Saturday Night Live Recap: Welcome Back, Tom Hanks

Saturday Night Live

Tom Hanks
Season 42 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Saturday Night Live - Season 42

Saturday Night Live

Tom Hanks
Season 42 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Leslie Jones, Tom Hanks. Photo: NBC/Rosalind O’Connor/NBC

Who wouldn’t want an evening of light, late-night frivolity with America’s Dad? As it is in the film world, Tom Hanks is one the most revered and consistent guests on Saturday Night Live. From his first gig in the mid-’80s to his eighth appearance in 2006, Hanks does a little bit of everything: impressions (e.g. Michael Caine), original characters (e.g. Mr. Short-Term Memory), and goofy, self-deprecating bits (e.g. his Celebrity Jeopardy! sketch). Even Hanks’s fifth landmark visit become its own sort of landmark: The 1990 Five-Timers Club sketch gets referenced and revisited whenever a new host hits the milestone. With a Hanks-led SNL, it’s not a question of whether the week’s sketches come together, but how well they will.

Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton Third-Debate Cold-Open
Along with a few broad strokes in this week’s open — Trump calling the Mexican president Mr. Guacamole, for example — there are a lot of astute takedowns. Trump goes from being what he calls “sweet little baby Trump” to a bloated gasbag in an instant; Hillary performs a perfectly calculated pivot to avoid talking about her emails; Trump spews foreign-policy nonsense and is relieved to be cut off; Hillary peddles “Nasty Woman” mugs immediately after Trump levels the insult at her. There are some nice, absurd flourishes here, as when Trump declares no one respects women more than he does, and the screen cuts away to the entire planet laughing. Alec Baldwin saying, “I’m winning in every poll taken outside of a Cracker Barrel,” and Kate McKinnon crooning about Hillary’s involvement in taking out Bin Laden are moments of pure bliss.

Tom Hanks Monologue
When Hanks dons his comfortable sweater and decides to assume the mantle of America’s Dad, the -ish gets serious. This monologue apes one of those cinematic father-son pep talks — when the dad looks his growing teenager in the face and gets real — but here Hanks addresses the nation’s fears about immigrants, homosexuality, guns, and the national debt. It’s smartly done, though every line isn’t a laugh line because it’s uncomfortably close to home. Some of the jabs are expected but still work, as when Hanks wraps things up with, “Go show the world what else you can stuff inside a pizza crust.”

Black Jeopardy
In this edition of the ongoing sketch, Hanks plays a Trump conservative named Doug, who seems doomed to fail against Keeley (Sasheer Zamata) and Shanice (Leslie Jones) in questions of black culture. Against all odds, however, Doug gets it: Elections are rigged, fingerprint technology is how they get you, and skinny girls are good for “not a damn thing.” It’s surprising, very funny, and Hanks’s mumbly Midwesterner is really well done. It’s also nice to see a Trump supporter portrayed in a basically decent way. This is my favorite Black Jeopardy sketch so far.

Halloween Block Party
This silly sketch features Hanks and Cecily Strong as a couple previewing their Halloween musical for neighbors. It features new lyrics to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,’” vampires and witches getting it on, and a love triangle with the couple’s daughter (Melissa Villaseñor). Despite the fact that the play is awful, the neighbors ultimately decide that they love it. The couple’s self-serious tone works, but there’s not much that’s outright funny in the musical hodgepodge. It’s fun to look at, but it’s one of the episode’s clunkers.

Funny New Comedy
With comedies such as Transparent and Orange Is the New Black winning so many awards, CBS decides to create its own moody comedy, Broken. In this promo, a bunch of depressed adjunct professors are “tired of being tired,” sadly contemplate sex over the age of 50, and touch things in the living room for “30 gut-busting minutes.” This is well-observed, and surely not far off from the pitches that major networks consider, but it isn’t exactly hilarious. (You might lob the same criticism at Transparent and OITNB.)

