Did the entire world set ablaze when it was announced John Mulaney would host Saturday Night Live? I’m guessing no. Did I do a jig? Possibly, but there’s no video so no one can prove it. As the writer of Stefon and countless other SNL sketches, Mulaney helped shape some of the finest moments during his half-decade tenure on the show. While a writer, he made a few appearances on “Weekend Update,” but those were essentially stand-up routines ported into that format. Aside from his performance as Shy a few weeks ago during the Bill Hader episode, he had no track record playing characters in Studio 8H.
So how did he do? He more than acquitted himself, but the material itself rarely got out of second gear. The show didn’t coast on good will by any means. However, this was one of those episodes in which the ideas are all sound but just don’t fully land. Still, there were several ones that worked extremely well, including one that had no business existing and yet just might be one of my favorite sketches all season. Here’s what people will be discussing until the show returns in May with Donald Glover.
John Mulaney Stand-Up Monologue
Aside from the almost impressively unfunny sitcom bearing his last name, there’s little John Mulaney has done in his comedic career that hasn’t been hilarious. Here’s scientific proof: my family can’t agree on anything, and yet all think his stand-up routine about the Salt And Pepper diner is hysterical. This man brings families together, is what I’m saying.
So while I didn’t know what to expect from Mulaney the sketch actor, I knew the monologue would be excellent. Drawing on a lot of material from his most recent tour Kid Gorgeous, he had the audience in the palm of his hand from minute one. It helped that he was in front of what probably was the friendliest, most encouraging crowd for which he had ever performed. These were people that knew how unique the moment was, and were ready to laugh even if Mulaney had just read the phone book. Luckily, he brought his A-game, with his musings on the timing of a Connecticut-based gazebo a true highlight. It may seem like there’s a new stand-up special every 15 minutes on Netflix right now, but if you haven’t checked out Mulaney’s hour-longs on that service, now would be an excellent time to do so.
Meet The Parents Cold Open
As has been the case all season, when SNL talks about Trump rather than actually depicting him onscreen, it works like gangbusters. This wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but was notable for its two guest stars: Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller. It would have been noteworthy for anyone other than Kate McKinnon to play someone intimately involved in some way with the Trump Administration. But having these two stars in this cold open guaranteed that it will be shown and shared throughout the upcoming week.
(I’d also say that this sketch set up an interesting dynamic between Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence as forming a Big Brother-esque Final Two alliance that can be continued when the show returns, but honestly, who can say what the heck will be happening in Washington that far in the future at this point.)
Did we really need a Meet The Parents reunion to dramatize Michael Cohen’s current legal state? Probably not. But everything old is new again, either in the form of a reboot or a Broadway musical. It took the audience longer than it probably should have to catch on to what was happening with the polygraph test. But once they latched on, the crowd started to laugh before the next reference was even uttered. So who knows: maybe the country is indeed ready for Fuller Fockers.
In the documentary The Who’s Tommy: The Amazing Journey, Roger Daltrey has an amazing quote about the difference between the original version of the rock opera, played live by the band, and the Broadway version that had recently debuted. In comparing the two, he said, “To me, it was never about singing the right notes. Give me a bum note and a bead of sweat anytime.” Essentially, he’s arguing that emotion and ambition are more important than perfection, which is a roundabout way of saying that this sketch’s messiness only enhances its achievement. This was ludicrous. This was insane. This…was amazing.
Breaking this down in any logical sense would do it a disservice. It’s a Weird Al-esque parody of Les Miserables, a showstopper for the show’s prop department, and a useful example of why deploying the entire SNL ensemble en masse can be so effective. The best casts develop their own comedic personality, and if this one’s is “trying to stifle laughter while parodying Broadway showtunes,” then I’m suddenly extremely invested in this current iteration.
Yes, people missed lines and notes. Yes, the bouncing ball was a full line ahead during the audience sing-along. But just like Daltrey, I don’t care at all. There was a lot of love and affection that went into that sketch, right down to those that simply came on as background for the climatic finish. There were approximately four hundred times when this sketch could have crashed and burned, and the fact that it made it to the finish line more or less unscathed makes this one of the most memorable moments of the season.