Relive Eddie Murphy’s almost-perfect ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Eddie Murphy & Lizzo
December 22, 2019

I’m going to try to avoid overthinking this episode because comedy never benefits from thinking about it too hard. (It’s one of the reasons I never recap comedies.) But, Eddie Murphy returning to Saturday Night Live for the first time in 35 years is not just a historically notable TV event, it’s one that required a little contemplation on both our part and the writers’.

Here’s the thing: Eddie Murphy blazed into superstardom on Saturday Night Live in 1980 when he was only 19 years old with characters like Mr. Robinson and Buckwheat — characters that made fun of racist stereotypes in a way that was so close to the chest that some viewers may not have understood they were supposed to be laughing with Murphy, not at him. Murphy was never putting on a minstrel show, he was pointing out how racist the minstrel show was. The problem is some viewers, particularly white ones, might have missed that nuance. (Honestly, maybe the greatest SNL sketch of all time is the one in which he went undercover as a white man — genuinely brilliant and tackling race in a way that remains as stinging and poignant 40 years later.)

So because a great deal has changed in the past 40 years, it was always going to be a delicate dance bringing some of these characters back to the show in a way that not only would be relevant but culturally palatable. But God damn, if they didn’t pull it off. Murphy’s 80s characters found themselves up against 21st-century issues like gentrification and the #MeToo movement — and that tension is where the comedy blossomed.

Then when you add to all of that the fact that Eddie Murphy waited long enough to come back to the show so that there were no more hard feelings, that he had shed enough of his movie star ego and aloofness that he could really enjoy himself on that stage in an uninhibited, genuine way … well, it made for the best episode of the year, certainly, and one of the best episodes of Saturday Night Live I’ve ever seen.

The cold open once again visited the apparently endlessly fertile ground of the Democratic presidential debates. And it’s very funny! It’s just waaaay too long. No cold open should be 10+ minutes long, y’all. Even if Maya Rudolph, Jason Sudeikis, Larry David, Rachel Dratch, and Fred Armisen are involved. (And can we all agree that Sudeikis is the best Joe Biden? Woody Harrelson was fine, but Sudeikis captures more of Biden’s manic energy somehow. Also, I’m bummed that Kamala Harris dropped out of the race for a number of reasons not least of which is that we won’t get more of Maya Rudolph being 100% That Bitch.)

Grade: A-

Eddie Murphy’s monologue was perfect. After taking a swipe at his former critic, Bill Cosby — because fuck that guy, I’d take someone who curses over a GODDAMNED RAPIST any day — Murphy was joined on stage by Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and briefly Kenan Thompson, a wonderful testimony to Murphy’s influence. Also, Chappelle and Morgan managed to land some brilliant jokes about their careers and accidents respectively. Just could not love this more.

Side note: Cosby’s publicist can go fuck himself.

Grade: A++

Of course Eddie Murphy was going to revisit his classic characters, the only question was how. His Mr. Robinson is still around, living in the same dingy apartment, still skirting the law, but New York City has changed around him. Dramatically. Kids, can you say, “GENTRIFICATION?”

Grade: A+

In one of only three sketches that Murphy didn’t play one of his old characters, he is a contestant on a baking show who creates a literal monstrosity. This bit has been done before on SNL, but Murphy’s obvious amusement at the sketch heightens it. Also, he let slip a “shit” at the end that was 100% intentional. (Good for him.)

Grade: B+

In the only taped piece of the night, Murphy is the patriarch of a family just trying to get through the holidays, everyone lying through their teeth. Good luck this week, guys. We’re all going to need it.

Grade: A

As for another of Murphy’s most famous characters, Buckwheat, he’s revealed to be one of the celebrities on the impossibly popular Fox series, The Masked Singer.

Grade: A

Not only is “Weekend Update” interrupted by an energized Eddie Murphy as one of yet another of his most famous characters, GUMBY (DAMMIT), but Jost and Che do the joke swap thing and it’s great fun.

Grade: A

Like I said, HE’S GUMBY, DAMMIT.

Grade: A+

Pete Davidson is here and he has some thoughts about your thoughts about who he’s dating. Also, maybe he’s going back to rehab?

Grade: B+

Finally, “Weekend Update” had to end with Jeanine Pirro’s visit to the desk for reasons that will become immediately apparent.

Grade: A

“Black Jeopardy” features the final classic Eddie Murphy character, one Velvet Jones, who is here to help you earn $1500 a week. Ask him how!

Grade: A-

Finally, in what might actually be my favorite sketch of the night, Eddie Murphy plays an elf at the North Pole who bore witness to a terrible scene involving a polar bear, a fire and tiny delicious elves. The sketch itself would be nothing without Murphy’s hysterical energy. YOU HAD BETTER NOT WAIT ANOTHER 35 YEARS TO BRING HIM BACK, GUYS.

Grade: A+

Lizzo performed! And she was fabulous!

Also, this tweet is everything:

And y’all, this episode was so good, they cut two sketches for time. One was brilliant and should have been on the damn show, the other … less so. Guess which I thought was which — if you’re right, congratulations! There will be no prize. See you in 2020, guys!

Final Grade: A.

Saturday Night Live airs at 10:30/11:30 p.m. Saturdays on NBC.

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