The column missed out on Seth Meyers’s return to Saturday Night Live in mid-October, which is a bummer since, aside from Alec Baldwin’s unsurprising (and unwanted) cold open, it was this season’s best episode so far. Previous guest hosts Awkwafina and Adam Driver managed to put on some spectacular bits, of course, but their respective episodes failed to muster the energy necessary to carry all 93 minutes of the traditional runtime.
This has less to do with Awkwafina and Driver, and more to do with creator Lorne Michaels and season 44 co-head writers Colin Jost, Michael Che and Kent Sublette’s continued (and largely unsuccessful) attempts at political comedy. Not only has the program’s political satire been lacking as of late, but former cast member Taran Killam’s recent story about Michaels apparently going out of his way to appease then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hasn’t done SNL any favors either.
Enter comedic actor-turned-auteur director Jonah Hill, who served as Studio 8H’s master of ceremonies for the fifth time this weekend. It’s a great episode overall, though the reasoning for this is circumstantial at best. Maybe it was the return of fan-favorite character Adam Grossman or the increasingly public (and problematic) shadow cast by Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande’s canceled engagement. For all we know, it was good simply because of the three-week break viewers had between episodes.
Here are five of the more memorable moments from this week’s show.
The Five-Timers club welcomes Jonah Hill with a warning
Speaking of breaks, the break disgraced comedian (and former SNL guest host) Louis C.K. has taken between sexual misconduct revelations and his return to the stand-up stage has caused some consternation among fans and critics. Hence a timely and well-placed joke in Hill’s “Five-Timers Monologue” sketch, in which Tina Fey, Candice Bergen and Drew Barrymore respond to the host’s implicit “I want to jacket right now” dig at Louis with plenty of overt side eye. It’s a welcome twist on the Five-Timers club gag, and one that Hill gleefully plays along with for the benefit of Fey, Bergen and Barrymore.
Adam Grossman makes his triumphant return
Every once in a while, regular guest hosts like Hill will strike gold with a seemingly one-off character who, for whatever reason, becomes an audience favorite. In Hill’s case, that character is Adam Grossman, the 70-year-old Borscht Belt comedian trapped in the body of a six-year-old kid who, no matter what his witless audiences do or say, is going to perform for them. This time around Leslie Jones plays Grossman’s babysitter, or at least she tries to, as keeping it together around Hill in this scene is impossible.
Whenever SNL works with live animals, it’s wonderful
Speaking of breaking character, the history of SNL is rife with these beautiful moments (despite their reportedly being loathed by Michaels). Driver managed to do Pete Davidson in this season, while Ryan Gosling pretty much does it every time he hosts. Whenever live animals are involved, however, at least one person working with them is going to lose it. Enter “Dog Informercial,” in which Hill and Cecily Strong’s mob-connected salespeople offer wigs for pugs. Yes, wigs for pugs. It’s absolutely wonderful.
The Pete Davidson show
The Pete Davidson-Ariana Grande saga is as fascinating as it is sad. After the singer criticized her ex-fiancé for his somewhat tone-deaf bit about proposing in a promo, she trolled him and SNL by releasing a new single right before this weekend’s episode aired. To make matters weirder, Davidson and Michaels reportedly cut a sketch about the matter at the last minute. Yet when the comic did a bit about voting for “Weekend Update,” he alluded to it several times before ending the segment with a surprisingly mature final (?) comment. “She’s a wonderful, strong person,” he said. “I genuinely wish her all the happiness in the world.”
When SNL gets political satire right, it gets it really right
The above complaints about Baldwin, Michaels, Jost, Che and Sublette’s attempts at political comedy notwithstanding, sometimes SNL manages to do right by its political satire. Though to be fair to the persons responsible for these minor successes, all credit belongs to performers like Kate McKinnon, who shined as Fox News personality Laura Ingraham in this weekend’s cold open. Throw in Strong’s impression of Judge Jeanine Pirro and a few fake ads for “medical sneakers” and you’ve got the makings of some good comedy.
Despite some minor successes, however, SNL this season remains reactionary at a surface level when it comes to lampooning or discussing political subjects. Yes, it’s a show that requires a quick turnaround when deciding to sketch contemporary events (like Matt Damon’s last-minute cameo as Brett Kavanaugh), but the gags are always better when the writers and performers spent at least some time with these matters. That’s why Che’s offhand remarks about the unimportance of voting on “Weekend Update,” or the Sarah Huckabee Sanders-centered “HuckaPM” ad, usually leave such a bad taste in the mouth. It’s all reactionary and nothing more.