The last time Matthew McConaughey hosted “Saturday Night Live,” it was a different era. No, seriously. Back in 2003 – very much pre-McConaissance – the actor hosted an early February show (musical guest: The Dixie Chicks; again, a different era) to promote “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” which had opened the day before. See? A different era.
Now that he’s got all sorts of accolades under his belt, why not turn up on the show again, just to have some fun? That might have been the thinking when scheduling McConaughey who, unlike the rest of the 2016 hosting cast currently on deck (from Ryan Gosling to Chris Hemsworth to Tina Fey & Amy Poehler), isn’t out actively promoting anything. It could really just be – and forgive me here – an alright, alright, alright time.
And it was. Almost. McConaughey was certainly proficient when he appeared on screen during last night’s show, and he even managed to take one of the standard monologue outlines (tell a story!) and turn it very much into his own thing. But McConaughey never transcended beyond “cool host” and locked in fully with the cast. By the time he seemed to be finding his groove, the night was nearly over. It was all more than alright, but damn if it didn’t go the full alright stretch.
The Two Best Sketches: “A Thanksgiving Miracle” and “3D Printer Man”
Initially, it was unclear where this Thanksgiving sketch was going to go – was Beck Bennett going to break out into his singing dad character from the Trump show? would it eschew laughs for more trenchant commentary? would it feature…Adele? – and although the final pick (Adele, it was Adele) ran a smidge long, the whole thing was so weirdly joyous and charmingly on-time that we can forgive it for running thirty seconds longer than was totally necessary. A cute nod to the evening’s musical guest, kitted out with timely commentary on the current state of the world, accessorized with so many fake nails, “A Thanksgiving Miracle” just might hold the key to saving your own holiday. At the very least, it’s a great way to get “Hello” stuck back in your head. ELLOOO ISSSS MEE.
McConaughey started hitting his sweet spot during the back half of the show, and no other sketch capitalized so fully on his talents as “3D Printer Man,” which let the actor hammily tap into stiffness, weirdness and a whole lot of questionable movement, all stirred up with undeniable charisma. The sketch was also an unexpectedly great showcase for both Beck Bennett and Taran Killam, playing the rare straight men, and a good spot to shove in underused performers (Jon Rudnitsky, who are you?) and get them to ask really basic questions when the writing (printing?) is already so very much on the wall.
The Worst Sketch: “Fox & Friends: Syrian Refugee Cold Open”
The best thing about the “Fox & Friends” sketches is the giant scroll of “corrections” that run at the end of each segment. This sketch did not do that. Automatic fail. (No, but really, did something actually go wrong here? Because they talked to Leslie Jones about the corrections then, poof — no corrections.)
Best Male Performer: Kenan Thompson
Thompson continues to be reliably great at such oft-thankless gigs as “confused band leader” and “smartly baffled game show host,” and those skills were on full display throughout the show. “Saturday Night Live” has gotten to that happy point where, if they need a solid male lead for any kind of sketch, both Thompson or Taran Killam can make the part sing. With both Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney warming up in the wings and proving their own ability to consistently perform, “SNL” has a fine farm of male talent to keep it going for years to come (because we’re going to lose Killam soon, right?).
Honorable mention: Taran Killam
Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong
Strong really got the face time last night, popping up in such sundry sketches as “A Thanksgiving Miracle” and “Right Side of the Bed With Matthew McConaughey,” effectively taking over as female lead, a role so often filled by Kate McKinnon. Strong’s range was admirably on display, too, from goofy to indignant and back again (her look of unabashed terror when McConaughey popped up behind her and Killam with a giant, bespectacled turkey was actually somewhat remarkable, a tiny moment that helped highlight Strong’s ability to do great swathes of big-time work).
Honorable Mention: Aidy Bryant
Sketch Most Likely to Go Viral: “Star Wars Auditions”
Danny DeVito auditioning for BB-8. Danny DeVito auditioning for BB-8. “SNL” has frequently used the “lost auditions” sketch to trot out a bevy of impressions and big stars – hell, they even did a “Star Wars” one back in 1997, which featured Christopher Walken auditioning for Han Solo – but that doesn’t mean that the results of such a formulaic outing aren’t huge. And this one was huge. Featuring an appearance from actual “The Force Awakens” director JJ Abrams and turns from his new stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega (who, gosh, are just both so cute), the sketch was a treasure trove of uproarious impersonations, awkward interactions and Taran Killam as David Beckham “bending” BB-8. An instant classic of the genre.
Best Impression: Bobby Moynihan as George Lucas
As is the case with any “auditions” sketch, “Star Wars Auditions” was filled to the brim with excellent impressions, from Aidy Bryant’s Wynonna Judd (which we do not get to see nearly as much as we should) to Jay Pharoah’s Chris Tucker to Beck Bennett’s Javier Bardem (where did that come from?). But Moynihan’s eerily pitch perfect take on George Lucas took the cake (the Coke Zero?). The look, the voice, the mannerisms — it was all there, and it was disturbing.
Character Most Likely to Become a Franchise: Laura Parsons
“Saturday Night Live” returns December 5 with host Ryan Gosling and musical guest Leon Bridges.