Fallon is back, and with Jimmy in the house, SNL this week was all about fun. In true Fallon fashion, there was music, there was dance, there were flash mobs, dancers and even tumblers. Although the show did not put politics away for the night, there was a clear effort to follow in their host’s footsteps by putting the night’s focus more on energy and silliness. The show, at least for us, inverted its usual pyramidic structure of having the best material up front and then trailing off as 1am approaches. Last night, it seemed that the show progressively improved as it went along. Fallon’s energy and adorableness are indisputable and in most of the sketches, it worked well, whether Fallon was bringing back old classics, or taking on new characters. Musical guest Harry Styles has the vibe of a younger Fallon, and followed him in many of the sketches throughout the night and showed up in the opening monologue.
What can we say about the cold open that we haven’t said every single week that Alec Baldwin appears in character as Trump? It was acceptable, it had some good lines, but each week it feels less clever, and more exaggerated and last night was no exception. Last night Baldwin, seemed to fill most of the six minutes with lip pursing taken to a new level. The sketch tackled the in-fighting between Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner (played by Fallon), and poked fun at how little time Trump has spent in the Oval Office in his first 100 days.
In lieu of a monologue, Jimmy Fallon went the song & dance route, leading a large flash mob of professional dancers throughout the SNL stages and hallways while performing David Bowie’s Let’s Dance. “Tonight is bigger than a show,” he said, “It’s a party.” Fallon did his best to channel Bowie’s persona, both in song and demeanor and many fans seemed to enjoy the upbeat song and dance, but it’s a bold and ballsy move to attempt to appropriate the persona of such a revered rock star. Bowie represented everything cool and hip, whereas Fallon’s on screen persona leans more toward the vanilla-ization of anything with edge. Although attempting to imitate some of Bowie’s signature style, Fallon brought the vibe of a children’s birthday party and to us, it felt like he “High School the Musical-ized” the Bowie classic with dancers who were so eager and over the top joyful that the number felt like a parody of Broadway. Bringing the great Nile Rodgers on stage to perform was clearly a nod to authenticity and cool, but wasn’t enough to stop us from feeling uneasy about the giddy romp.
The performance went okay and most likely succeeded in hyping up middle America for SNL‘s first ever coast-to-coast live show, but big question of the night is why? What was this about other than a self-indulgent wish for Fallon to get to inhabit the persona of one of the world’s greatest rock stars? Critics disagreed with most calling it the “best party ever”, and “an epic dance party”. At least one outlet briefly asked the question “why now?” but went on to say it’s better not to ask questions and just have fun. And maybe they have a point, but for us, the Fallon tradition of turning everything into a party has a mindlessness to it, that can be uncomfortable.
Melissa McCarthy continues to show us how to properly take a recurring political parody and keep it fresh and funny, returning as Sean “Spicey” Spicer to address his Hitler/Holocaust statements in the guise of delivering an Easter message. She presented Spicer as the White House Easter Bunny, a role the real Sean Spicer played during George W. Bush’s administration. Melissa is near flawless at skewering not only Spicer, but also President Trump and is our current favorite recurring character. She apologized for using the term “Holocaust Centers” and said what she meant to say was “Concentration Clubs” before asking the “nitpickers” to look at the big picture. She took some shots at United Airlines and used some veggie tales dolls to explain the story of Passover (aka Jewish Easter). It’s a must-watch segment and is funny regardless of where your politics lie.
Civil War Soldier comes in as our second favorite sketch of the night, showcasing Jimmy Fallon at his absolute best. The sketch takes us back to 1863 in a Union Army Camp, where a troop of New York soldiers decide to pick up their spirits with a song, selecting Old New York, a traditional tune. Beck Bennett, Alex Moffat and Mikey Day play soldiers who enjoy the old classic, until Fallon comes in and makes it catchy with a pop beat, “Party at My Parents House.” Its funny, light, and perfectly Fallon. “Just musically, it felt like it wanted that hook.” It also gently teases Fallon, who, like his character, can’t resist “funning up” everything he does. Bobby Moynihan makes an appearance.
Celebrity Family Feud, Time Travel Edition, comes in as our third favorite sketch of the night, and mostly because of Fallon’s dual-role as 1977 John Travolta and 2017 John Travolta. Kenan Thompson is always flawless as Steve Harvey, Kate McKinnon delivers a perfect Kristen Stewart, and musical guest Harry Styles delivers a silly impression of young Mick Jagger that has its cute moments, but no sense in critiquing a musical guest’s impression. We get that he’s adorable, but you could have gone Davy Jones and been more effective and just as cute. Also on board for the game are Melissa Villaseñor as Gwen Stefani, Sasheer Zamata inhabiting Diana Ross with a performance that’s more hair and wardrobe than anything else, and Liza Minnelli played by Cecily Strong. Note to SNL: when you need a Liza, give Matteo Lane a call. He’ll deliver.
Fans of the Fallon years at SNL will love the return of Sully and Denise, with Rachel Dratch reprising her role. Sully and Denise have a daughter now who is applying to Harvard and taking the student tour. Little Denise, played by Kate McKinnon is uncomfortable, and embarrassed by her parents.
On the less spectacular side of the night are all three digital shorts. Although ad parody New Shirt wasn’t terrible, it isn’t going to be remembered, and Before the Show of Legally Blonde the Musical is just perplexing, but it was the Basketball Short that made the least sense of all. Why go through the trouble of a location shoot just to make the joke that the actors hired to play basketball players can’t actually play basketball?
Colin and Che maintained their current comfortable vibe. They’re delivering really strong jokes and have solid chemistry, covering North Korea, United Airlines, ISIS, Mar-a-Lago, a 13-lb baby and of course, President Trump and his beautiful chocolate cake. We still can’t help but think Che and Jost are capable of more than the formatting that Weekend Update allows, but we’re never unhappy with their weekly commentary.
The real weakness of Weekend Update however, comes during the character segments. Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy might be the worst Update character of all time, or at least the worst Update character that gets to keep coming back, and back and back. Does America really love this oddly accented young yid? Kyle Mooney’s stand-up comedian personality Bruce Chandling is another Weekend Update character we can learn to live without. Some of SNL‘s most beloved characters have sprung from the Weekend Update segments, but neither of these characters are going to achieve that status, regardless of how many times the show runs them.