Given Jim Carrey’s knack for kooky behavior and spastic humor, it’s only appropriate he returned to host “Saturday Night Live” for the third time during this season’s Halloween episode. In typical Carrey fashion, the night was a balancing act of belly-laughs and uneven jokes, though it’s hard to deny that the comedian’s signature style led to anything but the weirdest episode of Season 40 to date. Take the “Secret Billionaire” sketch as a perfect summary for Week 4: It may have been over-crowded with cast members and inconsistently paced, but something about Carrey playing a bizarre old man with a robotic hand and a penchant for talking about masturbation and Applebee’s made it not entirely without comic bursts. Like a majority of the evening, it also wackily fed the nostalgia bug of 90s-era Carrey fans everywhere.
Fortunately, the “Dumb and Dumber To” star who by himself anchored the night’s standout bit: A trilogy of commercials parodying the Matthew McConaughey-starring Lincoln car ads. Playing up the pseudo-spirituaility of the Oscar winner was an obvious way to draw laughs, but it was one-liners questioning the actor’s choice of following up an award win with a car commercial that really made the video clips stand out. Best of all, the three installments were scattered throughout the night, making them quite a recurring surprise for viewers watching the show live, especially when the third entry started as a Dennis Haysbert Allstate ad. The more “Saturday Night Live” can show an affinity for this kind of structural comedy, the more it might be able to return to its appointment television glory days.
With Carrey’s high-wire personality in full effect, how did the rest of the ensemble shape up? Here are the MVP’s of “Saturday Night Live” Week 4:
Bobby Moynihan (“Carrey Family Reunion,” “Graveyard Song,” “Drunk Uncle”)
Does anybody shout better than the anger-management-ready Moynihan? I don’t think so. The delirious energy he brought to his Mask impersonation during “Carrey Family Reunion” was a perfect riff on the host, and his impassioned “Shut up!” during “Graveyard Song” was pretty much the only gut-busting laugh of that better-as-an-idea sketch.
Best of all, however, was the much-needed Season 40 debut of “Weekend Update”-favorite Drunk Uncle. If there’s one thing funnier than Moynihan shouting, it’s Moynihan playing drunk. Everything about Drunk Uncle this week landed perfectly: the physical comedy (the rapid head turns and eye-blinks), the out-of-date punchlines (“Trick or treat, smell my feet, kids used to volunteer for this country!”), the slurring, non-sensical tirades (how exactly did we get from talking about Halloween to the NFL?) and the emotional defense (“So what if I don’t know how to commit murder with Viola Davis?”). The writers even inserted Drunk Uncle into the new “Update” in the smartest way possible, having Moynihan start next to Michael Che before mistaking him for an elevator operator and moving his chair across the panel to Colin Jost. The race card is an easy one to play here, but it makes comic sense to do so with a character like Drunk Uncle. Well played indeed.
Kate McKinnon (“Halloween Party”)
“Halloween Party” was McKinnon’s sole lead sketch performance of the night, but man did she absolutely crush it, especially when going up against the physical-comedy master that is Carrey. Sia’s gorgeous “Chandelier” video may have debuted in May, but the Halloween episode allowed its parodying to randomly make sense, as did Carrey and McKinnon’s outlandish Maddie Ziegler-inspired dance moves (pushing McKinnon on a food cart as she smiled like a crazy person was especially great). This sketch was in no way the funniest of the night, but something about the pair breaking the fourth wall and dancing all over Studio 8H (including into the crowd, into the “Graveyard Song” sketch set and with Lorne Michaels and a rehearsing Iggy Azalea) made it one of the most exciting and well-conceived bits the show has done in a long time. To put it mildly, the dance was widely unpredictable and an exhilarating equivalent to a midnight pick-me-up.
Vanessa Bayer (“Halloween Party,” “Geoff’s Halloween Emporium,” “Romantic Comedy Expert”)
Considering that Bayer has been mostly absent this season, the fact she was almost everywhere this week was quite the welcome surprise. Bayer seems to be one of the show’s most hate-it-or-love-it personalities, with many seeing her spaced-out delivery and purposely-off comic timing as restrictively one note. While that may be true, the right character can make her talents incredibly funny (see Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy for proof), and that was the case this week with her Romantic Comedy Expert on “Weekend Update.” With a manic smile and tons of forced rom-com cliches, Bayer perfectly sold the material she was supposed to be critiquing, and she even made “Update” anchor Michael Che seem funnier than ever as he played straight to her crazed sweetheart persona. Bayer also brought her signature obliviousness to “Halloween Party” by rudely mistaking her cast member’s costumes (“You’re supposed to be Rihanna or Beyonce,” she quipped, only for Sasheer Zemata to claim, “I’m Vanna White!”). Welcome back, Bayer!
Taran Killam (“Carrey Family Reunion”)
It’s a testament to Killam’s skills as a performer that he can come out as a show MVP even when the episode as a whole was not designed as a showcase for his talents. Killam was mostly toned down this week, but his Carrey impersonation during “Carrey Family Reunion” was arguably one of the best things about Week 4. In fact, his Carrey send-up was so masterful that you kind of wished the sketch had saved him until the end since kicking it off with him made every subsequent impersonation seem weak by default. From the eccentric head and facial movements to the effortless vocal-delivery switches (he nailed Carrey’s falsetto and breathy punchlines), Killam not only impersonated the hell out of the host, but he also made sure fans would be dying to see it again in future episodes.
New Cast Member Alert: Leslie Jones (“Ghost Chasers”)
Writer Leslie Jones has already appeared on the show during her racially-charged “Weekend Update” segments, but this week marked her first official episode as a featured player. Promoting Jones was a smart move on the show’s part considering that her big mouth can be quite the comic pot-stirrer, but unfortunately the writers didn’t utilize Jones’ greatest asset in her debut. The video clip “Ghost Chasers” was Jones’ only real appearance of the night, and while she was funny playing a freaked out skeptic, here’s hoping the show lets Jones run wild in the upcoming weeks so she can really show her MVP skills.
Needs Improvement: Jay Pharaoh (“Cold Open: Ebola Czar”)
It’s never a good sign when you have so much screen time and still can’t manage to break into the MVP cast rankings. Such was the case with Jay Pharaoh this week. He’s unquestionably a great impressionist, but his talents seem to run out quick when he’s not being asked to play Jay-Z or Kanye West. You would think the show would let him play more versions of himself after the great “What Does the Fox Say?” parody with Kerry Washington was warmly received last season, but that hasn’t been the case at all. Even more worrisome is how Pharaoh’s central Obama impersonation is running more and more on empty every time we see it. The problem isn’t Pharaoh’s vocal delivery, it’s that the only thing he offers as parody is the President’s vocal speech patterns. What made Fred Armisen such a delight as Obama was how he not only perfected the President’s vocality, but also how he played up Obama’s likability factor by turning him into a lovable, incognizant goof. Pharaoh needs to bring his own signature satire to the character if he wants to make a lasting impression.
“Saturday Night Live” is all new on November 1, with host Chris Rock and musical guest Prince.