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 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 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.
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.
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.