After a month-long hiatus, Saturday Night Live announced its starter lineup for 2021. On Jan. 22, 2021, SNL announced the following episodes:
Jan. 30, 2021: Hosted by John Krasinski with musical guest Machine Gun Kelly
Feb. 6, 2021: Hosted by Dan Levy with musical guest Phoebe Bridgers
Feb. 13, 2021: Hosted by Regina King with musical guest Nathaniel Rateliff
None of these episodes disappointed, and each one featured its own highlights and lowlights. Let’s take a look at how SNL tackled the beginning of 2021*:
The monologue is an essential part of SNL, in which each host gets the opportunity to speak directly to the audience. Sometimes the monologue sets the tone for the night, but in the case of these three episodes, the night improved following the host’s monologue.
John Krasinski’s natural charm carried him through the beginning of his monologue However, the “The Office” gimmick that the monologue centered around became a bit played-out after cast members out in the audience insisted Krasinski was Jim. The joke lasted until he and Pete Davidson shared a kiss. While the kiss was seemingly well-received, it lacked a punchline, and left the monologue feeling unresolved.
Dan Levy’s monologue was the weakest of the three. Levy took the audience on a “tour” backstage at SNL—as hosts often do—demonstrating exaggerated COVID safety protocols taking place behind the scenes. The jokes didn’t appear to be landing very well, and because COVID protocols have been taken at the show since the beginning of the season in October, a fresher topic would have been more appropriate. One highlight, however, was the appearance of Eugene Levy—Dan Levy’s father, and co-creator and co-star of Schitt’s Creek—at the end of the monologue.
Regina King’s monologue was witty, but also relied on cast members. Kenan Thompson garnered big laughs from the audience by joining King onstage as her hype-man, complete with a mic and an airhorn. King remained composed and in-character, making her the perfect “straight-man” for Thompson’s shenanigans.
Krasinski’s episode produced the highest quality sketches of the three episodes. Out of these sketches, “Blue Georgia” and “Subway Pitch” were the most clever and humorous.
The premise of “Blue Georgia” was by far its most creative element: A man from New York (Pete Davidson) visits his cousin (John Krasinski) down in Georgia, where the two enter a stereotypical southern diner. The catch? The Georgians (Aidy Bryant and Beck Bennett) insist that they’re just like people from New York because they’re a blue state now. The sheer number of stereotypically liberal phrases coming out of the mouths of individuals with strong southern accents was extremely funny. The ending of the sketch was a bit hokey, with Davidson looking directly into the camera; however, the overall quality of the sketch stands.
In “Subway Pitch,” two old and out-of-touch marketing executives for Subway (John Krasinski and Beck Bennett) berate a newer executive (Andrew Dismukes) for his new ideas. Though Dismukes came off a bit cringey, Krasinski’s overall performance made up for it. He and Bennett shared excellent chemistry when singing their version of the “five-dollar footlong” pitch—their completely unison jingle, which lacked any sort of melody or advertising merit, garnered large laughs and applause from the audience.
In Dan Levy’s episode, the clear front-runner was the “Zillow'' mock ad. The ad has an overtly sexual tone—featuring close-up shots of cast members and echoes of lines spoken in breathy tones—and targeted individuals in their late 30s looking to replace sex with looking at homes on Zillow. The standouts of the sketch were Levy and Bowen Yang, who acted as an interested couple, and Cecily Strong as the obnoxious listing agent who exists to help individuals cool down from the heat of their Zillow fantasies.
In Regina King’s episode, the best segment was “The Negotiator,” in which King plays a negotiator in a hostage situation who has just accidentally eaten a bag of marijuana gummy bears. The sketch follows King through an elaborate musical hallucination in which Pete Davidson and Aidy Bryant play weed gummy bears while King tries to remain focused on the situation. Bryant, Davidson, and King all performed with enthusiasm: However, the real stand-out in the sketch was Melissa Villaseñor as Marge Simpson. Her impression was spot-on, making her the most impressive part of this sketch.
SNL is available to stream on Hulu-live when it airs if you have the HBO Max subscription, and the next day if you have the regular Hulu subscription—as well as on Peacock. Sketches are also uploaded individually to the SNL YouTube page.
*For the purpose of this article, I will not be reviewing musical guests.