With musical guest Machine Gun Kelly.

By Andy Hoglund
January 30, 2021 at 11:47 PM EST
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My fellow Coneheads! Welcome to 2021 — a new year, a new president for our favorite late-night sketch program. Tonight will be a show of firsts for Saturday Night Live — with a start of a new era, ushered in by tonight's host John Krasinski and musical guest Machine Gun Kelly

Krasinski, of course, rose to superstardom playing Jim Halpert in all nine seasons of NBC's The Office. And while some cynical corners of the show's fan base have posited that Jim — through his occasionally holier than thou, elitist, or even predatory behavior — is actually the show's villain, Krasinski has spent time following the show's end either transcending or embracing the smugness lurking beneath his persona. There's Krasinski the deft horror filmmaker, releasing A Quiet Place in 2018. There's Krasinski the weirdly buff action star (with questionable political undertones), appearing in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi as well as Jack Ryan. And finally, there's the return of relatable nice guy Krasinski, who re-emerged during the pandemic with the viral web series, Some Good News. I am curious which Krasinski we will see tonight — there are surprising layers of versatility.

I am joined tonight by former SNL cast member Gary Kroeger. He is a big fan of Krasinski and specifically admires "the intelligence that he carries with him. He finds the thread of intelligence in his characters and that is very authentic. Even seemingly simple-minded characters, or characters who may not be intellectual, have a personal intelligence and often actors miss that. John doesn't. He carries a certain weight behind his eyes and that appeals to a wide audience. We all find a piece of ourselves in his characters, or at least something we understand on a personal level. Jim in The Office probably being the most relatable."

Krasinski had previously been announced as host for the canceled March 28 episode during season 45, which was cut short due to COVID-19, making his gig tonight a hopeful bookend to the last year. He is the latest Office alum to host the show, following the likes of Steve Carell and Ed Helms. (Do we count Amy Adams? Let's ponder.) Who can forget Jason Sudeikis capturing peak slacker Jim during the Rainn Wilson monologue in season 32? 

It's SNL in Review: 2021 edition, y'all. Into the crevasse, we go…

Cold Open

We get right into What Still Works? with host Kate McKinnon. "It's a new year, with a new president so something should work?" The answer is, sadly, no!

The first guest is Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (Cecily Strong), the QAnon conspiracy theorist. "You represent the U.S.… people can Google you," questions McKinnon. "So, government does not work." Perfect down-the-middle-casting for Cecily; good to have her back. 

McKinnon moves on to the stock market — Pete Davidson is Derrick Evans (introduced as Derrick Boner), the majority shareholder of GameStop. Reddit has been seen; the crowd is into it. "The entire system is a joke?" he affirms. Kroeger comments: "I'll never forget what my father said many years ago when I asked him if he invested. He said, 'Son I invest in this family and in things where I have some control of the outcome. Wall Street is a casino and the House always wins.' " This week may prove that. 

Alex Moffat is back with his hilarious, deranged Mark Zuckerberg. And Jack Dorsey is played by Mikey Day. They demonstrate that social media has never worked.

Kenan Thompson returns with his O.J. Simpson, after previously playing him in an SNL at Home episode. Simpson got the vaccine — but teachers haven't yet. Concluding the vaccine rollout is already failing feels premature given the Biden administration is 10 days in, but okay.

Last but not least, Krasinski comes out as Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. He is the only thing in America that still works. But almost no one is rooting for him. It's fun seeing Kate here — as herself — slowly losing her mind. On brand Kate, with an intense "Live From New York!" 

Monologue

Krasinski comes out dancing in a poorly fitted suit — a little awkward. He is coming on a little strong, comparing SNL to appearing on Paw Patrol, his kids' favorite show.

Alex Moffat confuses him for Jim from The Office. "Do The Office … where is Pam?" Ego Nwodim interrupts with an audience question and tells him to stop working out; Jim is soft. "He sits all day." This is a little sad — it is totally true, however. Krasinski is still Jim! Kroeger disagrees: "I watch everything John does. I was impressed by his direction in A Quiet Place... and Jack Ryan has been the perfect escapist antidote for me during quarantine periods. His Jack Ryan is both vulnerable and heroic... an intelligence that is authentic and melds perfectly with his character."

Kenan needs him to kiss Pam. Pete Davidson comes out and explains everyone has been watching The Office nonstop during the pandemic. They need Jim and Pam to be real. We get a rehash of the Jim shrug — then he kisses Pete. The crowd gasps.

This was a depressing cold open. The opposite of Krasinski's heartfelt efforts in 2020. Kroeger mentions he envied how successful Some Good News was. He considered doing his own — however "nothing I could have done would have improved what John was doing. And, Emily Blunt wasn't going to make any appearances in mine. It worked because he nailed the sentiment of a majority of us. It wasn't a denial of bad news, but it was a consideration for the fact that there is always something good going on as well. Why not let that alter the negative chemistry we are all feeling at the moment?"

