Saturday Night Live Season 41, Episode 3: Tracy Morgan & Demi Lovato
It is impossible to not be excited about this episode of Saturday Night Live. Tracy Morgan, one year after a deadly car crash that killed his friend Jimmy McNair, is back at Studio 8H doing what he was born to do. It’s scary how close we came to this never, ever happening again. Even if you’re not a fan of Morgan’s humor, it just feels so good to see him back in top form. Definitely expecting Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin (pretty much anyone from 30 Rock) to return, along with maybe a few previous cast members. It’s a big deal to have Morgan back here after all he went through. Just to see him doing comedy again is enough to make this one of my favorite nights this season.
Oh yeah, Demi Lovato’s here. That’s…significantly less exciting.
There was a whole lot of good last night, so picking out the best bits is actually pretty difficult. A good start though is the incredible Cold Open. As expected, it satirized the recent Democratic Presidential Debate. Expected jokes were hit, like no one else really matters except Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, and Kate McKinnon slaying her wild-eyed role (a self-described T-1000). However, the real best material came from surprise guest Larry David who played Sanders. It was a performance tailor made to the comedian, and he crushed it better than his failed brief tenure as an SNL writer many years ago. He ranted about chained pens at banks, the simplicity of finding geese, forgetting email passwords, etc. Now I want Sanders to go far so David can return. Other surprise guest Alec Baldwin was hysterical as Jim Webb too, getting a ton of mileage out of his fairly brief airtime.
Running strong on this momentum, we had an amazing Morgan monologue. It rightfully opened up with a standing ovation from the crowd and the comedian gushing about how happy it was to be back. Then the real material came in the form of a little 30 Rock reunion featuring Baldwin, Tina Fey, Jack McBrayer, and Jane Krakowski, with everyone reprising their roles from that hit program. It basically felt like we were watching the show again. Except this time it was even more poignant with digs at failed shows like Smash and Animal Practice, and Jenna Maroney being excited to meet Psy and Skrillex because “it’s 2012.” Tracy Jordan was as crazy as ever too, this time coming back to life after trying to inseminate a box jellyfish. The monologue ended with Morgan hugging his former co-stars and saying it’s time to be funny. Absolutely Morgan. Absolutely.
The night was a scattering of Tracy Morgan’s Greatest Hits too. My personal favorite was, and likely always will be, Brian Fellow’s Safari Planet. I was a bit too excited to see this return. Morgan’s sixth-grade educated host was a hysterical as ever, but the best part was definitely when the actual live camel went rouge. I’m a sucker for whenever SNL‘s liveness actually shines through mistakes and this was the pinnacle of that. While a camera was on Morgan, the camel walked right in front of it and even pushed it over. Morgan rolled with it and hilariously yelled at the animal in typical Brian Fellow fashion. Later on in the night, Morgan also reprised Woodrow during the Weekend Update (as Willie’s life coach no less) and even Astronaut Jones with an opening sequence that still featured a young Morgan. This really is the best way to welcome back an old favorite.
Speaking of Update, talk about a turnaround in quality. Colin Jost and Michael Che still can’t hold a candle to previous duos, but they certainly have grown in the off season. Their chemistry has seriously improved to where their partnership actually feels natural. These banters they’ve had lately, such as last night’s discussion on the current Republican ballot, are great, and it looks like they’re actually taking a stance on certain issues. It also helps that Tina Fey dropped by and delivered a killer rant against Playboy, complete with her preferred poses on the desk. Kenan Thompson’s Willie was another hit, and when Woodrow came out to complete the session, it was clear that Update is doing better.
“Family Feud” made serious improvements too that it begs mentioning here. This skit is usually an excuse to roll out random celebrity impersonations, so I rolled my eyes when it began. But then it was changed to actual fighting families with a divorced couple leading each side. When the only category was “Things You Forget” and responses ranged from “your family” and “band recitals”, it was clear that this wasn’t the typical “Feud” SNL likes to drudge out. More of this please.
The Needs Improvement
There actually was nothing “bad” last night, which is fairly surprising. Everything was mostly enjoyable! There were just a few skits that were held back by seemingly obvious omissions. The biggest was definitely “The Standoff.” Watching Morgan confuse Taran Killam’s intentions with legitimately doing the tango was really funny, but the whole thing was portrayed as build-up to the expected dance delivery. Then when the dancing began…it immediately ended. Talk about a let down.
“The Loveliest Kingdom” felt half-baked too. The punch-line setup was funny with Morgan’s character being a bit too honest when it came to singing about his day. Then the real joke came when Killam’s pastor got a bit too real about his time with a young man. It was so awkward, you couldn’t help but laugh, and everyone on stage really nailed their appropriately shocked reactions and responses. However, once that happened, the skit just kept going for a bit. It didn’t seem like whoever wrote this successfully planned for a satisfying ending. Case in point, it finished with the same jubilant music it began with, as if none of the recent honesty mattered.
I hope I’m not the only one who expected Jackie Chan to show up on “Yo! Where Jackie Chan At Now?!” I’ll admit that was probably being a bit too hopeful. Clearly getting a camel (seriously, I’d like to know how that happened) is easier for Lorne Michaels than finding time for a cinema legend. However, when the skit ultimately boiled down to people doing a list of impersonations, it’s reasonable to expect a surprise on there. Sadly it never came, and while most of the impressions were funny (Jay Pharoah as Chris Tucker), others just felt like random additions on flimsy connections (Kyle Mooney as Chuck Norris).
This was a great night, there’s no other way to say it. Last night’s episode already had a lot of hype behind it because it was the grand return of Tracy Morgan. It’s a whole different beast to actually match that though. Fortunately, SNL did, and I’d say this episode is already a contender for my favorite of the season. Morgan was hilarious and I loved watching him bring back long-gone hits. Guests like the main stars of 30 Rock and Larry David were wonderful little surprises that made the night even more special. Weekend Update is improving, each skit was enjoyable in their own right, and a freaking camel briefly stole the spotlight. On top of all of this, Demi Lovato had some very entertaining performances, and was great in her brief appearance on “Astronaut Jones: The Martian.” It’s sadly not often that SNL delivers a complete package like this, but when it does, it is so worth it.