Haunted Elevator
On this spooky Halloween ride, Beck Bennett and Kate McKinnon get repeatedly frightened by ghosts and ghouls — until they encounter David Pumpkins (Hanks, with a curly head of hair and a wacky, gourd-accented suit and tie.) Rather than making his customers scream, Pumpkins sings a ditty about himself and shakes it with his B-boy skeleton pals. The novelty factor makes this sketch worthwhile; it’s hard to imagine where else you might hear a dancing skeleton cry out, “¡Ay, papi!” Anyone who loved the FBI Simulator sketch featuring Larry David as day-glo weirdo Kevin Roberts will like this one — it’s the same sketch, tweaked a bit.

Weekend Update
The first half of Update digs into the debate and election topics, though with less success than the open. The most interesting perspective comes from Michael Che, who talks about how differently the media handles the candidates and how weird it is to have Trump whine about a rigged election. (“There were 43 white-male presidents in a row, then one black guy and maybe a woman and now you’re sensing a pattern of unfairness? […] An old white billionaire is on TV arguing that the system is rigged, and my black ass is arguing that it’s not.”) Leslie Jones wheels in to talk about the computer hack she dealt with over the summer, and shows remarkable resilience while doing so. She tells the crowd she isn’t shy — she keeps “porn in a folder labeled ‘porn’” — and won’t let trolls get her down because she’s already embarrassed herself by doing things like marrying El Debarge in a private bedroom ceremony. As usual, Jones’s energy is infectious and her body language is amazing.

Much of the second half is reserved for Cecily Strong’s character, the Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party. She’s supposed to talk about the election, but devolves into self-righteous grousing about “Jillian Assange” and the injustice of women voters having to “show our I.U.D.” The malaprops and Strong’s delivery are highlights. Even Drunk Girl’s “interrupting polar bear” joke is good.

It turns out that Captain Sully Sullenberger — who Hanks also played in this year’s film Sully — is a little full of himself. In this sketch, Sully is asked to play the co-pilot for another man (Alec Baldwin) and he can’t just let it go. He interjects himself into the new captain’s cabin announcements and shamelessly spouts his big accomplishments. The setup suggests a fun rivalry between Hanks and Baldwin (another SNL star host), but it’s really just about Sully bragging about how he gets free Apple watches and knows Ellen Degeneres. It’s cute, but the premise is better than the execution. Seems kind of a waste of Baldwin, too.

A Girl’s Halloween
This filmed sketch gives a succinct picture of a group of girlfriends’ Halloween night out, both in its giddy, chummy preamble and its drunken mess of a denouement. At 8:00 p.m., Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong, and Vanessa Bayer are comparing techniques for painting on cat whiskers and even swearing they won’t drink. Cut to 4:00 a.m., and the ladies are blotto, stumbling, tearing into each other, shamelessly flirting, and puking on pizzas. This piece is nicely filmed, well-structured, and offers some great sight gags. Anyone who’s had a playful night out devolve into a Bacchanalian mess will recognize something of themselves in this.

America’s Funniest Pets
Ron Howard (Hanks) does kooky, America’s Funniest–style voice-over while internet cat videos play because “pet bloopers make me giggle.” Then a pair of French ladies (McKinnon and Strong), who host a similar show in France, show up to give Howard a taste of how they do it across the pond. When a cat peers over the edge of a couch cushion, Strong’s Frenchwoman says, “This cat here is witnessing a violent murder,” and “In this moment, he learn he is a true coward.” The bit continues along those lines, with silly accents and talk of pigs that dance “not for joy but for sexual pleasure” — a winning formula if there ever was one. The Ron Howard impression feels long and gratuitous, but once Strong and McKinnon arrive, it becomes one of the episode’s funniest bits.

The stars aligned tonight, bringing together one of the all-time great hosts with strong political material and lots of clever, smaller sketches. Though his Ron Howard impression was pretty forgettable, Hanks brought it when creating new characters including a Trump supporter and freakazoid David S. Pumpkins. In addition, the cold-open delivered (another) great debate takedown. Even the Update monologues were solid. Total it up and Tom Hanks garners himself another night worthy of the SNL canon.

SNL Recap: Welcome Back, Tom Hanks