“Saturday Night Live” knew all eyes would be on Studio 8H this weekend, and they weren’t going to risk messing it up. So, to bridge international politics, the airline-that-shall-not-be-named, and the chance to debut Harry Styles’ second single as a solo artist, they knew who to call: Jimmy Fallon. NBC’s golden boy-man is capable, experienced, and a brand name; he’d draw eyes to “SNL” regardless of its historic live-in-all-time-zones gimmick. And the network’s methodology worked! The episode was upbeat and off-kilter, magical and madcap, replete with goofy impressions and political commentary alike.
This is our favorite “SNL”: Painful laugh-out-loud moments nurtured by cozy predictability. It was also Harry Styles’ long-awaited television debut as a solo act. (Did we say that already? Apparently, if you say his name three times into a mirror, he materializes to brush your hair.)
Host: Jimmy Fallon
The erstwhile cast member, late night host, and one-man party is not without his share of controversies — but he was truly the perfect choice to host “SNL’s” inaugural super-live episode. Fallon is lighthearted and musical; a funny, buoyant safe bet that brings the promise of cameos. A lifetime performer, Fallon recognized the significance of this episode; That is to say, he did not break. He didn’t break!
From the cold open, in which he portrayed a silent, coquettish Jared Kushner, Fallon was the glue that bound the episode together. He sang and danced, resurrected a few favorite characters, and was a surprisingly great team player. Even when a sketch seemed designed to showcase Fallon’s own talents — see the double-duty impression he pulled in “Celebrity Family Feud” — it felt like he was comfortable with scaling back and sharing the screen. Fallon’s a natural ham, but it was nice to see him accompany the plate with eggs and toast, if you will. For those who remain unconvinced of his charms, riddle us this: Could literally anyone else have mastered the episode’s timing?
Best Sketch of The Night: Celebrity Family Feud: Time Travel Edition
This sketch is long, and it is art. “SNL” takes on “Family Feud” pretty often, but whoever decided to pit celebrities from 1977 against celebrities from 2017 is a genius. Kenan, of course, is our Steve Harvey, and is tasked with explaining how this setup is possible: His explanation is simply “he doesn’t know,” which is also great. The range of celebrities is as impressive as it is bizarre; it’s as if they were written on scraps of paper and fished out of one of Harry Styles’ fedoras. To see Sasheer Zamata become Diana Ross is breathtaking, and Kate McKinnon as Kristen Stewart is like an idea harvested directly from Twitter.
The true highlight, however, is what’s happening in the background. The inventive sketch requires Fallon to do multiple costume changes, which means the camera lingers on Kenan for longer than usual. As a result, Strong, Zamata, and Styles have to silently vamp in character — and they’re all impersonating lightly deranged divas of 1977, so they really need to lean into it. Styles’ facial contortions are silly, but Zamata’s pleased-with-herself, glazed-over stare is legitimately mesmerizing.
Best Impression: Melissa McCarthy
The “Celebrity Family Feud” sketch featured nine simultaneous celebrity impressions, and guest Melissa McCarthy still walks away with the trophy. She brought back her delightfully red-faced, enraged White House Press Secretary Sean “Spicey” Spicer with gusto, honoring Spicer’s legacy as the White House Easter Bunny (from the George W. Bush days) by rocking a head-to-toe bunny costume — but, if you take a closer look, wearing a full suit and tie beneath it, which is both insane and probably something he would do.
“SNL” has this one down to a science: McCarthy walks out screaming, shoos away reporters (or, this week, happy children), and delivers a forceful tirade of a monologue before destroying the set. She could do this every week before the dude gets fired and it would never be unwelcome.
Honorable Mentions: Jimmy Fallon, Harry Styles
Best Parody: White House Cold Open
Mercifully, Alec Baldwin returns as Trump, this time with Beck Bennett’s stoic Vice President Pence by his side. As directed by the VP, Trump summons Steve Bannon (a demonic skeleton in a cloak, played skillfully — or skull-fully? — by Mikey Day) and Jared Kushner to the Oval Office for a little chat. This sketch successfully plays on Kushner’s gag-inducing photo op from early last week, but it may also have some actual political underpinnings.
Sure, the “America’s Next Top Model”-style elimination is unexpected, and not entirely incorrect. But the sketch overall might actually be a subtle attempt to force Kushner out of the White House. Rumors flew that Trump was rattled by “SNL’s” President Bannon jokes, and reduced his White House presence as a result. Since the show placed Kushner behind the desk this week, maybe he’s the next to go.
Sketch Most Likely to Go Viral: Civil War Soldiers
What if — and hear “SNL” out for a second — the first infectious pop hook was written in 1863, by a group of infantry soldiers and their prisoner at a campsite during the Civil War? It’s a lofty concept, sure, but the cast is having so much fun that the audience just kind of ends up rolling with it. Harry Styles is also in this sketch, and he sings, so it would be guaranteed to go viral regardless of its worthiness.
Best Female Performer: Kate McKinnon
Kate McKinnon is a treasure. We know this. But in this week’s episode, we saw that she’s also a convincing actress. Her middle school theater geek in “Before The Show” was stunningly real (and moving!), and as the teenage daughter of Sully and Denise, we could see the inner conflict on her face. Also, she played Kristen Stewart, and nailed it, so, you’re welcome, .gif-makers of Tumblr.
Best Male Performer: Mikey Day
Mikey Day could be a breakout star from this season. He’s mastered the art of the exuberant idiot, but unlike [former cast member] Will Ferrell’s loud cartoonish-ness, Day is confident, realistic, and awkward. Grounding his characters in relatability makes their ineptitude that much more painful, and therefore immensely successful. This was on full display last night, in sketches like “Take Me Back” and “Basketball Scene.”
Honorable Mention: Kyle Mooney
Worst Sketch of The Night: New Shirt
This wasn’t a bad sketch, per se; it just felt incongruous with the episode. The two and a half minute commercial parody hawks a special garment, one engineered for introverts — or maybe just the Sean Spicers of the world. The visuals were entertaining, but “New Shirt” lacked a punch. For instance, this season’s vastly superior “Wells For Boys” has been canonized into the “Saturday Night Live” hall of fame (alongside fellow greats “Mom Jeans” and “Colon Blow”), but it’s unlikely we’ll be still talking about “New Shirt” by Monday morning.
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, Jimmy Fallon, and we’re grateful you delivered, you magnificent, exuberant loaf of Wonderbread. “SNL” keeps up the Extremely Live Shows next time with host Chris Pine and musical guest LCD Soundsystem.