Saturday Night Live recap: John Mulaney hosts on Leap Day with musical guest David Byrne
Tonight’s host is former SNL writer, and already-legendary stand-up comedian, John Mulaney. Having Mulaney host this time of the year is becoming a ritual for the show; he previously hosted in April 2018 and March of last year.
Mulaney emceeing things always seems to bring a special energy to our dogged institution. Maybe that’s because he’s stockpiled old, rejected sketches that conjure up the show’s third “Golden Era” from the late aughts. (I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson did something similar on Netflix, repurposing ideas initially borne in Studio 8H.) Either way, it’s become a seasonal highlight.
Mulaney’s previous hosting appearances have been so well-received, this week Fast Company suggested he become SNL’s permanent host, a not-wrong but entirely far fetched notion. The theater kid homage “Diner Lobster” is probably the definitive sketch during his hosting tenures; we will see if the show goes back to that well again tonight... and risks diminishing returns.
Tonight’s musical guest is another living legend, David Byrne. This is an excellent choice for many reasons, including that Byrne was one of the offbeat celebrity cameos in Mulaney’s recent children’s special for Netflix, John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch.
Byrne previously played SNL way back in season 4 as part of the Talking Heads. He also performed solo during the 1989 Woody Harrelson episode, making him the rare musical guest to have performed during the Belushi/Aykroyd, Jon Lovitz, and Bowen Yang eras of the show, respectively.
I am joined tonight by former SNL alum, Patrick Weathers, whose favorite Talking Heads song is “Burning Down the House.” The show’s break was not devoid of drama, with news percolating on both Colin Jost and Pete Davidson’s potential departures. As a cast member during one of the show’s most tumultuous periods, Weathers offers Jost and Davidson the following advice: “Try not to get involved with drugs or pedophiles, and keep thinking three-picture deal.”
Ah, the SNL political coverage. Beck Bennett as Mike Pence and Kenan Thompson as Ben Carson tackle the coronavirus outbreak. Back in 2016, Jay Pharoah played Carson.
Fred Armisen returns with his so-so impression of Mike Bloomberg. (Fellow SNLer Jeff Richards recently debuted his own Bloomberg, which is more accurate.) So does Rachel Dratch with her great Amy Klobuchar and Larry David’s Bernie Sanders, riffing on alleged hand-cougher Mayor Pete.
Guess Jason Sudeikis — and/or Woody Harrelson — weren’t around this week so, oddly, Mulaney plays Joe Biden. Fresh off his South Carolina victory, the show still isn’t able to capture the former VP. Have they given up trying? Generally, this weak White House premise devolved into yet another tired cameo-fest, even generating applause for Colin Jost’s non-impression.
Weathers says he thinks “their debate sketches are hilarious.” His favorite Democratic candidate impression? “Larry [David], of course.”
Mulaney comes out in standup mode. He’s got nothing to promote, so we get some of his routine. He lands jokes about friendless dads and March, “if winter had spring.” He compares middle-aged men striving for friendship and male bonding to Jesus and his disciples, which is great.
He also riffs on the Founding Fathers and their poor structure for the amendments. In a way, this dovetails to his Sack Lunch special; he’s joking about the Constitution in a way that teaches us about it, Schoolhouse Rock!-style. “In summary and summation,” Mulaney concludes his monologue talking about a Make-A-Wish child who sought to meet him. He brought her to SNL, where she met first choice, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Charming and strong.
Sound of Music spoof
Cecily Strong gets to demonstrate her musical chops again. Her upcoming Apple show is about the magical town of Schmigadoon, in which everyone acts as if they’re in a studio musical from the 1940s. So this is a warm-up. Mulaney’s her older, Nazi boyfriend, Rolfe. This is a loving spoof of the classic musical, The Sound of Music, and it’s troubling age gap romances. Beck Bennett does a solid Christopher Plummer, as is Kate McKinnon’s Maria Von Trapp.
Patrick Weathers performed musical sketches on the show, and throughout his performing career. His advice on premises like this are to “keep it 45 seconds and under.” This sketch never quite gets its footing, so probably a solid rule to follow
Mulaney’s nephew Tyler (Pete Davidson) has created a meme with his goofy Facebook profile picture. Mostly this is an opportunity to share silly memes of Mulaney. I am guessing the show is hoping to generate what it is making fun of: going viral. Maybe!
