn bucket, with Marcello Hernandez planning an intimate rendezvous with the concerning snack receptacle. But he’s not the only one, because Bowen Yang and Ayo Edebiri are pretty horned up for it as well. It’s a little obvious for a gag, but going full musical with the bit kept it from feeling stale, and we love a good sex joke about Shai-Hulud, don’t we, folks?
Drugs on Campus – Watching Mikey Day and Ayo Edebiri as college students freaking out over their classmate (Andrew Dismukes) taking a little bite of a mushroom to help with his school anxiety was thoroughly entertaining. They’re as concerned as two young narcs would be who graduated from the D.A.R.E. programs of the ’90s, and their exaggerated tones perfectly emulate a cheesy after school special. The way Edebiri unfurls her rolling backpack so dramatically was magnificent, and no one shouts incredulously like Mikey Day. Applause all around.
Why’d You Say It? – Game show sketches are common on “SNL,” and they can be hit or miss, but this one worked rather well, with a simple premise that questions contestants about why they made unnecessary comments on Instagram — such as telling Drew Barrymore that she should “die” for enjoying the rain, or saying that you would smash Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s a great send-up of a certain weird sect of the internet. But the stealthy cherry on top is a self-referential joke that Edebiri has, alluding to some remarks she made about musical guest Jennifer Lopez while appearing on a podcast some time ago. The clip made the rounds in the days leading up to the “SNL” episode that teamed up Edebiri and Lopez, and it was nice to see her take the quasi-controversy in stride.
Stuck in the Elevator – If there was one bad sketch of the night, other than the underwhelming and troubling cold open (we’ll get to that later), it was this one. Honestly, it’s not even that bad, but the premise isn’t all that strong, and while the comedy comes from how quickly the situation escalates among this group of people stuck inside an elevator, the sketch itself feels like it moves too quickly to actually do anything significantly funny. There’s nothing really surprising about where it goes once the bit begins, and the musical ending isn’t particularly satisfying. Wish we could have gotten a Please Don’t Destroy sketch instead.
These are just the sketches that I felt were worth highlighting (or shunning). But there are plenty of laughs to be found in a “People’s Court” sketch involving a nasty haircut and an intense spat between Ayo Edebiri and Ego Nwodim, while a second game show sketch turned the two into unfair allies. There was also an amusing bit involving the meet-cutes of seemingly normal couples in New York City who have anything but typical backstories. They’re all worth checking out!
How was Ayo Edebiri as an SNL host?
This was Ayo Edebiri’s first time hosting “SNL,” but other than showing some nerves during the monologue, you wouldn’t have known it. Despite Edebiri’s history with stand-up, she couldn’t help but be a little overwhelmed by being on the main stage at Studio 8H in 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Edebiri was even a bit emotional acknowledging that this was a dream come true. Thankfully, she seemed to get more comfortable as the monologue went on, and she fell back into the comfort of doing stand-up. But honestly, Edebiri was strongest as a sketch performer through the rest of the night. She was game for anything, including playing strange characters, and barely needed the cue cards. Edebiri has the potential to be one of the great recurring hosts, joining the likes of Adam Driver, Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and Justin Timberlake. Bring her back every year!
Sarah Sherman messing with Colin Jost is the best and Nikki Haley is the worst
The variety with which Sarah Sherman has figured out how to take jabs at Colin Jost is incredible. While the most straightforward attempt comes in flat out roasts at the desk, she’s also used a faux guru character to poke fun at the Weekend Update co-anchor. But this time, it’s Sherman as a young man named CJ Rossitano, who won tickets to “Saturday Night Live” from the line lottery. As the sketch goes on, it’s clear that CJ is Colin Jost’s illegitimate son from the comedian’s former housekeeper. From the way Sherman mimics Jost’s movements at the desk to the sudden cut to the filtered camera as Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle” song plays again and again, this sketch was hilarous. The allusion to Jost’s wife Scarlett Johansson was excellent, and the way Jost plays along with these bits is just wonderful.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have another lackluster political cold open. While I appreciated the addition of Punkie Johnson and Kenan Thompson as Gayle King and Charles Barkley for a bit of nonsense, the execution of everything was underwhelming. Granted, the bit with Donald Trump (James Austin Johnson) finding conspiracies in Taylor Swift’s tracklist was a nice touch, but it was all ruined by the surprise appearance by GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley.
Now, I understand that “Saturday Night Live” has always given an even shake to Republican politicians, but just as when they had Donald Trump host leading up to an election year, bringing in a toxic figure like Nikki Haley just helps normalize the most heinous and dangerous people in politics. Using “SNL” as a way for her to poke fun at both Trump and Biden is playing nice at a time when the show should be doing anything but that. At least they used Ayo Edebiri to call out her civil war nonsense, but it all still felt pretty weak and misguided, leaving a bad taste in my mouth.
Speaking of which, “SNL” will soon be eating crow when they bring comedian Shane Gillis in to host the February 24 episode. For those who don’t recall, Shane Gillis was hired as a cast member and then quickly jettisoned before his debut when certain racist remarks came to light from several podcasts. Gillis has since garnered more of a following, as well as his own Netflix stand-up special. Considering Gillis also pals around with the likes of Dave Chappelle, I’m not surprised “Saturday Night Live” has taken this turn. How will it all turn out? We’ll find out later this month.