Matthew McConaughey Brought His Relaxed Charm to ‘SNL’

“Welcome to the zoo; we are the monkeys.”

That was the delightful way in which Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey introduced his first Saturday Night Live in 14 years, and it set the tone for the rest of the episode: silly, and a welcome distraction. Last week, SNL acknowledged the tragedy in Paris before moving on to an otherwise apolitical show. This week there were far more references to the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, including a cold open, a Thanksgiving sketch, a game show parody, and an extended Weekend Update bit about or mentioning it. The 2016 presidential election took a backseat this week.

Unlike most hosts, McConaughey didn’t seem to be promoting anything by appearing on the show. But that’s cool. He was able to keep up with the most senior members of the cast, playing barely any straight-man characters and giving us about four variations of Wooderson from Dazed And Confused (or at least a few characters that could definitely be related to him). And, of course, we got to hear the story of how “Alright, alright, alright” came to be. One thing that I was expecting but didn’t see was a True Detective parody, or a bit about his so-serious Lincoln ads (but then again Jim Carrey already nailed the latter).

So without further ado, let’s dig into this (mostly) solid episode before we all break for Thanksgiving and SNL returns on Dec. 5 with hottie host Ryan Gosling.

Fox & Friends: Syrian Refugee Crisis Cold Open

When a complex, international story dominates the news, the first people you want to hear from are Steve Doocy (Taran Killam), Elisabeth Hasselbeck (Vanessa Bayer) and Brian Kilmeade (Bobby Moynihan), of course. After mistaking footage of Black Friday sales for footage of displaced Syrians, Kate McKinnon brought back her crazed impression of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who thinks Marco Rubio looks like “grown-up Elian Gonzales.” Jay Pharoah continued to get mileage out of his Dr. Ben Carson impression, which I imagine the real Dr. Carson would love if he ever opened his eyes to watch the show. We didn’t get our usual scrolling list of corrections this time, but we did find out that Leslie Jones is their fact checker.

Matthew McConaughey Monologue

Although this isn’t the first time McConaughey has told the origin story of “Alright, alright, alright,” it’s one that is worth repeating. Apparently Richard Linklater was so impressed with McConaughey’s three-line performance that he let him improvise the drive-in scene and coin the phrase that would follow him for life. We don’t normally get to hear a story in a monologue, unless a standup comic is hosting, and this one was okay, okay, okay.

Thanksgiving Miracle

The requisite Thanksgiving sketch was a winner, mostly because it incorporated Adele. The escalation of the game was really strong here, with Beck Bennett, Vanessa Bayer, Aidy Bryant, Jay Pharoah, Cecily Strong, Kate McKinnon and Matthew McConaughey touching on all the sensitive topics you’ll want to avoid at the dinner table (Syrian refugees, police brutality, and your grandparents’ thoughts on transgender people) until an adorable little girl hits play on Adele’s “Hello” and everyone starts passionately lip syncing. It gets better with every interlude as the fuzzy coats and blonde wigs come out and Jay Pharoah somehow makes the best Adele. The message here is clear: you can’t fight with your family if you’re singing about unrequited love.

Blues Shack

Kenan Thompson had a big hand in this episode, starting with this simple Blues sketch with Matthew McConaughey. Thompson, or “Wailin’ Otis Elmore,” and his thoroughly depressed bandmates (Leslie Jones, Kyle Mooney and Jay Pharoah) just want to sing about their problems but McConaughey’s character has nothing but first-world problems to share. Honestly, though? Accidentally saying “You too” when it doesn’t make any sense is hard to recover from.

3D Printer Man

Cecily Strong kicks off this sketch (with a fierce bob, I might add) by seeing if her audience members can guess which of the three men in blue V-neck sweaters and sensible brown loafers is actually a 3D-printed man. With the premise thoroughly established, the rest of the sketch gets by on some funny, bot-speak dialogue written for McConaughey, such as “Every single one of the bananas” and “That’s cool and smooth like a real sunglasses guy.” Bonus treat: the whitest white guy dance-off between McConaughey, Beck Bennett and Taran Killam.

Star Wars Auditions

The second pre-recorded sketch of the night was another one of SNL’s consistently funny screen test reels, this time for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with an introduction from the real-life J.J. Abrams. Aside from being an impression-off for the cast (Cecily Strong as Sofia Vergara, Beck Bennett as Javier Bardem, Aidy Bryant as Wynona Judd and Jay Pharoah as Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod, for starters), we also saw Star Wars cast members Daisy Ridley and John Boyega (the much-discussed black Storm Trooper) and mega celebs like Jon Hamm, Emma Stone, and Michael Buble. But the best part? Probably Bobby Moynihan as George Lucas just loitering around the set and requesting Coke Zeros. Once again, Leslie Jones closes out the sketch with a burst of energy, made even better because she auditioned as a Klingon from Star Trek.

