Depending on who you talk to, last week’s episode of Saturday Night Live was either one of the show’s greatest installments in recent memory, or total garbage. In fact, it’s hard to remember the last time there was an episode of TV this polarizing, based on how viewers are talking about it on social media. And it’s all thanks to Saltburn and Euphoria star Jacob Elordi.
Elordi hosted on Jan. 20, SNL’s first new episode of the year. When the show announced that Elordi—and fellow Gen-Z favorite Reneé Rapp—was to appear on the show, anticipation was immediately fierce. To much of the internet, Elordi is The Moment: a tall, lanky, pretty-eyed, Australian-accented, traditionally hot dude whose droll humor and seeming sensitivity are obsession-worthy. (Also, we must reiterate how tall he is; being 6-foot-5 is very important to Elordi’s appeal.) In other words, he is the definition of “babygirl,” and his fanbase must protect him at all costs.
But for those who are a bit too old for Euphoria—where he plays the underage womanizer Nate Jacobs—or haven’t made Saltburn their entire personality, Elordi’s hosting gig brought questions and/or concerns. Who is this guy? And is he even capable of being funny? He certainly doesn’t crack jokes in Euphoria or Priscilla, the recent Sofia Coppola film where he played Elvis Presley.
It seems like that second question doesn’t actually matter, based both on the episode itself and social media’s reaction to it. Half of Elordi’s sketches saw him playing a man defined by his attractiveness, including a recovering alcoholic with a penchant for sex, or the obvious pick to win a dating show full of “short kings.” The primary joke of these sketches was how his handsomeness enraptured those around him, with varying degrees of success.
His fanbase, however, did not seem to care if his jokes actually landed. Instead, they were ready to give the episode high marks as soon as a sketch ended with him making out with SNL cast member Chloe Fineman. Two days later, Elordi continues to trend online because of the episode, with pictures and GIFs of him during sketches, smiling during his monologue, or welcoming Rapp to the stage. SNL had gifted the internet with a platform for Elordi to exude hotness. The resounding sentiment: “Y’all, we won tonight.”
Elordi’s appearance was, by these accounts, a monumental success. But critics and SNL obsessives who populate forums like the show’s popular subreddit completely disagree. The episode received many lukewarm-to-negative reviews, with critics pointing out how it leaned into Elordi’s hotness instead of offering any varied sketch writing. For an older audience, it doesn’t matter how cute Elordi is, or how much fun it is to watch Rapp’s chaotic press tour for the new Mean Girls movie—let alone the incredible timing of pairing these two together in the same episode of television while they’re each enjoying viral success. What matters, to the naysayers, is that this was SNL at its most one-note.
Critics referred to the episode as “frustratingly stale,” “light on humor,” and “lukewarm,” with even the more positive takes calling out the reliance on the handsome jokes. Redditors haven’t minced words, calling the episode “trash” and saying they were confused by Elordi’s online appeal. That latter point is an interesting one, if not surprising; what makes Elordi attractive is as much steeped in his internet cultural persona as it is his actual looks. And while they can’t see what the internet sees in him, they can rightly recognize that such reductive humor is not a good stand-in for comedy.
The polarized reception points to the tension that exists within late-night show fandoms. When institutions like SNL and The Tonight Show deviate from the long-held formula, it stands to reason that longtime viewers will chafe against the change. (Is anyone surprised that The Tonight Show is the only late-night talk show never nominated for awards anymore?) But as younger audiences continue to shift from watching television live, let alone in full, of course these shows are going to actively court them by pulling from what, and who, is trending on TikTok.
Just look at the success of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke, which was more notable than the actual Late Late Show. And Jimmy Fallon might be a terrible interviewer, but he’s really good at getting celebrities to foolishly lip-sync to the tune of millions of views (and a spinoff). Even Seth Meyers has said his favorite part of his interview-based talk show is the day-drinking segments—which, unsurprisingly, are the ones most likely to go viral.
There was, however, a way to satisfy everyone with Jacob Elordi’s SNL episode. A strong performer with comedic chops—or writing that can fill in the gaps in more varied ways—can go a long way in turning an episode from obvious pandering into an overall success. But Elordi’s not a comedian, and the writers were more comfortable leaning into one of his more proven skills: being attractive to people.
That said, there’s one thing that SNL viewers of all ages are agreeing upon: Reneé Rapp was a great musical guest. Gen Z, there’s hope for you yet.