The rebirth of ‘SNL’

With the era of celebrity cameos over, ‘SNL’ has found new life. PLUS: ‘Secret Invasion’ begins with a new trailer, ‘White House Plumbers’ looks awesome, and is ‘Ted Lasso’ boring now?

The rebirth of ‘SNL’
Scenes from the current season of Saturday Night Live. / NBC

Something special is happening with Saturday Night Live this season. With the era of celebrity cameos now in the past, the current cast has finally had the chance to show what they’re capable of — and it’s been a ton of fun to watch.

If you’ve followed me on Twitter or have been reading Popculturology since its inception, you’re familiar with my stance on the recent few years of SNL. Lorne Michaels fell in love with celebrity guests, giving them just about every key role the show had to offer. Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump was just the tip of the iceberg. Listing every celebrity that snagged a potentially breakthrough role from an actual SNL castmember would take up way too much space here.

The most popular edition of Popculturology was my piece on SNL’s lost generation:

The lost 'SNL' generation
You can break the cast of Saturday Night Live into three distinct groups. The old guard, which is basically just Kenan Thompson and Cecily Strong at this point. (Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant were part of this group until they left after last season.)

While the celebrity era neutered the SNL career of several castmembers, those who survived that time along with the sophomore and freshman players have made it very clear how great the show can be when Michaels trusts his cast.

You have James Austin Johnson as the best version of Trump SNL has ever had.

You have Ego Nwodim making both hosts and her fellow castmates break as she deadpan saws through an extra, extra well-done steak.

You have the Please Don’t Destroy trio doing their best to pick up the legacy of The Lonely Island.

SNL is fun to watch again.

The meanness that tainted SNL when every episode would kick off with Baldwin as Trump is gone.

I love seeing Heidi Gardner and Nwodim finally get the spotlight. I love seeing people like Sarah Sherman and Michael Longfellow waste zero time making their mark on the show.

I’m sorry if you loved the celebrity era of SNL, if you loved seeing Baldwin and Jim Carrey, if you loved watching an audience applaud a famous person for being a famous person. NBC still has Jimmy Fallon doing that five nights a week. (Even more if you count That’s My Jam.)

I spent years tweeting into the abyss that SNL should bail on SNL: Celebrity Edition. I knew that Baldwin, Carrey, Melissa McCarthy, Robert De Niro and every subsequent cameo were sapping the life from the show, squeezing out any chance the cast had at making their mark. Thankfully Lorne Michaels came to that same conclusion. Finally.

Popculturology is a free newsletter fueled by my love of pop culture. If you already are a subscriber, please consider becoming a supporter by upgrading your account.

The News
A Skrull in Secret Invasion. / Vanity Fair

Marvel reveals a few Secret Invasion secrets — and a trailer!

The Skrulls will soon invade the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Disney+ series Secret Invasion will bring the transforming aliens that played a major role in Captain Marvel back, with Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Cobie Smulders and Martin Freeman all returning for the series.

We’ve known for awhile now that Emilia Clarke and Olivia Colman were joining the MCU with Secret Invasion, and now thanks to Vanity Fair, we know more about their characters.

One Skrull radical, Emilia Clarke’s G’iah (pronounced “Guy-ah”), has issues with Talos that go far deeper than most. While this is the Game of Thrones actor’s first appearance in a Marvel Studios project, her character has actually appeared before.

(Fair warning—the showrunners don’t consider the following a spoiler, but some fans might.)

When asked about Clarke’s character, Jackson points out a scene from 2019’s Captain Marvel in which Fury witnesses a reunion between Mendelsohn’s Talos and his long-lost Skrull family aboard a space station orbiting Earth. “Remember when Ben was there with his wife and daughter?” Jackson says. “She’s the little Skrull girl grown up. She’s his daughter.”

And Colman?

A more antagonistic presence in Secret Invasion is an MI6 agent played by Oscar winner Olivia Colman, who’s ostensibly motivated to protect England’s national security interests during the crisis. The question, as with everybody in this story, is whether her stated goals are the truth.

Marvel Studios also premiered the first trailer for Secret Invasion on Sunday night.

This feels like something fresh in the MCU.

Secret Invasion is set to hit Disney+ on June 21.

James Gunn debunks Superman casting. Again.

How does James Gunn have the time to jump on Twitter to debunk rumors and gossip about his project while he’s running DC Studios? Gunn was at it again this past week, knocking down the rumor that Logan Lerman would be the star of Superman: Legacy.

“Not true,” Gunn tweeted. “Haven’t had a single talk with a single actor about the role. Just making private lists, prepping material for auditions.”

The rumor appears to have been pushed by Grace Randolph, a YouTube personality known for consistently getting scoops wrong (and for weirdly hating Jessica Chastain). If you’re even remotely in the circle of people who talk about movies and comics on Twitter, you’ve probably been blocked by Randolph for pointing out how wrong she’s been. (Raises hand.)

