By Maureen Lee Lenker
March 11, 2018 at 12:49 PM EDT
Will Heath/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
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After last week’s dismally unfunny episode, Saturday Night Live came back in style with host Sterling K. Brown and one of their best episodes this season.

Brown is best known for his dramatic roles, earning Emmys for his work on The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and This Is Us. On SNL, he spoofed some of his popular work (including This Is Us and Black Panther), delivered a solid Common impression, and managed to knock it out of the park on nearly every sketch. He tackled sketches that ranged from high-concept to crude to all-out ridiculous with aplomb and a glee that is sometimes missing from hosts who are primarily dramatic actors. Brown proved to be such an asset, deftly navigating cue cards and the challenges of live television with relish, that I’m eager to see him take on more comedic roles. His timing is clearly impeccable. In fact, it’s so good it almost makes me “emotional.”

Monologue

Brown mocked This is Us tendency to pull at the heartstrings — the show’s Twitter emoji was once a box of tissues — with an “emotional” monologue. After calling This Is Us “the saddest thing you can watch on TV other than the news,” he choked up about being there on SNL. “Get it together, Sterling Kathleen,” he joked. He continued to teeter on the edge of tears discussing working with SNL greats like Kenan Thompson. Eventually, Leslie Jones had to step in and give him some tough love. “Sterling, you gotta stop crying,” she tells him. “You are ruining you for me.”

Cold Open

After ending his engagement to Becca Kufrin on live television to go back to second choice Lauren Burnham, Bachelor star Arie Luyendyk Jr. has earned a lot of haters — and it seemed that SNL would be no exception. In a nearly word-for-word and shot-for-shot recreation of the excruciating “unedited” breakup, SNL kicked things off with what appeared to be a spoof of the ABC reality-show finale. Not so fast, though: It wasn’t Arie who came through the door to break things off with Becca, but Kate McKinnon as Special Counsel Robert Mueller, to break the hard news that he might not be able to bring down President Trump on collusion. Using the Bachelor format and many of the same phrases from the actual breakup, Mueller admits that obstruction might be the only way to go while Becca breaks down in tears and rage — “Collusion is literally the only thing I’ve been looking forward to for the past year,” she says — and orders him to leave.

Best Sketch: “Family Feud: Oscars Edition”

Celebrity Family Feud is nearly always a winning proposition for SNL, providing a platform for Kenan Thompson’s one-liners as host Steve Harvey and a showcase for cast impressions. This week’s sketch was Oscar-themed and featured Kate McKinnon as Frances McDormand, Beck Bennett as Guillermo del Toro, Chris Redd as Jordan Peele, and Sterling K. Brown as Common. While some impressions, such as the usually spot-on Heidi Gardner’s Allison Janney, fell flat, others provided some of the best laughs of the night. McKinnon absolutely nailed McDormand, from her general demeanor to her voice to her walk. With lines like “I might be smiling, but I’m not friendly” and “I have two words that are going to change the industry: burlap dress,” McKinnon hilariously sent up the Oscar winner’s disdain for Hollywood game-playing and her unique fashion choices. Often the hosts flounder in these sketches, asked to do an impression that doesn’t suit them well or to merely play themselves, but Brown excelled as rapper/actor Common. With all due respect to Common’s work as an artist and his general reputation as an all-around great guy, his performance on the Oscars and his Microsoft commercials have become a bit preachy. Brown hit the nail on the head, turning every chance to speak into a moment to rap-pontificate in Common’s signature spoken-word style. “Despite our feud we still put food on the table, provide for the children, make sure their futures are stable,” he raps, to which Thompson’s Steve Harvey hilariously replies, “Let’s just slow it down there, Dr. Martin Luther Seuss.”

Worst Sketch: “Sasquatch”

I never thought I’d have to type the words “Bigfoot hand job,” and yet here we are. In this sketch, a group of campers are set upon by an angry Sasquatch who abuses Mikey Day by sticking fingers in his mouth, forcing the aforementioned sexual favors, and beating him up with a baseball bat.  In the age of Me Too, this kind of thing is just profoundly unfunny.

Best Short: “This Is U.S.”

