Tracy Morgan arrived at 30 Rock this week on a red carpet. Literally. It was an appropriate symbol for his greatly anticipated return to television, and Saturday Night Live was the perfect place to stage his comeback. People might have been wondering how Morgan’s health would affect his performance, or how the current cast would match up to a beloved veteran. No one was disappointed. Morgan and the cast shined in a great episode, rooted in organic acting and dark comedy.
We’re only on the third episode of Season 41, but this season of SNL is particularly good. The cast and writing staff seem to be finding a new rhythm. This season is much more naturalistic than usual, maybe a result of the influence of the single-camera, pre-taped sketch shows on the air (Inside Amy Schumer, Key and Peele, etc.). SNL is really benefiting from the faster pace and more naturalistic acting. With the addition of a fully recovered Tracy Morgan, the cast seems to be having relaxed fun together. The writing is also much more rooted in reality, like this line from the cold open:
Hillary Clinton: We do need to fix things, Bernie. But you’re promising everyone a golden goose. There is no golden goose. So America, follow me, ’cause I’ve got some chicken that’ll do.
The writers have basically summed up the entirety of the Democratic primary in one line. Between that and Alec Baldwin and Larry David’s spot on Jim Webb and Bernie Sanders impressions, we’ll forgive Jon Rudnitsky playing Anderson Cooper as a lispy gay stereotype, and Kyle Mooney playing… well, it was hard to tell who he was supposed to be playing. But the whole thing is worth watching just to see Larry David describe how Bernie Sanders launders his underwear.
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SNL also gave its audience some pure wish-fulfillment in the monologue, by having the cast of 30 Rock reunite to welcome Tracy back to the show. But the best sketch of the night was definitely Family Feud. The sketch featured a man and his new family competing against his ex-wife and their children on the game show. This script is hilarious, and the back and forth between the cast and Tracy is rapid-fire. Basing the humor in family relationship issues, instead of a goofy premise, employs some of the darker, more realistic humor that younger comedy audiences appreciate. And let’s be real: It’s cool that SNL actually has enough black people in the cast to play a family and still have one left over to play Steve Harvey. And Leslie Jones as the still-hurt ex-wife gave us so many amazing gems like:
Steve Harvey: Looks like the Williams-McGill family has a chance to steal…
Mrs. Williams: He has stolen enough from me, Steve!
This might be one of my favorite SNL sketches of all time.
Keeping with the theme of things that are “too real,” this week’s fake commercial is based on the idea that people would rather admit to doing cocaine than pooping at a party. Too. Real. If you’ve never been there… you’re a liar. We’ve all been there.
Morgan continued to shine as Bernard, a resident of a singing village reminiscent of the little town from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Bernard just says what’s on his mind no matter how weird, offensive or out of context it is. At first, I thought the sketch was about the comment section of every article ever. But then one of the adult villagers admits to sleeping with an 18-year-old, and the village people stop singing and have a real moment of disgust, letting him know that his actions are not socially acceptable. So I guess this sketch is actually about Kylie Jenner and Tyga? Too soon? Because seriously, the day of someone’s 18th birthday is probably too soon.
Another feature of this season of SNL is how many more pre-taped sketches they are doing. The pre-taped sketches allow the show to do pieces that benefit from a more single-camera feel and allow the comedy to build slowly. “Standoff” benefits from just that and is Morgan at his best: emotional, irrational and committed. And the entire sketch relies on his acting skills, showing that the show didn’t coddle him. He’s truly back in top performing shape.
Of course, we got a quick nostalgic taste of Astronaut Jones in the 10-to-1 slot, and then, once again, I was surprised to find the episode ending without any drag or bad sketches. That’s a great Saturday Night.
Also, at some point in the episode, hip-hop discovered Demi Lovato, and she’s cool now.
— Questlove (In E flat) (@questlove) October 18, 2015
— The Source Magazine (@TheSource) October 18, 2015
That’s the magic of SNL.