“For the record, I don’t know who that is,” Gunn responded to Randolph. He continued: “Guys, this isn’t a dig at the actor. I don’t know lots of actors’ names. Now that you tell me who he is, I recognize him from stuff and think he’s talented. But I’ve never met him, and he’s never been part of a conversation about playing Superman.”

Seeing Lerman’s name pop up for Superman is funny. The actor’s name was in the mix both when Sony was casting a new Spider-Man for The Amazing Spider-Man (which went to Andrew Garfield) and when Sony and Marvel Studios were casting a new Spider-Man for the MCU (which went to Tom Holland).

John Krasinski as Reed Richards in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Krasinski won’t play the character in Fantastic Four. / Marvel Studios

Fantastic Four script gets a rewrite from Avatar sequel writer

Marvel Studios is bringing in a new writer to take a run at its Fantastic Four script. The Hollywood Reporter wrote on Friday that Josh Friedman has been brought on to replace Jeff Kaplan and Ian Springer, the writers previously on the project.

“Friedman’s hire signals a potential change in tone,” THR writes. “Kaplan and Springer are neophyte scribes known for their comedy scripts. … Friedman, on the other hand, is a veteran of the sci-fi genre.”

In addition to being part of the writing team for Avatar: The Way of Water, Friedman was part of the duo who wrote Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds (an underrated movie), and is one of the credited writers on the upcoming Kingdom of the Planet of Apes. He’s also done some science fiction work with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Terminator: Dark Fate.

No cast has been announced for the Fantastic Four film, but we do know that WandaVision director Matt Shakman will helm the movie that brings the family into the MCU.

Taraji P. Henson joins Abbott Elementary as Janine’s mom

Abbott Elementary already introduced us to Janine’s sister this season, with The Bear actress Ayo Edebiri playing the character. The show revealed on Saturday that we’ll meet another member of the Teague family before the season is over: Janine’s mother played by Taraji P. Henson.

Lou Gehrig.

Lorne Michaels is working on a Lou Gehrig series for Apple TV+

Lorne Michaels is a busy guy. In addition to running Saturday Night Live, Michaels serves as a producer on late-night flagships The Tonight Show and Late Night along with a bunch of other TV shows. According to THR, Michaels has a Lou Gehrig series in the works for Apple TV+.

THR’s sources tell them that the show will adapt Jonathan Eig’s book, Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig. It’s unclear if Major League Baseball will participate in the show.

You hear that? That’s Fred Armisen working on his Lou Gehrig impression.

Amazon Studios snag former Marvel EIC

Joe Quesada, the former EIC at Marvel (the comics side, not the movie side), has signed a first-look deal with Amazon Studios. The streaming studio announced on Thursday that Quesada will work to adapt existing stories for Prime Video along with creating new material.

“Joe has been a singular and influential creative force guiding some of the most iconic storytelling that exists today,” Nick Pepper, head of U.S. owned development at Amazon, said in a statement (via THR). “The opportunity to bring his expertise and vision to Amazon Studios presents a world of possibilities and we can’t wait to see what he brings to life next.”

Quesada is a pretty big get for Amazon. While at Marvel, he worked with Bill Jemas to launch the Ultimate Marvel line, which eventually gave the world Miles Morales and served as the inspiration for the feel of the early Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Enjoy reading Popculturology? Share today’s edition!

💬 💬 💬 Wanna share your comments, questions or recommendations? Leave a comment at the bottom of the newsletter.

Deep SNL Thoughts
Chloe Fineman, Quinta Brunson, Bowen Yang and Molly Kearney in this week’s Saturday Night Live. / NBC
Deep SNL Thoughts: Quinta Brunson keeps show’s hot streak alive while Michelangelo’s David asks an important question
Saturday Night Live continued its hot streak last night with Quinta Brunson’s episode. The Abbott Elementary creator and star effortlessly hosted the show. It’s impressive how strong SNL has been since the end of 2022. The year wrapped up with Ste…

Trailer Watch

White House Plumbers

“No names have been changed to protect the innocent … because nearly everyone was found guilty.”

Wow, White House Plumbers looks awesome. The upcoming HBO miniseries about the Watergate break-in has a killer cast: Woody Harrelson, Justin Theroux, Domhnall Gleeson, Lena Headey, Kieran Shipka, Ike Barinholtz, Judy Greer and more.

White House Plumbers premieres on May 1.

Justice Smith, Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. / Paramount Pictures

Weekend of March 31-April 2, 2023

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (N)
Weekend gross: $38.5M / Total domestic gross: $38.5M / Percent drop: NA

Wow. What an opening weekend for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Extremely positive word of mouth drove this one to a debut better than a major superhero sequel like Shazam! Fury of Gods. Dungeons & Dragons is definitely on my list of films to watch once it hits streaming. I’ve even played D&D before!

John Wick: Chapter 4 (1)
Weekend gross: $28.2M / Total domestic gross: $122.9M / Percent drop: -62

Through just two weekends, John Wick: Chapter 4 is already the second highest grossing movie in the franchise, both domestically and worldwide.

