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Inside Beat

'Saturday Night Live' is back, better than ever

Adele, the singer that brought us songs like "Hello" and "Someone Like You," recently hosted "Saturday Night Live" for the first time.  – Photo by SNL / Twitter

When that saxophone chord progression rings over the television, you know that ”Saturday Night Live” (SNL) is on once more. “Live From New York” for more than four decades — the first episode aired in 1975 — this Emmy Award-winning production has brought joy and smiles to thousands of audiences and is doing so even during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

SNL doesn’t just give direct happiness through its short, 2-minute skits, but also serves as the proverbial birthplace for hundreds of talented comedic and musical artists. Past members of SNL include Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg (yeah, I also did not know he was part of SNL way before "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"), Chris Rock, Tina Fey, Eddie Murphy and Bill Murray.

All these SNL members were born and bred through trial by fire. Each episode of SNL is produced, written, rehearsed and performed on a time crunch. As an associate producer, Janine DeVito said, “What we read on Wednesday is not what airs on Saturday night at all, like sometimes it's completely different”!

Consider how each show this season has dealt with the presidential debates.

The writers are tasked with writing up material the night before Wednesday, which is their reading day, or the day the cast receives the script for the first time. Then Lorne Michaels, the Emmy Award-winning producer and screenwriter of SNL, lays out the show in approximately 13-15 segments, which is open to change throughout the week.

Don Roy King, the director of SNL since 2006, is in charge of coordinating everything that is happening in the studio during airtime. Changes get made almost instantaneously, right when commercial breaks happen but before the next segment.

And yet, even through the chaos and the unbelievable stress of producing a show as it is happening, Ken Aymong, supervising producer, still said, “You can never underestimate what a challenge it is to pull this off, week after week. That all these things coalesce at the same time and the same place and that it works in front of an audience. And, I’ll tell you, when it’s firing on all cylinders, it's like music.”

To audience members dedicated to this show, week after week, we agree with Aymong that the show is like music, joyous at times but always with a message to deliver, and, honestly, this season has been unmatched.

Rock premiere episode

On Oct. 3, season 46 of SNL premiered to the highest ratings in four years, with 8.24 million viewers and a 1.8 rating among adults 18-49 years old, and was hosted by Rock, SNL alumnus, with musical guest Megan Thee Stallion.

If you have never watched an SNL episode, then no problem.

The structure of each episode is pretty straightforward. The show always begins with a Cold Open segment at 11:30 p.m. This week we were greeted by Jim Carrey playing a very convincing Joe Biden, down to the nervous smile and barely contained rage at Alec Baldwin’s President Donald J. Trump imitation.

Honestly, if you watch no other segment of SNL, take some time out of your day to at least watch these Cold Open segments, because they are nothing if not a great representation of the actual debates themselves and just about as informative.

Once the segment ends, the guest host delivers a montage. During this week Rock thanked all the first responders who are the only audience members allowed in the studio for now.

While holding a blue mask and delivering his signature gesticulations, Rock’s opening line was, “Trump’s in the hospital from COVID(-19), and I just want to say, my heart goes out to COVID(-19).” He went on to propose some changes to who gets to run this country and be president to raucous applause by the audience.

At midnight, the Weekend Update, a personal favorite of mine, is delivered with hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost. “Say what you will about 2020, but it’s got moves,” said Jost about Trump entering the hospital for COVID-19. Can you believe it has not even been a month since Trump was hospitalized? That just gives you some insight into how much content SNL has had to work with this season.

Before the end of the night, the musical guest performs and the host wraps up. This episode saw Stallion performing her famous song “Savage” and “Don’t Stop,” featuring Young Thug.

Bill Burr episode

On Oct. 10, Burr hosted with musical guest Jack White. Some notable sketches include “Sam Adams,” featuring Burr playing a disgruntled, stereotypical Bostonian sampling a pumpkin lager, and “Don Pauly,” a traditional Italian mobster who leaves jail only to find that his mob is much more politically correct now.

Burr’s monologue was met with some controversy. He targeted the “woke movement” and said, “Somehow, white women swung their Gucci-booted feet over the fence of oppression and stuck themselves at the front of the line.”

Generally, people were just upset that he spoke on these topics with a lack of aplomb and sensitivity. But, honestly, I have to agree with people who say that comedy needs to be able to make fun of our society, no matter how controversial or tactless.

SNL is known for its less mainstream comedic entertainment — in fact, most of the SNL cast have their own much more controversial stand-up shows. In a society where everything is taken so seriously, I think it's worth it to have a comedy poke fun at the larger culture. Who knows, we might even end up learning something from our own weaknesses.

Issa Rae episode

On Oct. 17, comedian Rae hosted with musical guest Justin Bieber. Notable sketches included “eBay,” where quarantine shoppers find themselves unloading all their unwanted, unused Amazon purchases, and “Dancer,” where Rae and Kyle Mooney have a dance-off with Chance the Rapper — pretty much lives up to the hype.

What stole the show for me was Bieber’s first live performance of his latest track, “Lonely,” featuring benny blanco. We first see him sitting in front of a mirror, much the same way his music video starts out. As he begins to sing, he gets up from his chair and walks slowly through the storied halls of the SNL studio.

The juxtaposition of his ballad about feeling lonely as a celebrity while surrounded by walls of signed autographs of the various celebrities who had been through SNL seemed only fitting. His cracked vocals are genuinely heart-wrenching, as he laments his childhood, singing, “They criticized the things I did as an idiot kid.”

Adele episode

This Saturday, Adele hosted the show with musical guest H.E.R. The ratings and anticipation on this show were high, drawing a 5.0 rating in households and 2.4 rating among adults 18-49 years old, the second-highest ratings of the season, only behind Rock’s episode. Adele has been out of the spotlight for some time that I was personally excited to see her return.

In her monologue, she mentions how she has not been back to the SNL stage since 2008 when she first performed as the musical guest. Then she hints at an album that is currently in the works but not yet ready to be released — this is where I promptly squealed from excitement as I am a humongous Adele fan.

Fear not though, the SNL writers have you covered with a skit on “The Bachelor,” where Adele is featured as one of the women vying for a chance to be with the bachelor, except every time something does not go her way, she breaks out into song. The actors and the audience make it clear that they are totally down to hear her sing more.

I'm a huge SNL fan, so I could keep going on and on about the funniest sketches or what the socio-political repercussions of some of these skits are, but I’ll spare you the details and just tell you to take a gander through SNL’s wide variety of sketches, all posted on YouTube for viewers’ convenience, every once in a while. 

I promise you will not be disappointed. This Saturday, expect host John Mulaney and musical guest The Strokes.

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