Steve Carell’s triumphant return to Saturday Night Live this weekend was surprisingly rife with more duds than successes. Whenever The Office alum and the cast members did succeed, however, they elicited some of this season’s strongest laughs of the season. That’s no small feat, for at a time when Michael Che, Colin Jost, Kent Sublette and the rest of the sketch show’s writing team seem to be struggling with the precise direction(s) they want to take things in, Carell’s episode was one of the season’s most unified.
Not that that’s always a good thing, as consistency can sometimes be a sign of laziness. (For example, the writing staff had the 56-year-old actor playing disgruntled fathers in at least three separate sketches, and most of them weren’t that great.) Even so, what saved SNL this weekend from utter failure was largely a mixture of Carell’s commitment to every ridiculous little thing the writers threw at him and many of the cast members’ similar devotion to selling what they were given.
This was especially true for Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong, who killed in the “Voter Fraud” cold open, and younger cast members Mikey Day and Heidi Gardner, who regularly stole scenes from their respective sketches. Established acts like McKinnon, Strong and Leslie Jones are so central to SNL‘s current image that they likely don’t have to fight for airtime as much as fresher faces like Gardner and Day. Thankfully, the writers for this week’s episode (and Carell himself) gave them plenty of room to shine.
Here are the key moments from last night’s show.
McKinnon and Strong conquer the cold open, again
While SNL‘s continued attempts at political comedy don’t always hit the mark, McKinnon and Strong’s impressions of Fox News personalities Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro are often the exceptions. The pair’s “Caravan” cold open from the Jonah Hill-hosted episode helped launch one of this season’s best episodes to date, which is probably why the writers decided to put them first again with this weekend’s “Voter Fraud” opening sketch. It didn’t quite have the same effect, in terms of propelling what came after, but it’s good nonetheless.