  1. His Only Son (N)
    Weekend gross: $5.5M / Total domestic gross: $5.5M / Percent drop: NA
  2. Scream VI (3)
    Weekend gross: $5.3M / Total domestic gross: $98.2M / Percent drop: -36

Creed III (4)
Weekend gross: $5M / Total domestic gross: $148.6M / Percent drop: -39

Creed III how now captured the No. 1 spot among all Rocky/Creed films at the domestic box office. There third Creed movie still has just over $40 million left to go to dethrone Rocky IV in the worldwide box office rankings.

Box office numbers via The Numbers

Jason Sudeikis and Maximilian Osinski in the Ted Lasso episode “4-5-1.” / Apple TV+

Ted Lasso


Is Ted Lasso boring?

Asking this probably makes me a horrible person. I know. I’m sorry.

I’m not saying that Ted Lasso is bad. I see that its current season is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

I’m just bored with it.

We watched “4-5-1,” the most recent episode, on Friday night, and it barely connected with me. Maybe it was its 50-minute runtime. (Woof.) Maybe it’s the Zava storyline. Maybe it’s the lack of any real tension.

Whatever tension Ted Lasso once had is gone. Despite being a show known for its niceness, it still had its rough edges. Those edges have been sanded down. Nate’s animosity toward Ted that boiled beneath the surface of Season 2 is gone. Sure, we see Nate making mean jokes about Ted and AFC Richmond or showing his frustration over the team’s miraculous turnaround thanks to Zava, but there’s a disconnect there.

Ted and his coaches are on the same page. Roy and Jamie are friends now.

And then there’s Zava.

The addition of a prima donna like Zava (or even a pre-Madonna like him), someone who requires his own corner of lockers, keeps the team waiting for hours and puts himself at the center of the team’s offensive scheme would’ve derailed AFC Richmond in previous seasons. He would’ve butted heads with Roy. He would’ve earned a tough-love lesson from Ted.

In this season, though, Zava is the team’s savior. Besides Jamie’s annoyance over his arrival, the team fully embraces the free agent. Even Coach Beard has succumbed to the charm of Zava.

It’s boring.

I get that Ted Lasso needs to find a way to pit AFC Richmond against Nate and Rupert’s West Ham United. That collision wouldn’t be possible if AFC Richmond was the worst team in the Premiere League. And if Jason Sudeikis really does end Ted Lasso with this season, the show is out of time to tell a story that makes AFC Richmond a loser before finding their way back to the top of the standings. Zava is the magical element that Ted Lasso needed to speed this along.

Maybe we’ll see Ted Lasso find a spark again. There are still nine episodes left this season. Plenty of time for Zava to take a heel turn.

Or maybe we have nine episodes of nice ahead of us.

Hunter and Tech in The Bad Batch season finale. / Lucasfilm

The Bad Batch

I caught up with the final few episodes of The Bad Batch just in time for the show’s two-part season finale this week. Despite several detours during this season, I’m a fan of how The Bad Batch wrapped things up. I mean, not a fan of Tech falling to his death and Omega being captured by Dr. Hemlock, but a fan of the quality of the storytelling in the final few episodes.

With the revelation that Hemlock’s assistant is also a female clone — Omega’s sister! — I assume The Bad Batch will lean even heavier into this angle of the show in a third season. Gotta tie this all into The Mandalorian’s Grogu storyline to explain how Palpatine somehow returned.

Does anyone else get the sense that there’s something else in the works for this era? We’ve seen Captain Rex pop into a few episodes, but Echo’s line about Rex being on another mission feels like a hint that there’s another story to be told. Especially after Tales of the Jedi did some retcon work on Ahsoka’s story to get her back into the fight earlier than we had previously thought. Can Star Wars support another animated series during this time period?

Hot Ones

“Florence Pugh Sweats From Her Eyebrows While Eating Spicy Wings”

Watching Florence Pugh talk to Sean Evans about eating Sriracha macaroni and cheese for Hawkeye reminded me that Hawkeye was a show that existed. No slight on the show itself, but I honestly couldn’t place when the show came out. Turns out it was 2021. Maybe Bob Iger has a point in slowly down the output of the MCU shows on Disney+ is the right move.


“God Save Corrections”

This is still one of the best things produced by the late-night TV crew. A shame it’ll have the honor of losing at the Emmys to Carpool Karaoke.

The Links

Follow me on Threads and Instagram.

Odds and Ends
A still from the promo for the upcoming Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse trailer. / Sony Pictures Animation

New Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse trailer coming Tuesday

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse should be the most anticipated movie of 2023. The original Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a groundbreaking classic, won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film and should’ve cleaned up at the box office. (It somehow grossed less than Venom.)

A new trailer for Across the Spider-Verse debuts on Tuesday. Can’t wait to see more from this film.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 tickets go on sale today

If you’re reading this on Monday, today’s the first day that you can buy tickets for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. (If you’re reading this on another day, tickets are already on sale and your favorite seats have probably already sold out.)

That’s the end of this edition of Popculturology. Thanks for reading the newsletter. If you already are a subscriber, please consider becoming a supporter by upgrading your account.