Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it ...
No, really, wait for it: Viewers had to get halfway into the Saoirse Ronan-hosted “Saturday Night Live” before arriving at the first and only Matt Lauer reference, and that wait was hardly rewarded with a tame “Weekend Update” graphic of “this week’s batch of predators,” or the follow-up obvious if obligatory reference to Ann Curry: “The Rockefeller Christmas tree was lit Wednesday night, and so was Ann Curry!”
Cut to pictures of a beaming Curry and a curdled Lauer.
Perhaps “SNL” has come to the conclusion that there’s nothing left to joke about in the great reckoning that’s leveled several prominent men in recent months — Lauer not the most recent. So instead, it’s left to “Weekend Update” to dispatch the latest male predator, or predators. Colin Jost’s first reference featured a picture of Lauer, Russell Simmons and Garrison Keillor. More pictures could have been added from just the past few days. “Update” can’t even keep up anymore.
Instead, “SNL” did a smart digital short titled “Welcome to Hell” that offered a broader view of that current reckoning. Set in a Candy Land fantasy world with a musical mashup of every Demi Lovato, Fergie and Fifth Harmony video you’ve ever seen, “Hell” contained this confoundedly upbeat chorus line sung by the female cast members and Ronan:
“Welcome to hell, now we’re all in here/Look around, isn’t it nice?/It’s a full nightmare/It’s so cuckoo/playing this game/Yeah, it’s a lot, but it’s what we got.”
Aidy Bryant’s character then sang, “These cool powerful guys have turned out to be — what’s the word? — habitual predators! It’s like dang, is this the world now?”
Cecily Strong followed: “Here’s a little secret that every girl knows. This BEEN the dang world!”
At it’s best — as this was — “SNL” captures something vitally important or resonant in the broader culture, then reduces it to one simple line (or in this instance, a beat) that you can’t quite get out of your head for the rest of the day because that’s the whole idea: It’s supposed to stay in your head.
Standard jokes about predators, Lauer included, have lost their power to ridicule. Best to put the reckoning in a song that establishes that the rich, powerful and connected aren’t the only malefactors, but the random anonymous guy on a street in a trench coat and fake mustache is, too.
“Welcome to Hell” was depressing — that was the whole idea — but it also felt strangely grounded at the same time.
The rest of this all-Irish “SNL” (U2 was musical guest, and as always, an excellent one) — or at least the headlining parts — was solid. Just when you thought or feared the show has run out of ways to run Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump even further into the ground, it figured out another novel way to make this caricature work, or at least make it funny.
Ghosts of Christmas Past has been on “SNL” before — on every comedy sketch show in history in fact — but this cold open was sharp and to the point, right down to Mikey Day’s prosthetic nose on his Michael Flynn, who arrives in chains to warn “Trump” of three impending visits.
Of course, you knew exactly who the last visitor would be, and the payoff line was probably why the entire sketch was conceived in the first place. Removing her black, Steve Bannon-like hooded cowl, Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton, then says to faux-POTUS: “You, Donald, have given me the greatest gift of all — sexual gratification in the form of your slow demise.” She closed with the line of the night: “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to say this. Lock him up.”
Meanwhile, it’s “Sersha.”
Turns out that “Saoirse” — like “Target” — can be pronounced in many novel ways, but in only one correct way. “SNL” and Ronan thus settled an argument that many have waged and few have won over the last few weeks, namely the correct pronunciation of the “Lady Bird” star’s name. Her entire monologue — another in-show winner — was devoted to the pronunciation (Sersha), and I speak for millions of fans, Saoirse, when I say, “Thank you.”