The next time we see the Saturday Night Live crew, it will be in two weeks’ time when everyone – no, really, everyone, even Eddie Murphy will reportedly be in attendance – comes together to celebrate the venerable sketch comedy series’ fortieth anniversary with a dazzling new special. After three solid weeks of new shows (including last week’s Blake Shelton-hosted outing, one of the lowest energy offerings of the season), our current cast is probably hungry for a bit of a break from their everyday comedic grind.
But first, they had to get through an episode led by Oscar nominee J.K. Simmons, which ended up being the perfect way to close out a particularly busy run of shows, rough beginning and all. Last night may have marked Simmons’ first time hosting the show, but the Oscar nominee was a natural and easy fit with the rest of the cast, and the episode only picked up steam as it wound on. Good hosts have the ability to adapt and slip into any setting, and Simmons did that without a hitch, gamely stepping into a large variety of different sketches while never threatening to dominate the proceedings. You might say he was just their tempo.
Here are three excellent sketches that prove it.
“Teacher Snow Day”
“Zero f**cks given, this is blizzard livin!” Sure, kids love snow days – any excuse to skip school, right? ah, those little education-hating scamps! – but what this pre-recorded bit supposes is, What if snow days are really for teachers?
There was little doubt we’d be getting some blizzard-related humor in this week’s episode, but instead of offering up some rote gags about a massive snowstorm that never came to pass, the majority of the cast teamed up to give us this twisted musical outing. Featuring a wide variety of SNL stars, from a pot-smoking Cecily Strong to a mad scientist Kyle Mooney to a wide-eyed Pete Davidson, “Teacher Snow Day” gave everyone a chance to shine in small doses while an imaginary storm raged outside. It was all so much fun that we nearly forgot about Simmons, who appeared late in the game as a high school principal with his own unique way of celebrating a much-needed day off.
Here’s hoping that Bobby Moynihan’s pushpin costume was expensive enough to justify another appearance from his totally darling and highly annoying “Pushie,” because the veteran SNL player just might have found himself a new recurring character to sharpen up. What starts as a relatable, if somewhat mainstream idea – Microsoft Word is annoying, huh? – turns into a bizarre exercise in man versus machine, user versus pushpin, brain versus heart.
Although he’s utterly useless, Moynihan pours on the over-the-top charm as Pushie, the little office assistant who just wants to help, approaching (dare we say it) something close to actual pathos in the process. As Pushie foists his voice-controlled ideals on a baffled Simmons – including demands that he use a new font, like “Helvetica Bonham Carter,” which features tiny Helena Bonham Carter faces in place of O’s – we fall still further in love with him. Ka-blam!
“The Jay Z Story”
It’s Mike O’Brien. As Jay-Z. In the “definitive, fully accurate biopic.” Does the quick pitch sell the idea? Yes. Is the actual output about ten times better than fans of O’Brien’s charmingly off-kilter humor could have hoped for? Yes.
O’Brien’s weirdly sweet short films continue to be a highlight of this season, allowing the former featured player to explore the kind of stuff that he really excels at (read: strange stuff, with a tremendous amount of heart) in his own space. The idea for this short works on multiple levels, poking fun at Hollywood’s love of biopics and its inability to really get them exactly right, while also offering O’Brien a place to be so genuinely moony-eyed that it kind of hurts. “This is insane! I can’t believe I’m great at rap!” O’Brien exclaims in a record exec’s office, and we almost have to wonder, Is that what it was really like? Did Jay-Z really feel that way? This is, after all, a “fully accurate” telling of his story, so maybe!
Beefed up with bonus appearances by Jason Sudeikis as Kanye West (“holy guacamole!”) and Simmons as Nas, this true story might have some holes in it, but it’s still the best offering of the episode.