Saturday Night Live‘s season came to a premature end last night for obvious reasons, but considering what they were up against, it’s truly a TV miracle that they were able to produce three episodes of solidly funny television. And this week’s episode was no different, thanks to help from a number of friends of the show, including Martin Short, Josh Gad, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Wiig, Danny Trejo, and the aforementioned Tina Fey.
Were there some duds of sketches? Of course there were; as Tom Hanks reminded us the first time we did this, there always are. But at least in my estimation, because the writers and performers were forced out of their standard process for creating a show, they became more creative and less lazy, and the result was three episodes of Saturday Night Live that will be remembered in television history. Great job, everyone — even you, Kyle Mooney. Here’s to hoping y’all are back home at Studio 8H in the fall, and that you bring this creative spark back with you.
Those wacky kids over at SNL, they did it again. Using Zoom, phones, plenty of wigs and green screens, and a lot of creativity, the cast and writers of SNL managed to put on yet another 90-minute episode satirizing this insane situation we all find ourselves in. They also seemed to have worked out some of the bugs that didn’t work so well for them the last time they tried this (thank you, “Weekend Update,” for losing the laughter — that crutch was there for you guys, not the audience) and have embraced the adage, “brevity is the soul of wit.” Even when a sketch didn’t work — and not all of them did — they never lasted more than about 3 minutes, and your suffering would soon be over. And keeping that in mind, I will get on with it already:
Soooooo … Last week, Saturday Night Live announced kinda at the very last second that they were going to do an episode this week, an episode taped entirely from the cast’s homes and everyone was like, “Whaaaaa?” and “Huh?” and “But how?” and “Why?” And I guess the answers to those questions are, in order, “Because if all the other late night shows can, so can they,” and “I know it’s weird but give them a chance” and “Look, everyone’s phone and computer can record videos these days, it’s just not that hard,” and “Because WE NEED SOMETHING. WE ALL NEED A LITTLE SOMETHING TO GET US THROUGH THIS RIGHT NOW.”
And you know what? It wasn’t half bad! I will grant that perhaps my standards, much like the characters in one sketch, have lowered as this quarantine grinds on. But I thought the cast and writers having to make do with limited resources actually forced them into a corner that works best for them: 1. they are all digital sketches (and since YouTube/Zoom/TikTok is our entire world right now, it felt especially relevant) and 2. the sketches had to be brief and to the point. (As a result, there were 17 sketches last night. 17!!)
I, too, have kept my comments brief and to the point because 17 SKETCHES.
Who knows if these kids are going to try this again before the season is over. I applaud them for making a go of it, and it working out for the most part. (I’d can the Zoom laughter, “Weekend Update.” Go watch Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert and take notes on how to make a joke work without the benefit of laughter), and genuinely thank them for making an effort to make us laugh when we needed it the most.
Apparently, Daniel Craig hosted Saturday Night Live some eight years ago — and apparently, I wrote about it for Tubular, but I have to be honest with you, I have no memory of this whatsoever. LOOK. A LOT HAS HAPPENED SINCE 2012 AND A LOT OF ALCOHOL HAS BEEN CONSUMED AND HONESTLY CAN YOU BLAME ME? My point is, Daniel Craig, he’s fine as a host. In fact, I’d go so far as to say he exceeded my expectations as a host, but that was only because my expectations were non-existent.
As for the episode itself, it was remarkable in that the cold open was by far the highlight with a delightful cameo by Elizabeth Warren. Otherwise, the episode was completely consumed with Coronavirus, devoting some 4 sketches — a full one-third of the episode — to the pandemic. And just to show that the more things change the more they stay exactly the same: back in 2012 when Daniel Craig hosted last time? I made note that then new cast member Kate McKinnon had completely taken over the show as its breakout star, and Big Bird made a guest appearance … cracking jokes about the SARS epidemic.
Look, we’ve done this three times now, I am not sure what to add: I love John Mulaney, John Mulaney is a comedy genius, John Mulaney should host Saturday Night Live every week, and save us all from mediocre hosts. Am I missing anything? No? Great, let’s get to the comedy.
I’m just going to be honest: there are some people who host Saturday Night Live who I am just completely incapable of grading fairly because I love them so much. RuPaul Charles, Mama Ru, the Queen of Drag, is one of those people. RuPaul is unquestionably the world’s most famous drag queen, having managed to break into straight pop culture awareness back in 1993 with his single “Supermodel” and then bringing the universe of drag into all of our homes with RuPaul’s Drag Race, his drag competition series that started out as a spoof of Tyra Banks’ America’s Next Top Model, but which has become so much more. RuPaul, more than anyone else, is responsible for making drag culture part of the popular lexicon. But more than that, RuPaul helped create a more understanding, and accepting culture, giving drag queens and transwomen agency over their identities instead of just being the butt of jokes.
One of my few pop culture bragging rights is that I saw RuPaul in a small teen club in Houston, Texas in 1986. A 6’4″ black man in platform boots, what appears to be football shoulder pads covered in streamers and little else, flanked by two shirtless men in tight pants and brandishing toy guns, all singing “Starbooty, Starbooty, Starbooty, yeaaaaaaaah! Starbooty, Starbooty, Starbooty, awwwwww!” in falsetto — it left quite the impression on a 13-year-old me. It was wild and funny and unlike anything I had ever seen before, and in a small way it shaped me. The performance begins at the 1:20 mark in the video below.
And this is going a long way to basically say, no matter how Mama Ru did on Saturday Night Live, no matter what garbage they gave her to work with, she was going to come away with a high grade from yours truly.
I’m going to be honest, I was worried for J.J. Watt. Athletes do not have a great record on Saturday Night Live, and for every Payton Manning, there is a Michael Phelps (and the less said about that, the better). While J.J. is a beloved Houston treasure and we all know he’s charming and delightful, would he be able to translate that charm to the 8H stage? The short answer is yes! Watt held it together and was funnier than your average athlete on SNL. The longer answer is, it took him a little while to warm up, and he didn’t always have the best material to work with, but he was always game and did not once embarrass Houston or himself. All in all, well played, J.J.
Adam Driver specializes in intensity. The characters he is known for tend to be barely containing their emotions, be it rage or anger or rage … And so it’s easy to forget — even after having hosted Saturday Night Live twice before — that he’s a brilliant comic actor. Now, a lot of that humor is based in his perceived intensity; in fact, three of my favorite sketches from last night were firmly predicated on the idea that Driver’s characters are on the edge of becoming dangerous (or, in the case of Kylo Ren, have firmly crossed it). But I’m not complaining — this weekend’s Saturday Night Live was funny (almost) from beginning to end, thanks in large part to Driver being such a great comic actor that he elevates what might otherwise be a mediocre bit in the hands of a less funny actor.
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.
I am not coming for Scarlett Johansson. This is her sixth time hosting Saturday Night Live, she knows what she is doing, and for a gorgeous starlet who is probably best known for her superhero role in the Avengers films, she has good comic timing and is always game for whatever the show will throw at her.
So you would think that as the fiancee of the head writer, she’d enjoy some really well-written sketches. You’d think very wrong! This week’s Saturday Night Live was a mess of mediocre sketches punctuated with some genuinely terrible ones. And the saving grace of the night was a commercial spoof that Johansson wasn’t even in. It’s not that the episode was TERRIBLE, it was just so not-good medium. So medium. Listen: you’ve got a lot of negotiating power, Scarlett Johansson. Don’t let Jost do this to you again.