As she arrives at 30 Rock to don her Five-Timers Club jacket, Melissa McCarthy has already proven herself as one of SNL’s best hosts in recent memory. She is fearless, boldly physical, and ridiculously committed to her characters. McCarthy doesn’t just nail the pratfalls, she creates bits between the lines: sloppy rib-chomping, horse-humping, zero-gravity backflipping antics that threaten to make the rest of the cast break. And thanks to McCarthy, Sean Spicer has become a vivid, vital impression. SNL is her oyster, and in 90 minutes, she can plunder from all the pearls she wants.
Donald Trump–Lester Holt Cold Open
Given the bonkers week — with Trump firing James Comey and the half-hearted explanations that followed — the writers don’t hold back in this re-creation of the Lester Holt interview. Trump (Alec Baldwin) admits that he fired Comey “because of Russia,” and Holt (Michael Che) feels as though he’s nailed the president. Then, the reporter gets news in his earpiece: “Oh, nothing matters? Absolutely nothing matters anymore?” Paul Ryan (Mikey Day) shows up as a masochistic lap dog, then Trump becomes Nixon and later confesses to being a “serial tapist” when it comes to White House important conversations. From Trump’s idea of “priming the pump” to the image of Kellyanne Conway in a crypt somewhere, it’s all somewhere between petty and damning. Mostly damning. And clever.
Melissa McCarthy Monologue
In this sweet tribute to mothers and motherhood, McCarthy invites one of the moms in the audience, a woman named Joan, to come backstage for an intimate tour. It’s a brisk and fun look backstage, as Joan collects foot cream and ketchup from the page’s desk, meets Ryan Reynolds, and gets a hug from Kyle Mooney. McCarthy peppers in a few chipper comments here and there, and it all leads to the moment when Joan gets to burst through the big, upstage door and strut center stage to help McCarthy announce Haim and the show ahead.
There’s always one sketch in a McCarthy-hosted SNL that runs her through the ringer physically. This time, it’s a game show that crosses the classic Press Your Luck and board game Pie Face. In this sketch, no matter whose turn it is, or when they stop the rotation of the spinning game board, Marcy (McCarthy) takes at least one pie to the face. Well, a pie, a cake, confetti, water cannons, or air hoses. No suspense and no surprises once the thing gets going, but if someone is going to take a good ten or 12 pies to the face, McCarthy is a great pick. (“I couldn’t see, hear and, for the most part, could not breathe,” she confesses after a particularly brutal round of play.)
Amazon Echo Silver
Amazon has come up with a product that’s perfect for older users: Amazon Echo Silver. It’s an interactive bit of technology much like the original Alexa assistant, but the volume on the speaker is really loud, it responds to any name that sounds at all like Alexa, and it doesn’t mind repeating itself ad infinitum. It even has an “uh huh” feature for when the old folks get to monologuing a bit too much, and just need to know that someone is listening to them. The writing here is delightful, playing on not only old folks’ relationship with technology but their general presumptions about life, too. It’s also innocuous enough to show up in your parents’ social-media feeds on Sunday afternoon.
Sean Spicer Returns
Before Spicer even shows up, there’s a little taste of Sarah Huckabee-Sanders (Aidy Bryant), the chatty, confident deputy White House press secretary. Then Spicer emerges from the bushes and the barrage begins: He sprays the press with a fire extinguisher, hurls a pillar at them, and tries to explain Trump’s Russia debacle with Matryoshka dolls. Then, members of the press quiz Spicer about his supposed friendship with Trump, who makes Spicer “humiliate himself every single day.” This sends Spicer for a loop and he motors up to New York City on his podium to confront his boss. It would be really hard to top the previous Spicer sketches, but this one’s a lot of fun: the back-and-forth with reporters, the road trip, Spicer’s New York City breakdown, and his bromantic reunion with Trump all bring a new dimension to the bit. We’ll see whether the real Spicer keeps his job, but this sketch plays like a finale to the SNL sitcom Spicey.
