Reese Witherspoon seems like the kind of performer who should have hosted Saturday Night Live tons of times by now – like Drew Barrymore, she’s been acting since she was a kid, and like, well, also Drew Barrymore, she’s a consistently amusing actress who has long demonstrated a wide range of skills – but last night marked only her second turn as host of the show. Perhaps it’s important to understand the historical context around Witherspoon’s inaugural outing as host: it was back in 2001, the musical guest was Alicia Keys, and it was the first episode since 9/11.
Witherspoon’s hosting that night was overshadowed by the raw emotion of the crowd (and the entire country, really) and a special cold open that featured Mayor Rudy Giuliani and an assortment of NYC firefighters and police officers declaring that a terrorist attack couldn’t destroy the city, and it sure wasn’t going to stop SNL. Witherspoon put on a solid show, but she was never going to be the most memorable part of it. (Weirdly, Barrymore hosted just two episodes later, and her episode was nearly upended by an anthrax scare, it was sort of an awful time for everyone.)
Fortunately enough for everyone involved, Witherspoon’s latest go at hosting SNL wasn’t marked by any kind of disaster, and the episode was a stellar outing (perhaps surprisingly so, it was the penultimate entry in a very, very long season) that featured an old favorite, some new classics, a handful of jolly misses, and a lot of love for mothers everywhere.
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“Mother’s Day Apologies Monologue”
Holidays are always big business on Saturday Night Live, but it was still nice to see the cast get into a relatively minor day of merriment in order to a) honor their moms and b) expose some of their horrors of their various childhoods. You don’t become a successful comedic performer without a terrifying backlog of previous performances – and, in the case of these SNL stars, just genuinely weird bits of whatever-the-heck that was (looking at you, Kyle Mooney) – and this monologue proved that twice over.
“High School Theatre Show”
“Who is this play for?” “In the program, it says that it’s dedicated to John Lennon and Shonda Rhimes.”
Another trip to Woodbridge High School? Talk about an unexpected pleasure. When this sketch first debuted earlier this season – back in November, with host Cameron Diaz – nothing about it screamed “recurring sketch,” but that doesn’t mean it’s not great to see it trotted out again. With Witherspoon taking over for Diaz, the jokes remain the same, but the spirit and zingy humor of the sketch fails to get stale. Put it this way: one performance by the Woodbridge theater wonks was great, but two is twice as sweet (and weird and avant garde and strange and…).
If you’ve ever been within even three miles of a “serious” high school theater group’s performance, this sketch looks eerily familiar: crisply dedicated teens, faux drama, and a distinct lack of understanding how the real world works. Teenagers just don’t change, and that includes their perpetual know-it-all-ism. The student actors of Woodbridge have at least translated their concerns into a hilarious glimpse inside the (again, never-changing) teen mind, and the entire cast sells the whole thing so hard that it’s almost impossible not to like it. Like like like like like…LOVE.
“Whiskers R We”
It’s time for a spring cat-ebration. Kate McKinnon is aces at creating new characters and adding her own special spin to impersonations – did you notice her turn as Carly Fiorina in this week’s cold open, all but ensuring a political season packed to the gills with double McKinnon, as she’s already hard at work on her Hillary Clinton? – but her Barbara DeDrew character just might be her best bit ever. The proprietor of Whiskers R We is a true cat lover and a real hound with the ladies, and while those jokes might be repetitive in someone else’s hands, McKinnon’s continued dedication to imagining the weird world of cats (and the people who love them) is unwavering and uproarious.
Another highlight of this sketch? Witherspoon, who took to her “Purrsula” like a cat to a bowl of cream, complete with weirdly vacant expressions, a steady hand, and a quick eye for catching errant cats. If nothing else, the Whiskers R We sketches prove McKinnon’s ability to comically bond with a wide range of guest hosts, with bonus kittens (liars, cult leaders, and sex offenders all) to give it an extra twist of awkward-cute.