As an intoxicating synthpop beat begins, Sam Smith steps coyly out of the shadows. Behind him stand Howard and Guy Lawrence—the British electronic duo better known as Disclosure—who provide a spectacle of musical multitasking for their Saturday Night Live studio audience. Encircled almost entirely by expansive sound desks, the two expertly work complex systems of buttons and dials in between frequent periods of drumming and keyboarding. Calm, cool, and collected in casual all-black attire, the performers bop along to the rhythm of their catchy single “Omen.” Occasionally, the brothers lean into their microphones and lend some soft vocals to Smith’s powerful set of pipes.
With “Omen,” Disclosure continued the intensity established by their first song of the night—a percussion-heavy collaboration with Lorde called “Magnets.” Throughout these singles off Disclosure’s sophomore release Caracal, Lorde proposes “dancing past the point of no return,” Smith’s high notes say something about a weird feeling he has, and the audience excitedly sings along.
However, despite these delightful collaborations, the lyrics of both songs—stripped of their respective relationship-centered contexts—serve as oddly prophetic warnings about the beloved show SNL and its recent dip in comedic quality. If Disclosure’s lyrics offer any indication about the lackluster comedy that simply fills time between the musical guests, one is lead to infer that this mediocre episode of an already struggling season of sketch comedy “must be an omen.”
Hosted by Elizabeth Banks, Saturday’s fifth installment of its 41st season continues the show’s recent streak of semi-entertaining episodes in which the writing falls flat and its characters struggle to get pity laughs from a pained studio audience. The night’s lineup of sketches failed to playfully insult or excite, as race jokes in “Black Jeopardy” and a pre-taped pseudo-commercial about pedophiles were just a few overdone additions to this weekend’s episode.
Banks’ musical monologue played with her recent directing stint in Pitch Perfect 2. The gag turns her into a demanding diva and director, which worked to elicit some halfhearted chuckles from the audience. In most scenes, her sketch characters came across as bland rather than boisterous. Assigned to be the same annoying Millennial stock character for almost all of her appearances, Banks played a basic blonde airhead in the SNL short film “Uber For Jen” and the aforementioned “Black Jeopardy” sketch, among others. Though her roles were rarely varied, Banks performed well by bringing energy to each of her appearances.
More often than not, it seemed as though one of the show’s well-seasoned cast members would swoop sporadically into the scene to save the day—or, at least that one sketch—with expressive physical comedy or improvised puns. Kate McKinnon’s impression of lonely and impoverished Russian woman Olya Povlatsky saved yet another sinking Weekend Update. The unfunny stylings of expressionless anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che were improved only by Mckinnon’s efforts as well as a wacky montage of Donald Trump’s most recent antics.
The season so far has played out in much the same way, as fan favorites like Vanessa Bayer, Kenan Thompson, and promising newbie Pete Davidson are burdened with the constant pressure of having to pick up the perpetual slack. Even in the season’s earlier episodes—programs which were supposed to be driven by the star power of big-name guests like Donald Trump and Miley Cyrus—the hype was not nearly enough to compensate for weak writing and jokes consisting mostly of overly insensitive commentary.
However, some material in this week’s episode did translate as inventive, clever, and amusing. The SNL *NSYNC-style girl band Infinity + 5 introduces their newest single “First Got Horny 2 U,” a foolish but funny ode to the guys who helped them through some of the most awkward stages of puberty. Later, a mock theater production performed by a handful of angsty teenage activists added some much-needed satirical comedy to an otherwise uneventful show.
The lack of creative comedy in SNL season 41 so far seems to be a bad omen for the future of the show. With some cast members breaking character and laughing a lot more at their own one-dimensional jokes than their live audience, the current quality of the show’s historically hysterical writing is now called into question. While longing for the good ol’ days when successful eras of the show featured regular performances by top comedians of the time—like Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey, and Kristen Wiig, among many others—fans watch each new episode of SNL with fingers crossed. Only future episodes will determine whether the lackluster sketch show is, as Lorde would sing several times in “Magnets”—past the point of no return.
Featured Image By SNL Studios