There was little doubt that the Saturday Night Live cast and crew would want to be at the top of their game for Tracy Morgan’s return. But it was still surprising to watch just how uniformly well the night played out for the return of Brian Fellow, Woodrow, and Astronaut Jones.
Yes, the night heralded the return of a few classic Tracy Morgan characters in a night that rarely had any major missteps. Sure there were a few less-funny sketches (that one about the preacher in the singing town didn’t quite seem to know what it wanted to be), but on the whole it was a nostalgia-filled night replete with memorable moments and sketches. Even the night’s two pre-recorded sketches, both a little longer than necessary, had their bright spots and smart ideas when advertising fake cocaine and making “let’s dance” a literal request.
And the night felt like a step above the rest from the cold open on. Despite once being one of the most anticipated elements of the show, the first sketch of the night has, in recent years, been passable at best. As we roll into an election season, however, the show is finding its groove with this crop of candidates, and employed a few cameos to help mock the Democratic presidential debate.
Then the monologue started. As a 30 Rock and longtime SNL fan, it was tough not to get a little misty eyed seeing Morgan so excited, only for him to reunite with the team behind “TGS with Tracy Jordan.”
It was a memorable start to the night that kicked off an impressive night, but here are the biggest moments from Morgan’s return to Studio 8H:
Brian Fellow’s Safari Planet
There was plenty of Tracy Morgan callbacks throughout the night, including the return of Astronaut Jones with a Demi Lovato cameo and Woodrow on Weekend Update. But at the top of the nostalgia heap is Brian Fellow’s Safari Planet. Whether it’s Brian being annoyed by a snotty beaver (and yes, a beaver named Javier is undoubtedly snotty), or the appearance of an actual, live camel, the sketch didn’t just rest on its “Remember this?” laurels.
But seriously, how did they get a camel onto the 8th floor of 30 Rock?
Democratic Presidential Debate
Alec Baldwin as a time-demanding “future president” Jim Webb. Larry David as Bernie Sanders, making real the internet’s collective meme dream. And Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton hoping you’ll like the Clinton “my team and I created for this debate.” The open, as nearly all of them do, went on a little long, but watching David’s Sanders essentially do “What’s the deal” stand-up about bank pens, his one pair of underwear, and more was worth it. The debate also offered another great spin for McKinnon’s Clinton, who laments that “it must be great to scream and cuss in public” as Sanders goes wild and that she thought she “got to be the cool black guy this time.”
Welcome Back, Tina Fey
Look, the Colin Jost/Michael Che-era of Weekend Update still hasn’t found a groove that works uniformly. They do rise above their normal output when the two bounce back and forth with jokes on the same topic, actually acknowledging each other and injecting some life into the segment, as they did tonight. But in a night that began with a Tina Fey cameo during the monologue, it was difficult not to count down the minutes until she popped up at the Update desk. Thankfully, she did not disappoint, with a wonderful Tina Fey rant about the recent Playboy news, and what would have been had she posed for the magazine.
Best Musical Moment
I will be frank: Demi Lovato is not in my normal musical rotation, so I’m going in a little blind to these performances. Having said that, I thought she took tot the SNL stage with plenty of presence and power in both of her outings, though I was definitely more enamored by her mash-up of “Cool for the Summer” and “Confident.” I’ll take a live single version of this for download now, please.
Kenan popped up consistently throughout the night (the disturbing nature of his Weekend Update character Willie gets me every time). Though your mileage may vary on “Yo! Where Jackie Chan at Right Now?” — just the basis of that idea is hilarious to me even if the sketch in practice didn’t really do anything — his turn in a new Family Feud sketch started the night’s post-monologue stretch on such a high note. Leslie Jones plays the divorced mother of one family, and Tracy Morgan plays her former husband who has remarried into a new family, and Thompson’s Steve Harvey absolutely delights in the situation. His responses to the family strife punctuate a well-rounded sketch with some of the night’s best lines.