Phoebe Waller-Bridge has had a successful past few years, to say the least.
The Emmy-winning writer of Fleabag and Killing Eve brought her brand of unfiltered brashness to the SNL screen this Saturday in an episode that felt like a victory lap. Still, while worth watching for any Waller-Bridge fans, the show wasn't quite able to live up to the level of comedic brilliance we've come to expect from her.
The best part was probably Waller-Bridge's opening monologue, in which she stated that everything she writes has a "grain of truth" to it, discussed genit*lia for several minutes, and definitively explained why Fleabag's "Hot Priest" is so hot: It's because he actually listens. She discussed psychopathy, which is brought to the fore on Killing Eve, and theorized that she herself might even be a psychopath (or at least, everyone she knows is). She closed with some killer lines like, "Back then horny women were to be burned at the stake. Now they're given Emmys!"
Phoebe Waller-Bridge Monologue - SNL www.youtube.com
Unfortunately, the rest of the show took a slightly downward turn following that monologue. While it might be a bit harsh to call SNL an "aging, decrepit beast that should've been put out of its misery seasons ago," as Vice did in its review of this episode, several of this show's sketches faltered dangerously. Last week's debut episode was promising with its clever depiction of the Democratic presidential candidates, but then again, those jokes kind of write themselves.
At least this episode, despite no shortage of lackluster jokes, we got to see Phoebe Waller-Bridge use many different accents and play a couple of memorable roles, including a psychopathic war wife who gallivants around with Hitler in the sketch "Words of the War." That sketch was possibly one of the episode's best, mostly thanks to Waller-Bridge's excellent deadpan and the scene's escalating absurdity. Weekend Update was also a highlight, featuring Kate McKinnon's lovably aggressive Elizabeth Warren, a well-placed Pete Davidson joke, and a flamboyant Chen Biao, played by freshman cast member Bowen Yang. "Mid-Day News" was also excellent, bringing racial politics and stereotypes to the fore as South Floridian news anchors try to determine whether the criminals they're reporting on are black or white.
Weekend Update: Chen Biao on US-China Trade War - SNL www.youtube.com
Mid-Day News - SNL www.youtube.com
On the other hand, the odd sketch "Royal Romance" made fun of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry but never quite hit its stride, and its jokes pushed the boundaries between satire and racism. Then there was the painful "Kaylee, Crystal, and Janetta," a sketch which featured four women at a bar. Perhaps meant to be a subversion of the super-feminine, stereotypical Sex and the City type of girl gang, characters portrayed are loud, tattooed, mullet-wearing, totally unfeminine, and frequently violent women. But that sketch doesn't seem to do many favors for any of them, instead asking the audience to laugh off a sequence where they each attack an ex-lover, refusing the kind of self-aware nuance that makes Fleabag such a standout example of how to write a "difficult woman" character.
Kaylee, Crystal & Janetta - SNL www.youtube.com
It's hard to say exactly why SNL has struggled so much over the past few years. Comedy writing is incredibly hard, but with all the absurdity in the modern era, we need excellent satire now more than ever to put it all into perspective. Still, the show could benefit from more diverse perspectives, more boundary-pushing and nuanced comedy, and stronger characters—the latter of which, specifically, Waller-Bridge is so good at creating. One has to wonder what would've happened had Waller-Bridge been able to write a few sketches herself.