In addition to being a scourge on spellchecks everywhere, Matthew McConaughey is also one of the most interesting actors working today. Whether it’s in True Detective or a series of obtuse car commercials, McConaughey’s muse has produced consistently compelling performances in recent years. Even with nothing overt to promote, it still made sense for him to return to Saturday Night Live after 14 years: After all, when you have a career that seemingly has no rules, hosting a sketch comedy show is as valid a choice as starring in an Oscar-bait film.
So how did he do? Unsurprisingly, McConaughey was game for anything. Surprisingly, he rarely stood out. Now, sometimes, that’s okay: When a host serves as part of the ensemble, the results can be outstanding. Instead, McConaughey receded into the background in many sketches tonight, serving as the central element only in subpar sketches. To be sure, there were several highlights, but they were all front-loaded, leaving the host to do his best to hold things together in the latter half of the episode. That says nothing about McConaughey or SNL: Most episodes each year fall into this exact template.
A Thanksgiving Miracle
A few years ago, SNL scored big with a sketch in which everyone broke down listening to Adele‘s “Someone Like You.” This pretaped segment took that idea up a few notches, both in terms of concept and execution. Using a common fear (relatives who say hurtful/offensive things during holiday gatherings) served as a great launching pad for “Hello” to calm the barely-simmering arguments between various family factions.
What really took this over the top was the sneaky escalation of the sketch’s production values: Mere lip-synching soon gave way to manicures, jackets, wigs, and locations that mirrored Adele’s video for the song. By the time Aidy Bryant struggled to prevent an off-camera wind machine from pushing her into a nearby pond, “A Thanksgiving Miracle” proved it was more than a recycled concept. Heck, this song is so powerful that it healed a previously burnt turkey. If that doesn’t prove the power of Adele, what does?
Star Wars Auditions
When it comes to recommending sketches, sometimes “the one that everyone will be talking about” trumps an inherently funnier sketch. If you told me that “3D Printer Man” made you laugh more than this, I would completely understand. I might even agree with you. But when you get the cast of the upcoming Star Wars film, Emma Stone, Michael Bublé, and Mad Men star/frequent SNL host Jon Hamm in a sketch, chances are this is what your coworkers will be watching this week instead of updating that spreadsheet. And that matters.
It helps that I’m a sucker for the “everyone in the cast gets to do the impressions they do for each other” sketches, especially in the context of fake audition reels. Usually, the weirder these impressions are, the better, which is why Beck Bennett’s Javier Bardem was the standout here. Bobby Moynihan’s Danny DeVito and Taran Killam’s David Beckham also worked spectacularly well. I do wish this had actually given Daisy Ridley and John Boyega more things to do, but I also imagine the show had roughly four minutes with which to use them, given the current Star Wars publicity push.
Weekend Update: David Ortiz On Retirement
By Jost, I think they have figured it out.
It’s been a rocky road for the Colin Jost/Michael Che iteration of “Weekend Update,” but this was the strongest version to date. What’s encouraging was that this didn’t feel like an outlier but rather the summation of various individual aspects that have worked in the past made stronger by their successful, concurrent implementation. In particular, Jost/Che have figured out how to banter and use their different perspectives in service of “Update.” When both are allowed to give their own insights into a topic (such as the Syrian refugee crisis), it feels like two individuals providing commentary, not SNL. It’s a subtle but meaningful difference, one that allows the audience to connect with these two individuals. On top of that, the Joke Exchange segment was a fantastic way to provide some Stefon-like prank surprises.
But the real highlight of this segment had to be Kenan Thompson’s David Ortiz. Now, as a native Bostonian, I’m probably genetically predisposed to liking anything Big Papi-related. But I actually didn’t like this until Ortiz started dropping his various slogans for his multiple spokesman gigs, at which point I had to pause the show in order to catch my breath. Each concept was so, so, so stupid that it came out the other side and turned utterly brilliant. Thompson’s delivery of lines like “Smidgeon Of Pigeon” reinforces just how valuable to SNL that he is, and how he can consistently take material and make it better through his execution. He’s been one of the most important cast members of the last five years, and segments like this will hopefully cement his place in this show’s pantheon.