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Molly Shannon Can't Recreate the Magic of Her Original Saturday Night Live Run

The alum stumbles through an episode that was made to showcase her talents.
  • Molly Shannon as Jeannie Darcy on Saturday Night Live (Photo: Kyle Dubiel/NBC)
    Molly Shannon as Jeannie Darcy on Saturday Night Live (Photo: Kyle Dubiel/NBC)

    When a Saturday Night Live alum returns to Studio 8H, expectations are high. And when that returning cast member is someone as affable as Molly Shannon, expectations can feel even higher — no one wants to see a beloved comedian stumble. But those high hopes can make a sloppy outing fall even flatter. The April 8 episode of SNL leaned on Shannon’s charm and gave her material that should have been in her wheelhouse, but ultimately she delivered a surprisingly low-energy performance that lacked confidence.

    For the second week in a row, the majority of the punchlines — and laughs — were placed squarely on the guest host's shoulders. It's not hard to see why the writers assumed this alum would make it work: Shannon’s original run on SNL, from 1995 to 2001, was defined by her ability to play over-the-top characters like “Superstar” Mary Katherine Gallagher and find the quiet hilarity in characters like NPR host Teri Rialto. In her return as host, Shannon showcased both ends of that spectrum by reprising characters like Jeannie Darcy, the monotone stand-up comedian, and Sally O’Malley, the high-kicking 50-year-old who isn’t afraid to show a little camel toe. These sketches were the best of the night by far, but that momentum was quickly lost, never to be regained. There wasn’t much the supporting cast could do to step in, as the night’s sketches were constructed in a way that meant the laughs were almost exclusively Shannon’s responsibility to deliver.

    The April 1 episode also put a majority of its trust in the guest host, and Quinta Brunson confidently carried each sketch, owning the responsibility of making the audience laugh to great success. When the series immediately attempted to replicate that success with someone who’s done the job before, it showed how difficult that task is for even the most seasoned performer, and how leaning so heavily on one person can backfire. 

    Shannon’s built a career on enthusiasm, which isn’t to say she hasn’t proven herself to be excellent at playing nuanced characters with dramatic arcs. But the hallmarks of her most memorable work, like her recent turns on comedies The Other Two and I Love That For You, are a palpable charisma and a toothy grin. Those traits didn’t shine through in most of last night’s SNL, and instead turned into nervous energy that knocked her comedic timing off course. Throughout the night she fumbled lines and stepped on breaks for laughter, never quite finding the groove she once had as a cast member.

    Even sketches with promise floundered because of Shannon’s fumbles. In her first sketch of the night, “Valets,” Shannon seemed to forget her lines, which noticeably lowered her confidence, taking the punch out of her own joke delivery while also upending the rhythm of the entire sketch. The sketch itself relied on a combination of sharp delivery and physical humor, which would normally be right in Shannon’s wheelhouse. This misstep set the tone for the rest of the night, highlighting more than anything that when it comes to live comedy, Shannon is out of practice. She struggled to keep up with the pace required for a successful episode of SNL.

    Still, her obvious influence on the cast was a highlight of the night. Heidi Gardner’s Weekend Update character Co-Worker Who's Extremely Busy Doing Seemingly Nothing felt like a direct descendant of a classic Shannon character, bubbling with a bizarre but relatable frenetic energy. Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman couldn’t hide their joy in the Sally O’Malley sketch, breaking into laughter at each of Shannon’s slightest movements. One of the biggest mistakes was saving that sketch for the final moments of the episode — had it been up first, it would have eased Shannon back into the live milieu, giving her the confidence to keep up the momentum for the rest of the night.

    It was clear that each member of the cast was delighted to be in Shannon’s presence. Even as premises like the five-minute-long fart joke that was “Pregnant Co-Worker” failed before their very eyes, everyone in the scene still looked at Shannon with the utmost respect. But reverence alone wasn’t enough for an episode that pinned its hopes entirely on Shannon.

    Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 PM ET on NBC and streams on Peacock. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R. 

    TOPICS: Saturday Night Live, I Love That For You, The Other Two, Molly Shannon