Side note: a geriatric Wayne and Garth are doing an Uber Eats commercial. That should have been included in the What's Not Working cold open sketch. 

Blue Georgia

John Krasinski is the sheriff; his cousin is from New York City. "Good to see a fellow blue stater!" says a homespun Crystal (Aidy Bryant). She hates CNN's corporate both sides-ism; give her Rachel Maddow any day! They have all-gendered restrooms, they/them pronouns, and read former First Lady Michelle Obama's Becoming. The rural Southern folk, it appears, are very progressive and woke. "This is Stacey Abrams country … home of Stankonia!"

They escort a Trump supporter to the state line. Yikes, misfire. 

Bullies

Andrew Dismukes is reading a manga comic after school. He is being picked on by the school bullies (Punkie Johnson, Kyle Mooney, Mikey Day, Pete Davidson) before his brother (John Krasinski) stands up for him. Inadvertently, he continues to insult him. Strong Kyle Mooney vibes to this one — is Dismukes the heir apparent?

Twins

Craig (John Krasinski) is a guest on CNBC, commenting on the recent Wall Street-Reddit uproar. His artwork is deeply disturbing. He's interrupted by his kids Jacob and Josephine, played by Kate McKinnon and Mikey Day — straight out of Children of the Corn, by way of The Shining. This is hilarious, given the ubiquity of at-home Zoom interviews. They hate Beck Bennett's fellow talking head for disagreeing with their father. He worships at the altar of the hedge funds.

Now That's What I Call Theme Songs Sung by the Stars

Finally, we get Chloe Fineman! She brings back her Nicole Kidman (singing the theme from The Undoing) and Kim Cattrall. This is a great spoof of that ego flex. What if other shows allowed their cast members to sing their show's opening numbers? Cecily Strong is Julie Andrews from Bridgerton. We need to talk about Kyle Mooney's recurring Baby Yoda — it is unpleasant. Cool to have Krasinski sing the "original" lyrics to The Office.

Storming the Capitol Arrests

Of course Beck Bennett would play one of the insurrectionists, "sweet, angry Brad." Brilliant casting. He nails it. And Aidy Bryant is arrested as well — she hates this group of "cucks" she is hanging out with. Eventually, everyone is arrested — easily caught. The premise flatlines but it is clever.

I wondered how SNL would tackle this national tragedy. Kroeger predicted: "The event itself is no longer the subject, and what is interesting to me is the satire that lies underneath...they could approach the trial of the QAnon Shaman or how other shamans are dealing with the shame. In other words, I think SNL has to approach the subject but, if I were in the room, I'd suggest that we find funny results and leave the event alone." I think they've done that here.

"My Ex's Best Friend" — Machine Gun Kelly

This is the third single off of MGK's fifth studio album, Tickets to My Downfall, and has vocals from Blackbear. This is certainly catchy — I wish white rappers did not use hip hop as a gateway to other genres like this. But it definitely slaps for what it is — vibrant guitar work, and cool throwback production from Travis Barker. 

Kroeger says Kelly "is enigmatic and charismatic. I'm not going to say that it's the sound coming out of my car, but I appreciate his artistry. He's a musician, an actor, and a comedian when he wants to be. He can't be pigeon-holed and that, to me, is the mark of a true artist."

Weekend Update

"A lot has happened since our last show … some of it was good." Colin Jost salutes diversity — white people are now a terrorist watch group. And he compares Reddit's GameStop maneuvers to the movie Now You See Me, and calls on it to become the No. 1 movie on Hulu. 

Che is brutal with his Harriett Tubman/underground railroad joke. Savagery. He comments on a potential minimum wage hike as well. (Kroeger shares that "Biden is using the equity he's been given, executive powers and a Congress that can lean his way, to correct our course. He has, at this point, in my observation, been true to the progressive planks he ran on.")

Jost brings out Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO who was just banned from Twitter. Of course, Beck Bennett plays him. Pitch perfect casting. I may have said this before: Bennett is the living embodiment of Randy Marsh. "Dude, you are all over the place," scoffs Jost. "I don't know, my brain's on fire!" cries Lindell. 

Fran Lebowitz (Bowen Yang) and Martin Scorsese (Kyle Mooney) — stars of Netflix's Pretend It's A City — comment on New York City lifting its restrictions on indoor dining. Kyle does not have an impression of Scorsese beyond the laugh + makeup. (Remember when Scorsese appeared as himself in "The Chris Farley Show?" Good times.)

