Perhaps you have no idea what the schedule at Saturday Night Live is like, but it’s 100 percent bonkers. The writers and performers have less than 24 hours to bask in the glory of an episode, or self-flagellate over its failure, before beginning to prep for the follow-up. A day of pitching is next, and then a writing all-nighter, and after that comes the actual logistics of putting on a live show — the staging, rehearsals, and working out of various kinks. It’s a tightrope walk where the tightrope itself is soaked in kerosene and set on fire. After three rounds of this craziness, though, there’s a reprieve. The cast and crew get every fourth week off. You might think that after a short break, everyone would come back rejuvenated, with ideas percolating beyond first-draft level and all unfunny sketch concepts exorcised. Somehow, though, the episode after a week off tends to be less solid, and last night’s was no exception. In fact, it was so abysmal it became perversely exciting to see how bad things could get.
At the outset of last night’s episode, it seemed like things could go the other way. Jim Carrey used to be among the safest of bets for SNL. Although he at one point unsuccessfully auditioned to be a cast member, he eventually helped launch In Living Color, where he thrived in the sketch format. His best movies, like the original Dumb and Dumber, seemed to stretch a single sketch to feature-length, and crush it. However, it’s been a long time since Carrey first became famous enough to host SNL. (So long ago, in fact, that one of the sketches from that episode featured Jim Breuer doing a Joe Pesci impression.) Since then, Carrey, who is undoubtedly one of the more gifted physical comedians of our time, has had his share of ups and downs at the box office, unveiled an obsession with the number 23, bashed a movie he was starring in because of its violence quotient, and endured a very public relationship with known vaccine-truther Jenny McCarthy. It’s been a bumpy ride, to say the least. And although it’s unfair to blame the host, last night’s episode was somehow even bumpier.
It’s always a bad sign when the funniest sketch in an episode is a digital short. In this case, it was a trio of them, all arriving within the first half-hour or so. These parodies of the recent Matthew McConaughey ad for Lincoln successfully lampooned the format of the ad as well as the inexplicable nature of McConaughey making a Lincoln commercial amid a career high, and also brought some twisted turns.
The still-new team of Colin Jost and Michael Che continues settling in nicely, and they’re beginning to feel pretty natural. The two handled the current Ebola scare in New York (and, well, everywhere) with typical aplomb, tying it into jokes about race and, somehow, Red Bull. Vanessa Bayer’s romantic-comedy expert, Daisy Rose — a confused klutz forcing a meet-cute with Che — got in a laugh or two, but she was outshone by the glorious return of Bobby Moynihan’s almost flamboyantly racist Drunk Uncle.
The fake TV show in this sketch, Ghosts: Fact or Fiction, is uncomfortably close to some of the real ghost-hunting content currently haunting the cultural landscape. The premise here, though, is that token skeptic Ronda, played by newly promoted featured player Leslie Jones (pause for applause), abruptly becomes a Mulder-scale believer in about two seconds of ghostiness. If there were more Rondas on these shows, I would never miss an episode.
Halloween is not like a birthday, which can be celebrated before or after the day of, and so assigning next week’s November 1 show the official Halloween episode would be an act of insanity. Of all the spookily Halloween-related sketches on last night’s show, though, the only one that connected was this office-party sketch that giddily smashed the fourth wall to loop Lorne Michaels and musical guest Iggy Azalea in. The sketch revolves around Kate McKinnon and Jim Carrey both dressing as the child dancer from Sia’s Chandelier video, thus inciting a dance-off. Obviously, Jim Carrey can wring laughs from body-moving and drag-dress, but McKinnon does more than hold her own here.
Ebola Czar Cold Open
The perfunctory topical sketch that opens the show is basically an excuse for Jay Pharoah’s Obama to remind us of all the other problems in his second term because, sure, why not? The sole redeeming feature here is Kenan Thompson’s Al Sharpton announcing that, “All of New York is contaminated all the time.”
Jim Carrey Halloween Monologue
“How about Jim Carrey is a ram-horned Elvis impersonator singing about pecan pie for some reason?” —one of the SNL writers, greeted with unanimous assent.
Carrey Family Reunion
Of course Taran Killam can do a Jim Carrey impersonation. Ditto Jay Pharoah. This premise gives the rest of the cast license to do so, though, without ever questioning whether it’s funny enough to justify. The episode’s inevitable Jeff Daniels cameo is wedged in here (Dumb and Dumber To, in theaters soon!), and it couldn’t have felt more like a tick on a check list.
Pete Davidson and Sasheer Zamata play teenagers sneaking into a graveyard, where a macabre musical number is underway, but Carrey and Killam’s mulleted bozo ghosts do not fit in. Of all the Halloween sketches tonight, this one had the most lavish set decoration and makeup, which is some evasive praise.
Although Davidson makes a compelling zombie, this Walking Dead–like sketch is — wait for it — dead on arrival. Hi, I’m the guy who writes headlines for the New York Post, I guess?
Nobody in the studio audience was laughing for much of this sketch about an unlikely dating show, and they were correct. Although the idea of an airplane hangar filled with 250 men named Dennis got a laugh out of me.
Geoff’s Halloween Emporium
Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong seemed a little too close to their former porn-star characters here, hawking Halloween wares instead of Manual Blondicks. Jim Carrey’s creepy shop owner vomiting blood did not make the overlap worthwhile.
This season of SNL finds the venerable comedy institution very much still in transition. Prior to this episode, things had been off to a promising start with three decent-to-great episodes in a row. Let’s agree to call last night’s affair a mulligan and get ready to lose our minds when Chris Rock hosts next week.