I jumped at the opportunity when asked to cover this week's SNL recap, because I was pretty certain it was going to be a great episode, and I'm of the camp that likes to talk about how great the show can be, not how bad. Before the episode, Taran Killam tweeted: "Calling it now. Best episode of the season." It wasn't exactly Babe Ruth calling his home run, but, yes, Taran, you were correct. It was the best episode of a pretty good season for a transition year. And that was all because of host Melissa McCarthy, who was front and center in almost every sketch and killed it each time. Sure, they weren't all impeccably crafted, but McCarthy was able to sell it anyway. I couldn't help but think of former SNL writer Tim Herlihy's quote about Chris Farley from the SNL oral history Live From New York: "Chris was such a great weapon in the writers' arsenal. If you were like writing a sketch and you got to page six and nothing was happening, you would just say, okay, 'Farley enters...' It was a trick that always worked and never failed." McCarthy, like Farley, is just a force of comic nature. It might result in a broader show than normal, but you don't care or notice because you're laughing the whole time.
Politics Exists of the Week
I'm not a big political cold open person. For me, they often feel like the show trying to say, "See? We're still satirizing important stuff like the old days!" That being said, this one was meh. It marked the return of Bobby Moynihan as Kim Jong-un, but more importantly the return of the hilarious wig he wears to play Kim Jong-un. Sure, Kim Jong-un addressing his members of his government is topical, but it's not particularly funny. It went on way too long and at times – like when he was defending gay marriage – it felt less like watching a sketch and more like watching a real press conference. It ended with Dennis Rodman coming out for a celebrity walk-on that no one was clamoring for, which was then made worse by his "Live in New York, it's Saturday Night" bumble.
Reminder of What’s Missing of the Week
This episode, like McCarthy's first, was a painful (at least for Melissa) reminder that show hasn't had a dynamic physical performer in a little while. SNL usually has at least one at a time. Belushi, Chase, Short, Farley, Shannon, Ferrell, Sanz: people who can fall in a certain magical way that you just can't help but laugh. Killam and Moynihan have touches of it, but they don't have the necessary reckless abandon that, well, McCarthy has. The monologue put this on full display. Its premise – "woman wears too high heals" – wasn't funny, but McCarthy made it so.
Unexpected Callback of the Week
In the last sketch from her first time hosting, McCarthy Tased Bill Hader. As we saw, second time hosting meant second time Tasing members of the cast. Was this a hat tip for us nerds to notice? Or is it just what happens when you're trying to raise the stakes on an already charged McCarthy sketch? Either way, the sketch where McCarthy played a terribly mean, object-throwing college basketball coach was super funny and packed with tons of great details. It was a bit scary at times how many different ways they came up with for McCarthy to torture those girls. Obviously, the winners were making Vanessa Bayer eat the dropped bread and when she threw a toaster at Cecily Strong's back. Sketch of the night.
"Is 'Don't Mess Wit My Toot Toot' a Real Song?" of the Week
Not to bury the lede: yes, the song Melissa McCarthy sings as her fake Voice audition is a real song. And it's a great song. This is the show's first straightforward parody of The Voice, excluding last year's "The Voice for Animals" and parts of Adam Levine's monologue. There is only so much you can do with one of these sketches, but it was still pretty solid, if only for the chance to see Kate McKinnon do another Hispanic accent. Also, shout out to Jay Pharoah's weirdly good Usher impression. It was smart to have McCarthy's character be totally befuddled about why the judges turned around – opposed to the easier target of an over-eager, talentless rube. This also allowed McCarthy her only opportunity of the night to underplay instead of shooting for the rafters.
Biggest Ham of the Week
When McCarthy hosted the first time, her monologue consisted of her and Kristen Wiig acting like they were about to dance only to pull back over and over. McCarthy made up for that missed opportunity by showing off all the moves in the "Ham Cook-off" sketch. It's hard to imagine a writer pitching this idea, since the dialogue was short and meant to give just enough background to justify a two minute ham-inspired dance routine set to ham-remixed hits of the nineties. Sadly, because of those ham-remixed hits, this one's not online.