This sketch ends with Davidson posing — with a nose ring?!
Short film: Male Strippers
Kyle Mooney is not going to be cast in Mulaney’s male stripper sketch due to his scrawny body. So he decides it’s time to get fit, with the hope it will lead to more onscreen appearances.
I love Mooney calling out his awkward “dork” persona. He brings in Justin Theroux as his trainer. “I put in the work and became less interesting.”
Lorne Michaels shows up in this one — fun to see him back on-air.
Say, Those Two Don’t Seem to Like Each Other
Another old film spoof (and the show’s second in 15 minutes) reunites pals Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant. Beck Bennett plays his second closeted gay character in this episode, which is curious. (Bennett is getting a lot of airtime tonight!) Mulaney’s Julian has returned from war “gay-hot.” Bennett’s admiral is smitten, and McKinnon and Bryant are jealous.
There’s like three ideas circling each other in this one, with no real progression.
David Byrne — "Once in a Lifetime"
This is a treat — I love when legends reprise one of their classics for posterity like this. Back in season 4, Talking Heads performed "Take Me to the River" and "Artists Only.” In 1989, he performed “Dirty Old Town” and “Loco De Amor.”
This is monumental — truly one of the great modern songs about suburban milieu. And Byrne is quite agile jamming through this. You can certainly hear his influence on Arcade Fire.
Some of you will recall Rich Hall once played Byrne on the SNL Fashion Report, complete with that iconic suit. I love that, like Mulaney, Byrne isn’t necessarily pushing a new project at us.
“I remember David Byrne from the Mudd Club and his band would play a New Orleans place called Texarkana over on 10th Street during Mardi Gras. I loved that place,” remembers Weathers, who lives outside New Orleans.
Colin Jost goes after the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus. Michael Che is less keen. “This is not how I care to be remembered,” says a distraught Che, removing his clip tie. He acknowledges his distaste for covering politics and jokes about having a drinking problem. I know it’s a gag, but there’s some pathos and genuine self-loathing here.
Chris Redd shows up with a commentary on Black History Month. He had a bad February — Cory Booker dropped out so he won’t be in anymore debate sketches. He also talks about Barnes & Noble redesigning the covers of famous books with black characters: “Black Frankenstein looking like a SoundCloud rapper.”
Redd kills it — it’s great seeing him in standup mode, not doing small sketch parts or pigeonholed into rapping. There are some brutal lines here: “look at these White House negros” is especially savage.
Jost and Che are clearly loose here, trying different things. Maybe that means they see an exit?
Airplane Mart — Sushi
Ah, they’ve done it. They returned to the Lobster Diner motif. This time, Kenan Thompson is the Phantom of the Opera/LaGuardia, warning customers away from ordering sushi at the airport. Cecily Strong sings for a second time this episode. Okay.
Mulaney jumps in with some West Side Story, and Kate McKinnon shows up as Auntie Orphan Anne. This is so surreal — we have Bennett dressed as a giant baby.
Jake Gyllenhaal — who appeared in Mulaney’s Sack Lunch special — cameos as the guy who wears pajamas to the airport. He previously hosted in 2007 and made cameos in 2007 and 2011. He’s having fun chewing the scenery and disappears into the ceiling.
"Profiled Asian" Bowen Yang belts a solid “Suddenly, Seymour” too. “No, I wasn’t in Parasite…”
Finally, David Byrne wraps things up with a joyous “Road to Nowhere” that spills into the audience. This sketch has a lot of ideas, and it's silly enough that the ambition and production value should be enough. And yet...
David Byrne — “Toe Jam”
"Toe Jam" came out from The Brighton Port Authority (a Fatboy Slim project) in 2009, released as the first single from the act's album I Think We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat. After two classic renditions, this is a fun cut.
Forgotten Figures in Black History
Ego Nwodim hosts this retrospective on Jackie Robinson. Kenan gets the baton here as Terrence Washington, the first black man to boo Jackie. Washington has an enlarged heart and is embittered against Robinson because his ex-wife called him handsome. He just wants the right to boo whoever he wants, regardless of race. A pioneer! He would fit in well on Twitter, wouldn’t he friends?
- What did you all think?! If you have a free moment, weigh in below — or vote here!
- Insane amount of cameos tonight. If only fleshed out sketches justified the hoopla… sigh.
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- Watch RuPaul turn Pete Davidson into the next drag superstar in SNL digital short