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.
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.
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.
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 don’t know if you are aware of this, but Jennifer Lopez is a very attractive woman. I only mention it because the writers at Saturday Night Live seem to believe we were not aware of this, and so they devoted the first full hour of last night’s episode to reminding us that Jennifer Lopez — despite being the unimaginable age of 50 — is, in fact, a very attractive woman. And it’s not that any of the sketches were bad, exactly, it’s just that they were so very repetitive and unimaginative.
And listen, I get it, it’s easy to criticize. I’m not having to come up with 10 original sketches every week — I wouldn’t be able to, I know that. But. If I were in that writers’ room, my pitch would have been to have the very attractive 50-year-old Jennifer Lopez pay tribute to SNL‘s most famous 50-year-old, Sally O’Malley:
When it comes to judging hosts, it’s unfair to compare regular actors, sports figures, musicians or even other comedians to former cast members. For former hosts, this was their job for years — they understand how to play to the audience; they aren’t afraid of a live performance; they, better than probably most actors, understand comic timing. This is how they became household names. And among those who have been invited back to host Saturday Night Live, Will Ferrell might be one of the funniest and most talented cast members of all time. So to compare him as a host to a Harry Styles or a Kristen Stewart, it’s just not fair. They aren’t on the same playing field.
Will Ferrell returned to Saturday Night Live for his fifth time hosting and delivered easily one of the funniest — if not the funniest — episodes of the season. Ferrell’s big golden retriever energy makes every sketch just that much funnier, even sketches that by all rights should have just been mediocre. And while I can’t be certain, it certainly felt like the writers held back on the last couple of episodes so that they could give Will Ferrell the choicest material. And honestly? I don’t blame them in the least. He knocked it out of the park.
The impossible-to-not-like Chance the Rapper was back to host Saturday Night Live for a second time, and it turns out that he’s just one of those irritatingly talented people who can do everything. He’s charming, he has impeccable comic timing and delivery and when given good material can pretty much sell anything. Fortunately, aside from one particularly weak sketch and one terrible transphobic joke, most of last night was pretty good material. Is this season going well so far, or am I becoming a big dumb softie? It’s really six of one, half dozen the other, honestly.
Welcome to the 45th season of Saturday Night Live, a season that was marred before it even began by a casting controversy after the show cast a “conservative” comedian whose “humor” involved making fun of Asians, women, and homosexuals. Hilarious! He was fired, but not before everyone and their racist uncle decried “cancel culture” for a solid week.
I’m just going to put this here for no particular reason:
them: COMEDY IS A FREE FOR ALL U PC POLICE PUSSIIIIIIEESS
The show returned last night with two new cast members, Chloe Fineman and Bowen Yang, the show’s first Asian-American cast member ever, and both acquitted themselves quite nicely in the episode.
As for the episode itself: it was fine. It was fine! There wasn’t any one particular sketch that made me angry (with maybe the exception of Woody Harrelson’s monologue, but to use the word “angry” here is strong — it mostly just left me irritated), but there weren’t any knock it out of the park, A+ sketches either. Instead, everything felt comfortable and predictable — not boring, exactly, but also not memorable in the long haul, either.