Brown traded his Randall Pearson persona for Housing Secretary Ben Carson in this political spoof of This Is Us, which followed a new Big Three in the U.S. government: Carson, Pete Davidson as Jared Kushner, and Aidy Bryant reprising her take on press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The sketch pulled no punches, having this political trio take on brutal learning moments including Sanders looking at a Post-it telling her to “stop lying,” Carson’s wife laughing at the prospect of him overseeing HUD, and a shirtless Kushner calling the United Arab Emirates for a loan while drinking Manischewitz. And it even got in a nod to Jack’s death, portraying the names of ex-Trump administration officials Spicer, Scaramucci, and Hicks on urns. We’re not gonna lie, it was hilarious, but it was also our favorite because it included an EW shout-out in the form of a fake pull quote saying, “You’ll be laughing through tears. Except without the laughing. So I guess just regular crying.”

Worst Short: “Rock vs. Rap”

Though he often excels in live sketches, Kyle Mooney’s attempts to be the next Andy Samberg with his digital shorts are almost always awkward and unfunny. They all feel like something you’d be forced to sit through at a late-night college comedy hour. This week was no exception, with Mooney returning to his character of grunge musician Chris Fitzpatrick to investigate whether rap or rock music was better. The sketch was meant to satirize those who prefer rock music to rap solely because of the race of the people often making the music, but instead it came off as an unfunny mess.

Best Musical Performance: “Dying Mrs. Gomez”

I’m sure James Bay has some great charts: His pink sparkly shirt and groovy performance of “Pink Lemonade” looked like a lot of fun. But the SNL sound team did him a major disservice making both his performances seem muted. Literally. It was difficult to hear a lot of his performance, and the sound seemed off throughout, making it difficult to truly get a grasp of his work. There was, however, one great and truly unexpected musical performance in the episode, with Sterling K. Brown jamming out to Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me.” Nickelback seem almost universally reviled, but Brown made the song seem genuinely catchy and fun in a night-ending sketch that matched the tenor of the hour’s ridiculousness.

“Weekend Update” Highlights:

“Weekend Update” was one of the weakest segments of the nigh,t in an otherwise stellar collection of sketches. The jokes felt tired, and at times slightly homophobic. As always, most of the jokes focused on President Trump, in this case his upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, as well as the ongoing drama with adult film star Stormy Daniels. Alex Moffatt and Mikey Day reprised their roles as Eric and Donald Trump Jr., delivering a highlight as Moffatt’s Eric attempted to mimic his older brother’s body language to appear professional. The best jokes came when hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost got away from Trump and focused on other events like International Women’s Day (a great one-liner about In N Out changing its name to “adequate foreplay”) and an Amelia Earhart Barbie doll (“the only Barbie that’s got to be around here somewhere”). For some inexplicable reason, SNL alum Vanessa Bayer returned to the show for the sole purpose of reviving inept meteorologist Dawn Lazarus. The recurring character came late in Bayer’s seven-year stint on the show, and it must be a personal favorite for her because I’ve never once found it funny or seen it land with the audience. Of all her characters, it’s certainly the last one I’m interested in seeing return to the “Weekend Update” desk.

Cast MVP: Kate McKinnon

There are a lot of people this honor could go to this week. As host, Sterling K. Brown is deserving of praise, appearing in every single sketch and never failing to deliver the goods. He only nearly broke once and offered a wide range of characters, from a man willing to defend Shrek to the detriment of his relationship to a movie actor trying to complete close-up coverage opposite a ridiculous script supervisor. Then there’s Melissa Villasenor, who played a hilarious role in the final Nickelback sketch and appeared in the most sketches of anyone in the cast — but some of her appearances weren’t memorable enough to push her over the edge. The kudos, once again, go to Kate McKinnon. Though she was largely missing from the back half of the episode, she delivered two of the most buzz-worthy performances of the night with her impressions of Robert Mueller and Frances McDormand.

Up Next

Former SNL cast member and longtime favorite Bill Hader returns to Studio 8H on March 17 to take on hosting duties for the second time since leaving the show in 2013. Be on the lookout for possible fan favorites like Stefon, The Californians, and more to make a return appearance. Arcade Fire are the musical guest.

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The original late-night comedy sketch show from the one and only Lorne Michaels.
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  • Saturdays at 11:30pm
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  • 10/11/75
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