At one point in her first time hosting Saturday Night Live, Melissa McCarthy donned a curly mullet wig and dumped an entire bottle of ranch dressing on her face, thus signaling how far she was willing to go for a joke. McCarthy is a force. She has an utterly unique delivery, and her sincerity and intensity can elevate good material to the level of greatness. It needs to be used in service of material that deserves it, though. Movies like Identity Theft proved that she's bankable, even when her physicality and willingness to go there pretty much comprise the entire project. In last night's SNL, her third outing as host, nearly every sketch McCarthy appeared in was built around her — starring vehicles assisted by the cast. Mostly, the material was strong enough for her to handily carry it across, but when it wasn't — holy crap.
Despite the presence of a comically gifted veteran host inhabiting wackadoo characters every five minutes, the focus last night wasn't solely on McCarthy. Rather, much of the audience was audience was keenly aware that it was Weekend Update anchor and long-time head writer Seth Meyers's final episode. (New head writer Colin Jost will be taking over at the desk in the next episode.) SNL farewells are often emotional or uproarious affairs — think Kristen Wiig being serenaded by the cast and Mick Jagger, or Bill Hader as Stefon being married off to Seth Meyers himself — and this one proved to be a solid combination of the two.
Great White Way of the Week
Considering that several folks I know have been competing fiercely in The Olympics of Appearing Fashionably Detached From The Super Bowl, it's nice to see a sketch about people trying to pretend they do care about football. After "little fedora-wearing jumping bean Bruno Mars" is rerouted because of the Polar Vortex, a group of Broadway stars fill in for him on half-time show duties. Of course, this being a musical theater troupe, their paean to football carries a narrative. Taran Killam plays an unspecified (I think?) Broadway star who, in turn, is playing Denver QB Peyton Manning. In a sign of things to come, McCarthy has a rare big role in the cold open, singing about the necessity of "Whomp whomp" in achieving football glory. Nice touches abound here, such as Manning's orange sequined jersey, a medley moment, interpretive dance ribbons, and a human football with long Mr. Potato Head arms. It takes a bit to get going, but it sure beats hearing your smartass friend make a joke involving the word "sportsball."
Battle to the Death of the Week
The last time Melissa McCarthy hosted the show, she apparently ruffled some feathers. Less than a minute into last night's monologue, she's interrupted by an outraged Bobby Moynihan, armed with video footage to back up claims of her poor behavior (which includes Lincoln-shoving and llama-theft.) Now, the two must fight to the death in a super random tribute to old kung-fu movies, featuring wire-fu acrobatics that aren't quite on the level of Pink's performance at the Grammys last Sunday. There are no jokes here that weren't made in the Wayne's World movie twenty-plus years ago, as well as countless other places, but it's a fun and unexpected way to kick off the show.
Boyfriend Buster of the Week
Since SNL is going to be taking a little break through for February, courtesy of the Winter Olympics (thanks a lot, Shaun White!), the show has to get its Valentine's Day jokes in now. Like the Teddy Bear Holding a Heart sketch from 2006, tonight's gag is about boyfriends procuring half-assed gifts. The premise is familiar enough, but the specificity of an ad for Some Dumb Little Thing From CVS does wonders for this digital short. In case you've ever contemplated buying a Mylar balloon that plays "Mambo #5" as some last-ditch afterthought, the girlfriends played by Aidy Bryant and Sasheer Zamata reveal what kind of reactions might be in store. The face Zamata makes while submitting to Killam's CVS-brand G-rated "sex dice" is something all romantic partners should take great care to avoid invoking.
Topicality of the Week
After last week's State of the Union address, Staten Island congressman Michael Grimm was caught on camera threatening an NY1 News reporter. "I'll throw you off this fucking balcony," he said, among other things. Years from now, when future generations watch SNL on whatever replaces Netflix, they will know that this altercation happened, too, thanks to this sketch, which features a blend of live performing and some pre-taped bits. It turns out Grimm wasn't the only one who had a bad week: Melissa McCarthy's freshman congresswoman from Delaware, Sheila Kelly took her reporter-assault game to a whole other level. The writers found a clever way of expanding the scenario of the source material outward — the world is one big panopticon — but McCarthy can play this kind of unhinged character in her sleep.