Bathroom Humoryest of the Week
Kudos to whoever wrote the "Bathroom Businessman" commercial parody, for taking what seemed like the lowest of brows and subverting it so that the ending was a real surprise. The idea of using cell phones while going to the bathroom isn't novel – College Humor recently did an okay sketch about it – but to frame it as a PSA against it, is. Good parody should go A to C, jumping over the most obvious connection to find something that is both is unexpected and rings true.
Best Preview of a Future Late Night Take Show of the Week
With the official announcement that Jimmy Fallon will take over the Tonight Show came rumors that Seth Meyers is the frontrunner to fill the void as the host of Late Night. (It's hard to argue with his qualification, he is white and male, which seemingly are two of the biggest skills a potential host can have.) "Weekend Update" can always feel like a talk show host audition; however, last night, because of these recent developments and its length, it felt especially like a Late Night with Seth Meyers preview. It also displayed maybe Seth's best skill as an anchor: his ability to be both in the scene and a bit out of it while playing straight man to characters. We showed you the stupidly delightful, Peter Dinklage-featuring Drunk Uncle earlier, so we'll focus on the triumphant return of Vanessa Bayer's beaming Bar Mitzvah boy Jacob. Once again, Bayer's ebullience is a perfect pairing with Meyers' faux seriousness. If possible we'd like to start a petition to have her be Meyers' Andy Richter/Ed McMahon if he does get the late-night gig.
Fred Armisen Sighting of the Week
Oh yeah, Fred Armisen is still on the show. For the last few episodes, he's been noticeably uninvolved, and last night continued the trend. He simply played a contestant in the episode's one game show sketch. It sure seems like he's out this summer, along with the rest of the mass exodus. Vaguely a parody of Wheel of Fortune, "Million Dollar Wheel" was more so another opportunity for McCarthy to do something physical and fun – in this case, fail at flipping letters around. The sketch had pacing issues and was probably the episode's weakest, yet it was still ultimately fun to watch because of McCarthy. There was something so funny and so impressive about her ability to spin around every letter on the board like a comedic hurricane.
"McCarthy Did Groundlings, Right?" of the Week
The Groundlings is a character-focused sketch and improv theater in LA that is basically SNL university. It's known for producing cast members who come locked and loaded with a bunch of show-ready characters. Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell are the classic examples, but it's also where Will Forte, Chris Parnell, Maya Rudolph, and mostly recently Nasim Pedrad and Taran Killam got their start. Around the time of the "Pizza Business" sketch, I remembered that Melissa McCarthy was also once a Groundling. There's no other reason a non-returning-SNL-castmember should have this many characters – each imbued with their own very specific personality and joke engine. Barb Kellner, with her quixotic dream to start a pizza eating business might've been the most endearing. I know it was just a sketch, but I found myself rooting for her earnest and thorough business presentation. It's sometimes said of the best SNL hosts that they could be cast members. In the case of McCarthy, it already feels like she was a cast member and when she hosts, she's just running through a greatest hits of her fan favorite characters.
Nineties Nostalgia (?) of the Week
Nostalgia for the nineties is going hard right now and SNL is no stranger to it (Z Shirts!). And that's all well and good; however, what bizarro nineties is "The Art of the Encounter" from? I guess I didn't watch enough nineties dating videos starring actors who wished it was still the eighties and loved party music, sports scores, and elbow cupping. (Shout out to Kate McKinnon who was sitting really nineties all sketch. Seriously.) The thing had all the purposefully bad acting, funny specifics, and weird costumes of a classic 10-to-1 sketch, so in a way it was double nostalgia.
All in all, it was a classic. Consider the gauntlet thrown, future hosts of the season.