By Hillary Busis
May 08, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
  • TV Show

Reese Witherspoon is one of the most enduring A-listers of the past 15 years, a frequent multiplex presence who’s been consistently famous since the one-two-three punch of Pleasantville, Cruel Intentions, and Election in the late ’90s—and a huge, capital-S Star since Legally Blonde‘s release in 2001. Given both that and her proven comedic skills (stinkers like How Do You Know and Four Christmases notwithstanding), how, then, is it possible that this is only her second time hosting SNL?

For the answer to that question, we may have to look back at Witherspoon’s first trip to Studio 8H. The date: September 29, 2001.

Yeah. Needless to say, the show’s 27th season premiere wasn’t exactly a normal episode. Its cold open was a special message from then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, flanked by scores of police officers and firefighters; a special performance by Paul Simon followed. The opener ended with a now-classic exchange (Lorne Michaels: “Can we be funny?” Giuliani: “Why start now?”). Though that punchline entered history books almost immediately, nobody really remembers the show that followed, maybe because it was pretty standard-issue SNL; some stuff landed (Witherspoon as an ersatz Ariel, singing about her fish genitalia), some didn’t (a sketch called, I kid you not, “Farting Baby”). Witherspoon did just fine, but her performance wasn’t really the point; the point was proving that SNL could get back on its feet after an almost unimaginable tragedy.

Given all this, it’s not hard to surmise one possible reason why Witherspoon may have taken a 14-year breather before returning to Saturday Night Live. It is, however, good to see her back—largely because, in my humble opinion, Witherspoon doesn’t make enough comedies. (Or, you know, enough good comedies.) Hot Pursuit may not be the return to form I was hoping for, but maybe SNL will give Witherspoon a chance to course-correct and remind us why, exactly, she shouldn’t abandon big-screen comedies in favor of starring in or producing dramas. (Though, granted, Witherspoon’s obviously seen a great deal of success in both of those arenas lately.)

What else should we look for in tonight’s episode, beyond Reese reminding us why we fell in love with her in the first place? Deflategate commentary, of course, and a sketch tied to Mother’s Day. A cameo appearance by Sofia Vergara, who truly seems to enjoy spending time with her Hot Pursuit costar (and vice versa). Maybe a Pitch Perfect 2 sketch casting Aidy Bryant as Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy and Witherspoon as whatever Brittany Snow’s character is named (because Witherspoon would fit that part a whole lot better than next week’s host, Louis CK). And, of course, haunting vocals from musical guest Florence and the Machine, though probably no crowd surfing.

What would you add to that list? Discuss below, and check back in the morning for a full recap.

The original late-night comedy sketch show from the one and only Lorne Michaels.
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