Pop-culture gossip is like catnip for Saturday Night Live. Celebrity misbehavior has fueled many, many of the show’s sketches over the years—some of them quick-witted and clever, some of them bizarre duds. But not all celebrity news is created equal: There’s Will Smith’s Oscars slap, and then there’s the befuddling recent fallout of the YouTube stars the Try Guys.
If you haven’t heard about why the Try Guys have been trending (or if you didn’t want to), Saturday Night Live charged ahead anyway. Last night, the show offered a limp sketch that satirized the group’s “what happened.” video to the point of utter absurdity. In the original video, the remaining three members somberly discussed firing their married co-host Ned Fulmer after discovering that he’d been cheating on his wife with one of the group’s employees. In pursuing a very online premise, SNL niched itself into a corner, offering nothing artful to say about a topic that few outside of virtual circles want to discuss.
Framed as an episode of CNN Today, the sketch began with the correspondent Colin O’Doherty (played by the first-time host Brendan Gleeson) interrupting his White House update with breaking news out of the Try Guys’ camp. He delivered a breathless series of words that purposely registered as cobbled-together nonsense for those who don’t spend much time online. “CNN can confirm that the Try Guys have released an official YouTube video clapping back at ex–Try Guy, the wife-guy Try Guy. He disrespected the brand by making out with one of the Food Babies at the Harry Styles concert,” he explained. Ego Nwodim’s anchorwoman was confused—as, likely, was much of the audience. “I’m going to be honest, Colin; I don’t know what any of that is,” she said.
In an interview, Nwodim asked the remaining Try Guys (played by Bowen Yang, Mikey Day, and Andrew Dismukes) why the story had received so much attention. Day, playing Zach Kornfeld, explained, “[Ned] committed the heinous act of having a consensual kiss and not telling us, his friends.” In the world of online-content creation, where so many creators’ personal lives become part of their brand, it makes sense that Fulmer’s act would feel like a breach of trust—and something that the group needs to brief its followers about. But for audiences outside the Try Guys’ sphere, it only registers as a big “Huh?” The sketch attempted to make the point that yes, this is all very silly without offering a deeper take. In the end, it felt like little more than a dramatized trending hashtag.
In an age when so much culture comes from the internet (and the show’s viewership depends in part on next-day clips), it would be strange if SNL didn’t take inspiration from discourse online. But the show doesn’t always nail the balance between dropping references and adding something original—evidenced by its trite foray into satirizing TikTok. During last week’s season premiere, SNL did a better job of referencing internet scandals in its game-show spoof Send Something Normal. Contestants included characterizations of Adam Levine and Armie Hammer, both recently in the headlines for allegedly sending women upsetting DMs, but the sketch resisted making them the sole focus. The Try Guys sketch, in contrast, suggests that the writers might need to stop scrolling so much.
Last night, the show’s final two sketches ignored relevance altogether and felt livelier as a result. In the History Channel spoof “Blood Oath,” Gleeson played the leader of an ancient horde who pledged his allegiance to his former enemies. But he whiffed the blood oath and cut too deep, creating a gushing gash. The premise wasn’t anything particularly memorable beyond reminding the audience how fun things can get when the show’s live aspect shines through. Gleeson wielded his lacerated hand around the set, spewing blood all over his co-stars in a way that blinded Day, made Chloe Fineman squeal, and cracked up Kenan Thompson. It was ludicrous—and fun.
Sarah Sherman, who’s been making a name for herself on SNL for her offbeat and at-times-gruesome comedy, led the final sketch, in which she played a woman who’d surgically replaced her eyes with googly eyes and took outsize offense at her co-workers’ failure to notice. Sherman’s comedic physicality in the sketch lent the thin premise a greater substance and proved that hilarity doesn’t always have to feel ripped from the digital headlines.
SNL cannot refrain from commenting on the times in which it is produced, but it’s far more interesting when it finds a way to critique pop culture rather than simply rehash it—or when it simply logs off. In pursuing extremely online fare, SNL ends up only chasing relevancy as opposed to creating it (digital shorts, anyone? David S. Pumpkins?) and letting the online world follow.