Few shows are as important to Saturday Night Live history as the first episode aired after 9/11: Paul Simon performed a special musical tribute, first responders appeared on stage next to then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and Lorne Michaels with the mayor (“Can we be funny?” “Why start now?”) is still one of SNL‘s most iconic jokes. But the one thing almost no one remembers about that episode? Reese Witherspoon hosted.
Not only was it Witherspoon’s first time, but it was also the season premiere after a major tragedy. So yeah, no pressure. Witherspoon proved then that she was a capable enough host, but she was one of the least interesting parts of the episode. Which is a shame because the star of Legally Blonde and Election is actually really funny (even if Hot Pursuit just opened to less than stellar reviews). It was difficult to judge her abilities as a host when her only episode was such a special circumstance, and she waited almost 14 years to return to Studio 8H.
So how’d she do this time around? Not bad. But not great. All in all, the penultimate episode of season 40 was pretty forgettable, and Witherspoon didn’t have any big moments. More often than not, she took a supporting role, like in the episode’s…
SNL caught some heat earlier in the season for its ISIS spoof, and this week’s stand-out sketch is sure to spark the same kind of outrage, especially because it comes just days after a shooting in Texas outside of a “Draw Muhammad” event. What starts as just another game show sketch takes a sharp turn as Taran Killan’s gleeful host watches contestants squirm as they’re asked to draw the prophet Muhammad. Kenan Thompson’s random Reginald VelJohnson impression makes it all that much funnier.
Cecily Strong’s emcee introduced us to the 2016 Republican presidential candidates (and the cast members who’ll be playing them) with an over-the-top look at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. It’s not exactly cutting-edge satire, and at times it felt like the cast members were trying to compete for the most GIF-able entrance (Kate McKinnon wins, hands down, as Carly Fiorina on a motorcycle). It won’t go down in the annals of important SNL political moments, but it does emphasize the bizarreness of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates. (“Won’t it be fun to watch all of these guys lose to Jeb Bush?”)
It’s not a good sign when the first sketch after the monologue is just a overlong fart joke. Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah landed a few laughs as completely incompetent techs (“Okay, please do not yell at me today”), but overall, “Be Scene in L.A.” went on for way too long and came way too early in the night.
Cutest Mother’s Day Tribute
The SNL Mother’s Day episode usually has some of the sweetest, most touching moments of the entire season, and this year was no exception. Almost every cast member invited his or her mother onstage to present them with flowers and apologize for the terrible things they did as a child. It did go on for a very long time, and what felt like the natural end of the monologue turned into a reel of embarrassing home videos, but getting to watch Lil Baby Aidy sing “Genie in a Bottle” was worth it.
Relationship expert Leslie Jones returned to the Weekend Update desk once again, and we can add “you sexy creamsicle” to the long list of her nicknames for Colin Jost. (So far we’ve got “delectable Caucasian,” “sexy vanilla muffin,” “delicious marshmallow,” “tall glass of almond milk” and “refreshing peppermint patty.”) It’s fun to watch Jones and Jost actually banter, especially since in her earlier appearances, he mostly just sat there looking terrified.
Craziest Cat Ladies
The best 10-to-1 bits only land if everyone really commits, and Witherspoon gave it her all as Purrsula in the last sketch of the night (“It used to be Ursula but I wanted something cats could pronounce”). Her wide-eyed stare as she lovingly stroked McKinnon’s arm made a weird sketch even weirder, and I could’ve listened to another 10 minutes of them describing strange cats. (“This cat is a gift from god. At least that’s what he told his cult.”)
Best Musical Moment
Poor Florence Welch broke her foot last month jumping off the stage at Coachella, so she performed both songs tonight from a stool in the center of the Studio 8H stage. Fortunately, her stripped-down, stationary performance was anything but boring, and Welch has the pipes to carry a show with her voice alone.
Not a particularly solid episode for any one cast member, but Cecily Strong might take this week based on screen time alone. She showed up in almost every sketch, even if only for a few seconds, like as Rosie Perez in “Picture Perfect” or the smoking drama teacher. She also had one of the best moments in the home video reel (“Where’s my cocaine!?”). And of course, Strong’s best known character, The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With At A Party, made an appearance in Weekend Update.
It wasn’t the best iteration of GYWYHSACWAAP, and Reese’s performance didn’t improve it all that much. The best guest appearances are the ones where a celebrity adds something new to a recurring bit, instead of just showing off their impression of an existing character. Witherspoon’s take sounded like a mediocre imitation of Strong’s, and it didn’t feel particularly transformative. Still, GYWYHSACWAAP is always welcome at the Update desk, and there were a few of the good lines that made her such a popular character in the first place. (“It’s like, Bruce Jenner’s allowed to be a transformer, but our climate’s not allowed to change?”)
– “Is he related to Penelope Cruz? No way, she says.”
– All the SNL moms are adorable. Vanessa Bayer’s mom looks exactly like her.
– Kyle Mooney has been perfecting the art of making awkward eye contact with the camera since age 11. Kate has been making her signature crazy eyes since age 13.
– Kenan in The Mighty Ducks!
– “The program says it’s dedicated to John Lennon and Shonda Rhimes.”
– Reese was rocking some excellent wigs. Her bowl cut in “Mr. Westerberg” and her multi-colored student theater ‘do were particular highlights.
– “It’s so distant, astronomers have given it the nickname Dad.” There were a lot of mom-related jokes tonight, but Jost’s deadpan delivery made this one great.
– Both Jost and Che had some solid zingers. Che: “Of course, most Republicans know Dr. Carson by the nickname ‘some of my best friends.’” Jost: “If you want to fight Floyd Mayweather more than once, you have to date him.”