Weekend Update

There’s something special about Michael Che and Colin Jost this season, as their iteration of Weekend Update continues to get stronger after a somewhat rocky start last season. This week’s one-liner jokes about Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, ISIS, and Radio Shack were fine, with the best ones usually ending with Che stopping to comment on or defend the joke. They also tried out a new bit where they read jokes they wrote for each other, playing up Che’s tendency to tease Jost and emasculate him. And, as has been the trend lately, the co-hosts’ extended back-and-forth bit was a highlight. This time talking Syria, Jost broke down the hypocritical idea of Americans banning refugees and Che explained why he doesn’t trust any religion that requires a hat. Seriously, great points all around.

On the guest side of things, Vanessa Bayer brought back her 12-year-old girl character Laura Parsons. You know, that character who talks like she’s auditioning for a middle school play and pops up every couple of years. She, of all people, makes the show’s first joke about Charlie Sheen having HIV. The other guest was “Big Papi” David Ortiz, played by Kenan Thompson, who brought with him a series of ridiculous plans for his retirement, like starting up a lizard gym and selling something called “Smidgen Of Pigeon.” Thompsons’s Dominican accent got a lot of laughs, however exaggerated it was, but the best part was undeniably Ortiz’s idea for a new dating app called “Go Outside.”

Should You Chime In On This?

The announcer kind of nailed it when he said, “And now, time for an unnecessary new game show!” at the top of this sketch. Kenan Thompson played yet another host (named Allen DeGeneres) who challenges his idiot guests to admit they shouldn’t share their wildly uninformed opinions of Syria, Charlie Sheen and other sensitive on the Internet. The sketch has a great point, but it felt like that point was already made back in the Thanksgiving/Adele short, which was stronger. Still, Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney, and McConaughey did a good job portraying everyone you’ve had to block on Facebook in the past week. Plus, we saw a brief cameo from Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton impression.

Right Side Of The Bed

The most crazytown sketch of the night was definitely this talk show parody featuring Taran Killam and Cecily Strong as husband-and-wife hosts and McConaughey as a mumbling, backwoods TV chef. First, there’s Killam’s character Cory and his Southern accent (I could listen to him say “Liar” all day) who constantly and aggressively claims to be attracted to his wife, and also wears a Kim Kardashian “boydle.” Then we have McConaughey’s character basically fisting a turkey and telling bad Thanksgiving jokes. Turns out, he’s just tripping on oven cleaner! I did laugh a little when Killam said “You just scared a tiny fart right out of me,” and I have to admit I didn’t expect Kate McKinnon to make such a great Ed Sheeran, but most of the time I was wondering what the hell was going on with this one.

Town Hall Meeting

After another performance by Adele (no, YOU’RE crying), the show wrapped up with this 10-to-1 sketch about a meeting to decide whether or not an Amtrak line should run through town. The cast served as straight-men for McConaughey’s character Earl as he sounds off against the train with a giant fake hand, tells a story about being bit by bats and calls people “College” and “Brooks Brothers” to insult them. It also ended with a newspaper front page which is an older SNL trope that I actually miss. That, and scrolling prologues, like in Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. Okay, tangent over!

So shoot, what else?

  • I want Brian Kilmeade saying “Happy Thanksgiving, Jesus!” on a T-shirt.
  • Leslie Jones seems to have found a new role as an “end of sketch savior,” always popping in at the last minute to ensure that the sketch ends with a big laugh. I dig it.
  • Taran’s face when he says “I’m in sales” in the 3D-printed man sketch was priceless.
  • Has Vanessa Bayer played a mom in every episode so far this season?
  • Just want to acknowledge that we got to hear Adele’s “Hello” twice in one episode and I starting crying both times. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • I would watch Jon Hamm as “Hamm” Solo forever and ever and ever, amen.
  • That Jared Fogle joke on Update got so many groans, it actually got a few boos. But you have to love Che’s response: “How did you think that was going to end?” Fair enough.
  • McConaughey stroking and gesturing with his long braid in the game show sketch looked almost TOO natural for him.
  • We barely saw Sasheer Zamata this week, and the same goes for Pete Davidson and newcomer Jon Rudnitsky. I’m curious what the latter’s first big sketch will be.
  • I have to admit I giggled when McConaughey said his little “Just keep livin’! Happy Thanksgivin’!” message at the end of the show.
  • After writing this recap, I have FINALLY mastered how to spell McConaughey correctly.
  • Matthew McConaughey Brought His Relaxed Charm to ‘SNL’