Melissa McCarthy knows what she’s doing. The actress and comedienne has hosted “Saturday Night Live” four times (or four and 1/16, if you want to get very technical about it) in a relatively short amount of time, and, on each occasion, she’s managed to both show off her own sketch comedy chops while slipping in alongside the rest of the show’s cast. With the release of her “Ghostbusters” — co-starring both current “SNL” cast members Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones and alum Kristen Wiig —McCarthy is closer than ever to being an honorary member of the crew.
But not yet a Five-Timer. Not yet!
McCarthy came out blazing with a high-energy song-and-dance monologue celebrating her entry into the Five-Timers Club (the gag, of course, being that she was over-counting her appearances), a fun enough bit that wrangled up appearances from some of the cast’s biggest stars while also getting the crowd pumped for the show in the process. But the final result was something less zippy (and definitely less sparkly) than that opener, punctuated by pretty good highs and missed-opportunity lows. Let’s hope when McCarthy does finally make her way into the prestigious club, the episode turns up the quality dial just a smidge.
The Two Best Sketches: “The Day Beyonce Turned Black” and “Kyle vs. Kanye”
The show’s two best sketches, strangely enough, were both digital bits that had been previously recorded during the week — talk about taking the “live” out of “Saturday Night Live.” “The Day Beyonce Turned Black” was funny, well-made and something that effectively skewered white culture and the prevalent makeup of the show itself. Politically charged and heavy on the messaging, it was also just plain clever, outfitted with impressively recreated movie trailer tropes and a series of stand-out gags from the cast. (Cecily Strong screaming against a glass wall is already an unshakeable memory.)
Later, Kyle Mooney similarly used a familiar format — the confessional reality show model — to tell an unexpected story: his journey to becoming the world’s best rapper. Imagining that getting cast on the show was the great tragedy of his musical life, Mooney sells the idea that he wants to be a rapper (and, perhaps most importantly, that he wants to use the occasion of Kanye West appearing as the show’s musical guest as an opportunity to show off his skills) with the kind of earnest weirdo-ness that he’s made his calling card. Complete with archival footage and a behind the scenes peek at the mechanics of his close friendship with fellow cast member Beck Bennett, the sketch also lifted the curtain on Mooney as an actual performer (not just a wannabe rapper who is so deliciously crushed by West that it actually hurts a little).
The Worst Sketch: “Bus”
Like the night’s other worst (or, perhaps more appropriately, most disappointing) sketch, “Movie Night,” “Bus” takes a solid idea that’s both relatable and filled with humorous opportunities and wastes it by not knowing when or how to wrap it up. While “Movie Night” ended in a mostly natural way (Pete Davidson fleeing the scene of the world’s worst night in with his parents), “Bus” makes a sharp left turn into “Oh, God, now what?!” territory with the minimum of time and the maximum of disappointment. Bogging down good interaction between Jones and McCarthy and a sharp observation of the kind of racism that runs through even the most weirdly well-meaning of out of touch citizens with a “Speed” ending? Come on, we’re better than this, and so was this sketch.
Best Male Performer: Kyle Mooney
Between his work in “Kyle vs. Kanye” and his unnervingly straight-faced turn in “Pick-Up Artist,” Mooney was all range last night.
Honorable Mention: Bobby Moynihan
Best Female Performer: Kate McKinnon
Is there any doubt at this point that Kate McKinnon is the female star of “SNL”? How could there possibly be?
Honorable Mention: Vanessa Bayer
Sketch Most Likely to Go Viral: “Hillary for President Cold Open”
“SNL” continues to dip its toes into more original political comedy, again eschewing fireside chats and debate reenactments that could never be as terrifyingly funny as the real thing, opting to take the election out into the real world. Well, a “real world” where Hillary Clinton can literally come out swinging and singing to the Bonnie Raitt standard “I Can’t Make You Love Me” over a crowd of Bernie Sanders-loving brunch pals who all know she’s got the best record and can’t seem to get on board with her “vibe.” The secondary gag — that Beck Bennett’s Jeb Bush is hiding under a table, waiting and praying for someone to invoke his name — is a nice touch, but the real stinger is that you just know flocks of liberal-leaning voters are having this exact conversation this weekend at brunch.
Best Impression: Vanessa Bayer as Rachel From “Friends”
Oh, my God. Bayer hasn’t exactly been hiding her impression of Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel Green from “Friends” (last year, she temporarily burnt up the internet when she brought it to Jimmy Kimmel’s show), but there are plenty of “SNL” fans who have yet to witness it — and what a doozy it is. There is no way to overstate this: Bayer sounds exactly like Rach (and, if you’re someone who watches “Friends” reruns as much as I do, the impression is so good that it’s almost actually scary). Colin Jost plays along nicely, too, pumping “Rachel” to answer why she always sounds so surprised. Oh, okay! What? Okay, what? No! What? Who knows what other occasions Bayer will have to use this on the show, but here’s hoping that this year’s long-touted “Friends” kind-of-reunion inspires a full-on sketch. Bayer can just play everyone.
Character Most Likely to Become a Franchise: Cecily Strong as the Pick-Up Artist
Although McCarthy’s dedication (and Jones’ furious attempts to hold in her giggles) dominated the “Pick-Up Artist” sketch, don’t overlook Strong holding court as the be-boa-ed teacher at the center of all the action. What is her story? Where did she get that boa? Why is she so clearly so bad at her job?
Colin Jost Tie-Watch: Still Wearing It
What sort of photographic evidence do we even need now? You know what it looks like. We all do.
“Saturday Night Live” returns on March 5 with host Jonah Hill and musical guest Future.