The anchors do their best to parse out the week in Trump news: Michael Che’s best suggestion is to give each headline a record scratch and inappropriate song, like it’s a wacky movie trailer. Che and Colin Jost talk about the character of James Comey (“He’s like if the word ‘gosh’ became a person”) and why Trump puts superfluous quotes in his tweets (“It’s the difference between saying ‘Grandma is sleeping,’ and ‘Grandma is ‘sleeping’’”) before Pete Davidson comes on to talk about life after rehab. While this bit leans more toward a confessional monologue than stand-up, Davidson’s charms are significant and there are nicely moving bits about life’s boredom and what, exactly, constitutes horse therapy.
In the second half, Jost earns a little clapter for his joke about the Indian government trying to curb the booming monkey population with birth control: “India, where they treat monkeys better than America treats women.” Clapter or no, it’s a great joke. Cecily Strong returns as the mush-mouthed, ranting neighbor in mom jeans, Cathy Anne. By now, her angst for the “Robamas” has transferred to “Donald Trunk,” who has “more Russian friends than I have days left to live.” Strong has such a strong grip on Cathy Anne, and she clearly loves playing the character. Interestingly, what seems designed to spoof inarticulate, angry conservatives during Obama’s administration is now earning applause for astute commentary.
Women in Film Panel
Kate McKinnon returns as Golden Age starlet Debette Goldry, and this time she’s got another graying pal in tow: Gaye Fontaine (McCarthy). While Marion Cotillard (Cecily Strong) and Lupita Nyong’o (Sasheer Zamata) talk about early TV gigs and trying to fit into the male-dominated Hollywood culture, Debette and Gaye talk about being forced to eat lead paint and remove their molars to make their faces look “less Polish.” Sadly, McCarthy’s presence doesn’t add much here; Gaye is just another Debette and the stockpiling of crazy, abused ladies doesn’t enhance the sketch. That said, it’s another fun go-round with this premise, and there are several good, hard jokes in it.
Kyle and Leslie
In the next chapter of the backstage romance between Kyle Mooney and Leslie Jones, there’s trouble in paradise. Jones works late with that cutie-pie Colin Jost, and she never has time for the duo’s son, L’il Lorne, or to consider Mooney’s feelings. Scratch that: She thinks that when he cries after sex, “that makes him a little bitch.” The whole thing comes to a head when Jones misses L’il Lorne’s piano recital and Mooney shoots Jost in the leg. (Big Lorne makes a point to say that while he doesn’t support cast members shooting one another, Jost “can be pretty annoying.”) While the sketch is a little slow, it’s also oddly endearing, and Mooney’s shooting of Jost helps it pay off.
The new mom in the neighborhood (Melissa Villaseñor) is just getting settled, and the rest of the mothers are ready to help her. All she needs to do is find her “animal,” which is essentially the notion of a spirit guide as applied (or appliquéd) to some piece of clothing. The rest of the moms have claimed pigs, dolphins, or jungle cats to inspire their lives, and now there aren’t any more decisions to make. The sketch feels a bit divided, unsure of whether it’s about a weird cult of creepy Stepford Wives advocating psychedelic out-of-body experiences with geese or a bunch of moms talking recognizable suburban-mom things, like shopping at Costco. It doesn’t quite hit, but as a ten-to-one, it’s supposed to be a little bananas.
Two movie execs (Strong and Moynihan) listen to pitches from a graphic designer (Beck Bennett) who has been hired to make the studio’s new logo. They love the animated Dreamworks logo of the boy fishing, so the designer offers them a frumpy, angry lady in a bathrobe (McCarthy) crying, “Oh no!” That doesn’t work, so he tries out other options, like the same lady threatening a kid and later hurling a ball at a child’s basketball backboard while yelling, “Feast your ass on this!” Huh, well, that doesn’t work all that well for the execs … and that response feels about right for the sketch itself, too. It doesn’t slowly guide us to Crazytown so much as leap right there, and baffles more than it engages.
As great as McCarthy is on SNL, and as well as she delivered on the show tonight, there isn’t one sketch that absolutely set her loose or broke new ground. This week, the political sketches exhibited great verve; the Lester Holt cold open was pointed and nasty while the Spicer sketch was its own tiny epic. In the second half, there are some head scratchers and others that just don’t lift off. But what does it matter, when Steve Martin shows up during the credits to bestow on McCarthy a Five-Timers’ jacket? (If you’re wondering: This didn’t happen for ScarJo or the Rock. And yes, that is the sound of their agents grousing from L.A.)