Saturday Night Live’s latest cold open hit all the current event bases, from Britney Spears, to Ted Cruz, to Gina Carano. Framed as a Spears-hosted talk show where people can come and apologize after embarrassing themselves, “Britney Spears Cold Open” is what happens when you throw a handful of unrelated references into a blender. It’s worth watching, though, because of the performances. Aidy Bryant taps into the distinctive toady shamelessness of Ted Cruz, with slight flashes of the panic within whenever Cruz realizes the public and the media have his number. Pete Davidson, who’s great at playing Pete Davidson but doesn’t usually get to do much else, is a great Andrew Cuomo, a blustery creature of arrogance and contempt who isn’t nearly as smart as he thinks he is. And although there isn’t much for Chloe Fineman to do as Britney Spears, she has the voice and physical mannerisms down. Check it out, and read on for more thoughts below.
I’m of two minds on this sketch. Yes, the fake talk show idea is so overdone by SNL that it’s not even worth mentioning at this point—it’s just what the show does, and will continue to do, so deal with it. And the idea of cramming together the biggest political and pop culture stories of the week—from the Britney documentary, to Ted Cruz’s Cancun trip, to Andrew Cuomo’s unfolding coronavirus controversy, to Gina Carano’s firing from Star Wars and shameless woe-is-me posturing—is about as lazy as it gets. Still, that’s better than the most obvious alternative: writing individual sketches about all four stories, and bogging down what was actually a pretty good episode with constant uninspired topicality.
Topicality was one of the show’s biggest crutches over the last four years. Sure, the Trump era was like a perpetual motion machine of scandal and idiocy rife for satire, but SNL’s not particularly good at politics, and Trump’s gang was so beyond the pale that light comedy about what they were up to was almost offensive. It’s early, and the data set is small, but so far SNL has noticeably cut back on its sketches about politics and current events over the last two months. The results have been mixed, but encouraging; this weekend’s episode, hosted by Bridgerton’s Regé-Jean Page, was consistently fine, with only one true clunker of a sketch. But then last week’s Regina King-hosted episode was a disaster, with almost nothing working. Still, it was light on the politics, so even though it was a bad episode, at least it was mostly missing what has become the show’s most annoying aspect.
As awkward as the concept is behind this cold open, and as uninspired as it might be to just run out a series of impressions related to recent hot-button stories, this sketch cleverly soaked up all the pressure SNL feels to be topical, letting the rest of the episode stand on its own. Getting this sketch out of the way first freed up the show’s writers to focus on their strengths, and the result was a perfectly fine episode.