Vengeance Quest of the Week
Now here is an unhinged McCarthy character with a bit more nuance. With her hair slicked back while rocking a gray blazer, McCarthy's PJ looks like a wayward Miami Vice villain. As this slow-burning sketch unfolds, though, that description feels even more apt. After a solid minute of setup establishes the suburban dynamic of this Women's Group meeting — Cecily Strong's Carol jokes "I thought we were here to drink white wine in the afternoon" — PJ totally disrupts it. Amidst everybody else's mundane goals for the new year, McCarthy describes her quest to avenge her father's death at the hands of a cabal known as El Scorpion. Between her unique delivery, the juxtaposition of New-Agey lingo with violent threats, and the sight gag of PJ's insane vision boards, this sketch is a delightful symphony of weird.
Mash-Passing of the Week
It must be tough coming up with new ideas each week for what has always been an SNL institution: the game-show sketch. Following last week's lead, however, "Guess That Phrase" is a perfectly typical game show where the concept barely matters. Instead, the focus is on Melissa McCarthy, whose deranged, wildly balding Kathleen isn't merely bad at the Wheel of Fortune-style game, but gets a spectacular combination of things wrong all the time. (A typical reprimand from Beck Bennett's host: "The phrase does not start with a 'p', also it is not your turn, and my name isn't Don.") Considering how gleefully bizarre McCarthy is written here, it's just a cherry on top that Vanessa Bayer's character also reveals herself to be nuts, a woman who teaches reluctant dogs how to dance.
Black History of the Week
Making full use of the show's slightly more diverse cast, this sketch delves into the discomfort of high schoolers learning to feel white guilt. In a tribute to Black History Month, a trio of students whips out a boombox and raps about "28 Reasons to Hug a Black Guy." It's a setup perfectly in line with the cutesy way high schools tend to deal with racial issues at times. Things take a turn, however, when reasons #2-28 turn out to be "slavery." They key moment here is probably when Moynihan tries to respond on behalf of white students, with a cutesy rap of his own, but is quickly silenced by Kate McKinnon's teacher. Apparently, she understands that there's no apt reply in this situation other than the apology Sasheer Zamata, Kenan Thompson, and Jay Pharoah eventually extract, hilariously, through a call-and-response chant.
Saddest Goodbye Ever of the Week
We all knew this was coming, but it's still sad to see a choked-up Seth Meyers tell his last topical joke on Weekend Update. Before his big sendoff, we get a Taran Killam character to comment on the snow-triggered traffic jam down in Atlanta this past week. Killam's Southern gent Buford Callaway has a T-shaped mustache and goatee combo and speaks in flowery prose, dropping phrases like "higgledy-piggled." It's funny, but this segment is all about the one who Callaway addresses as "Sethery." Some friends drop by to wish our man well, and these include Amy Poehler, Andy Samberg, and of course, Meyers's legal husband, Stefon — who blesses us with one final description of the strange club-side proclivities of little people. When Strong says goodbye to her co-anchor, Stefon snaps at her, "You barely know him!" That may be true for her, but over the last twelve years we’ve gotten to know Meyers very well, and he will be dearly missed on this show.
Train Wreck of the Week
I don't have anything nice to say about this sketch so let's just skip it. Let's just say that your friend who is sure Saturday Night Live has sucked for years imagines that every sketch is like this one.
Recurring of the Week
After the living art exhibit sketch sucked out all the momentum the show built up in its stellar first 2/3, the return of Girlfriends was unfortunately not quite enough to set things right. Strong's mechanical delivery and subtle undercutting is always fun, and like usual, Aidy Bryant gets in a line or two that's a scream. But the joke of McCarthy's character seems to be her horniness level, which is something we've seen before. The stories of her Hawaiian lover Pua might have been more funny in a different context, but here they kind of fell flat. Fittingly enough, the sketch just sort of ends with a shrug as though all involved knew it wasn't going anywhere.
Rib Devouring of the Week
"Summer in a Day" is one final blast of McCarthy's physical comedy, timing, and willingness to ignore vanity. When Moynihan encounters her on a bench, wearing a Lebowski sweater and tearing apart ribs with the gusto of a feasting hyena, he is smitten. The distance between his mental narration and what we see, however, is staggering. While it's still not quite enough to get things back on track from the Art Exhibit sketch — seriously, that thing was wretched — it's a brief, winning bit. Also, it will be remembered as the moment a host said "shit" on live TV and the world didn't explode.
Script-Free Sketch of the Week
In the final sketch of the night, Kyle Mooney goes Ali G, awkwardly interviewing an assortment of Times Square denizens. "Super Champions With Kyle" mocks the man-on-the-street interview in a number of fun ways, mostly having to do with Mooney's apparent total lack of interpersonal skills. The real MVP here is whoever designed the cheesy interstitial graphics — especially the one where a shirtless guy firing guns that emit footballs. Since Mooney achieved peak airtime for the season in this episode, expect to see him back doing interviews again soon.