Finally, Cathy Anne returns! We have not seen her since the RuPaul episode last February. She's an ideal person to be commenting on the DC insurrection. I wish they had based a sketch around her instead of the listless, offensive "Blue Georgia." You need that kind of avatar to ground it, win the audience over. She calls on white supremacists to be imprisoned, which seems fair, reasoning they will love everything jail has to offer: drama, chicken fingers, other white supremacists. No lies. 

Supermarket Sweep

"It's Jeopardy! for food!" says Krasinski, as the game show's previous host, David Ruprecht. First and foremost: where is the game show reboot's host, former SNL star Leslie Jones? Feels wrong.

Kris (Aidy Bryant) and Gina (Kate McKinnon) are contestants; they live in Vermont and enjoy a friendship kiss. Gina is a unitarian minister. They are a classic Aidy & Kate pairing. They seem to be having fun. It's the '90s, so the joke is that no one recognizes they are clearly a lesbian couple. Kris proposes to Gina on the floor, after hurting her knee. They didn't find the blueberries!

Subway Pitch

The company's internal marketing team is wondering if Subway needs to update its message. It's been a while since one of their campaigns has had traction. John Krasinski and Beck Bennett are Rocky and Dino; they are proud of their legacy. They found Jared — they are storytellers. Brandon (Andrew Dismukes) came over from Chipotle. And he is a man, not a kid. He wants to promote sandwiches without the bread — a protein bowl. As you might expect, the old school is not a fan of the new guard.

The alternate Subway jingle is goofy and well-executed. Rocky and Dino threaten to kill themselves.

"Lonely" — Machine Gun Kelly

Playing his own guitar no less! "I got in trouble," he murmurs. This has such a nostalgic Blink-era '90s vibe to it. Like Kelly's "Adam's Song" cosplay. Here is the video

Following his war of words with the legendary Eminem in 2018, MGK pivoted from hip hop, launching a well-received pop-punk phase of his career. Punk artists have an illustrious history at Studio 8H. Kroeger was a cast member on the show during one of the earliest performances: "I believe The Clash was the band on my third show on SNL when Ron Howard was the host. I remember being awed by the experience I was having. Here I was hanging out with Opie — I'm not being flippant, The Andy Griffith Show remains my favorite television show of all time — and the band that was arresting the world was on stage. I loved The Only Band That Matters and Joe Strummer was like a John Lennon to me. I recall thinking that he was very handsome, exaggerated Mohawk aside, and surprisingly accessible off stage. I partied with The Clash after the show, for Heaven's sake! They were very easy going, but their music was tearing down conventions with its simplicity. Loud simplicity. 'Water froze in the generation Clear as winter ice This is your paradise / There ain't no need for ya.' C'mon, what more needs to be said?"

Ratatouille

Chloe Fineman and John Krasinski are post-gaming their sex. Turns out John is being controlled by Ratatouille (Kyle Mooney). And he is controlled by a bug played by Aidy Bryant. "That's a bug's life!" she screams after being flicked. When Chloe and John's characters go for round two, Ratatouille starts pleasuring himself (mouse-terbating, if you will ... self-gRATification). So bizarre, it almost works. Deep 10-to-1 weirdness that never quite feels ready for air. (Much like a lot of this episode!)

Pete Davidson is the sex critic, wrapping up the sketch. He is spoofing Anton Ego, voiced by Peter O'Toole in the movie. Pete Davidson impersonating Peter O'Toole in 2021 — welcome to the new year!

Final Thoughts

—What did you think of SNL's first 2021 show? Sound off below, or vote here!

—This is the first episode all season where all 20 cast members have been present and utilized. Felt like a lot!

—Thank you so much to Gary Kroeger for his excellent thoughts tonight. MGK is one of Pete Davidson's close friends. I asked Kroeger who he would've had perform on SNL, if he was asked during his time at 8H. He said: "I wanted a Beatle as the musical guest. Ringo did host and that was a week I will never forget — I even have the ashes from one of his cigarettes in a cup in my office to this day. But I would have loved to have hung out with Paul McCartney. Or George Harrison as well."

—Former cast member Victoria Jackson weighs in: "I sound like Debbie Downer… I can't understand a word of what the singer, Machine Gun Kelly, was singing… I love the Fran Lebowitz series on Netflix and they are doing a good impression. Liked the beginning best when Lebowitz stayed in character. I love when people stay in character and don't laugh at themselves. But, the Scorsese character was funny and it would be hard to keep a straight face as he got bigger and bigger. But, it's funnier for us when the actors stay in character. When I was on the show Lorne told us to stay in character. He said 'breaking character was Carol Burnett.' Then, Adam Sandler did it and I guess Lorne changed the rules."

—The show ends with a nice hat tip to Cicely Tyson, the first black woman to ever host SNL. The legendary actress and icon died this week at age 96.

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