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Quinta Brunson Proved Saturday Night Live Can Succeed Without Gimmicks

The Abbott Elementary star led one of the best episodes of Season 48 so far.
  • Quinta Brunson hosting Saturday Night Live (Photo: Will Heath/NBC)
    Quinta Brunson hosting Saturday Night Live (Photo: Will Heath/NBC)

    Saturday Night Live is at its best when it allows its host and cast to just be funny. It may seem like an obvious directive, but over the years the sketch comedy show has often found itself surprisingly off course, taking up valuable episode time to flaunt big-name celebrities, whether they make sense in a sketch or not. But when Quinta Brunson took over hosting duties on April 1, she did more than just lead sketches and deliver laughs on her own — she created a more collaborative atmosphere than in recent outings. And the trust SNL put in her to do what she does best made for one of the best episodes of the season.

    Brunson commanded the stage from the start. Her monologue featured a mix of genuine praise for school teachers and biting jokes about their importance, a showcase of the perspective that’s made her sitcom Abbott Elementary such a success. There was something of a cameo in her monologue — she just had to show off a video on her phone of herself and Barack Obama. But she incorporated it seamlessly into her opening story about her rise to fame, not as a cheap ploy for applause.

    From there, she was off and running, letting her confidence and experience as a versatile comedian shine. Many of the sketches from the night would have felt more at home on HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show, which Brunson co-wrote and starred in during its first season. It was a welcome reprieve from many of SNL’s established sketch templates — even the episode’s game show sketch, a standby of the series, took some unexpected twists that allowed everyone in the sketch to deliver a killer punchline. Brunson’s influence emphasized the ensemble, giving under-utilized cast members like Punkie Johnson, Marcello Hernandez, and Molly Kearny more time in the spotlight.

    Still, Brunson was leading the charge. Look no further than the sketch “Traffic Altercation” for proof of her comedic prowess throughout the night. The physical setup of the road rage-inspired sketch was a tricky one. Depicting the action taking place in two separate cars to a live audience isn’t a simple task, and the performers had their work cut out for them playing to that audience, the cameras, and each other through a car window all at once. But Brunson made it look effortless while maniacally pantomiming “eat my butt.” It was one of the best moments of the entire night.

    This was the first episode of Season 48 that didn’t feature an unexpected celebrity walk-on. SNL has forgotten that these appearances are best deployed infrequently for maximum impact. Surprise cameos aren’t very exciting if they happen every single week, and when they’re as nonsensical as the Property Brothers and Tony Hawk popping up alongside Aubrey Plaza, they interrupt the rhythm of a sketch and distract from solid punchlines. What the folks running the show need to remember is that these hosts are big names in their own righ — and Brunson brought more than enough star power all on her own.

    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, NBC, Abbott Elementary, Quinta Brunson