For the first time this season, “Saturday Night Live” gave audiences the gift of a host who knew exactly what he was doing. They also eased back on the Trump shtick; apart from a lengthy (and incredible) cold open and a few punchlines on Weekend Update, “SNL” sat back, relaxed and let viewers enjoy nine-time host Tom Hanks.
With a host like Hanks and musical guest Lady Gaga, Week 4 was destined to be strong. There were several hits, just a few misses, and, mercifully, no misplaced singing. But did Hanks reinvigorate the formula in the way this election season needs? Let’s take a look.
Best Impression: Tom Hanks
Okay, so, it seems a little unfair to give America’s most beloved actor a nod for Best Impression(s), but that’s just the reality here; Tom Hanks is amazing, and last night’s “SNL” gave him plenty of material to transform. Right from the start, Hanks delighted viewers by appearing in the cold open. (He’s a deadringer for Fox News’ Chris Wallace. How did we not see that one coming?)
In addition to Wallace, Hanks took on Ron Howard and, most enjoyably, Sully Sullenberger. His Ron Howard was okay — the “America’s Funniest Pets” sketch was strange to begin with — but his Sully, unsurprisingly, was stellar. Yes, the fact that Hanks was only hosting the week’s episode in part because of the actual film “Sully” helped the impression along. However, his portraying a distinguished hero as an attention-seeking nutjob was great.
Best Male Performer: Tom Hanks
Oh, Hanks. He’s the country’s dad, and he’s ready to lean into the role. During this episode, Hanks felt ubiquitous; he moderated the debate in the evening’s cold open, delivered a cozy little monologue, and appeared in everything except for Update and “Girl’s Halloween.” It was nice to see that he hasn’t grown tired of being Tom Hanks, and putting a hosting veteran in to bat cleanup for the opening of the season felt like a smart decision.
Furthermore, nothing about his performance felt faked. He wasn’t trying to sell the audience on loving him; America just naturally does. Additionally, Hanks’ goofiness and innate flexibility helped sell the episode in its weaker spots. Would “David Pumpkins and His B-boy Skeletons” have gotten so close to working if not for Hanks? Unlikely.
Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong
Kate McKinnon is undeniably the breakout star of “SNL,” with Leslie Jones close on her sensible Hillary Clinton heels. However, it’s Cecily Strong that’s delivering the performances most worth talking about this season. Even in an episode free of Melania Trump — “SNL” went lighter on the Trump stuff this week, and no complaints here — Strong shone.
First of all, Cecily Strong is America’s foremost drunk actress. Why is she so good at it, and how did she get that way? We’ll never know for sure. But in an episode that featured less of her than the previous three, it was up to Strong to steal her time in the spotlight — and steal she did. Whether she was screaming her way through a “comedic” role in CBS’ “Broken” or offering a French-accented description of a kitten witnessing a murder, Strong was, yet again, the evening’s most notable female performer. There’s also something about the way “The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started Talking To At A Party” sneers Michael Che’s full name every time she addresses him that’s just wonderful.
Sketch Most Likely to Go Viral: A Girl’s Halloween
Perhaps the Halloween episode’s scariest outing: A frighteningly accurate portrait of what it’s like to plan a “girls-only” Halloween night. Split between the getting ready portion of an evening and the inevitable what happens at the end of the night, “A Girl’s Halloween” is the sketch that will be sent to group texts across the nation this morning. Are you a Vanessa, a Cecily or an Aidy? Trick question. You’re all of them.
Best Parody: “Funny New Comedy”
“SNL” parodies are at their best when they’re devastatingly real, and this week’s take on television genre was no exception. Here, we have an ad from CBS promoting “Broken,” its brand-new comedy half-hour. Seeing as Emmy voters love comedies like “Transparent” and “Orange is the New Black,” CBS hopes they’ll love this “cable-y sitcom” about a depressed family of adjunct professors. From the network that brought you “Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men.” Amazon Video probably has “Broken” in development already.
Best Sketch of The Night: Black Jeopardy
This reviewer never thought she’d see Tom Hanks outdo trapping himself in a dry-cleaning bag during a “Jeopardy!” bit, so she was mightily caught off-guard by last night’s sensational “Black Jeopardy!” sketch. In a Black Jeopardy first, the lone white contestant — Hanks as “Doug,” a Southern-fried Trump supporter — not only answers questions correctly, but charms the show’s host and his fellow contestants throughout the process. Forgive IndieWire for reading too deeply into a late-night game show parody, but it seemed as if “SNL” were making the point that Trump’s majority supporters have more in common with people of color than they might think. That is, until “Final Jeopardy” rolls around, at least.
Honorable Mention: The cold open was really, really good.
Second-Worst Sketch of The Night: Haunted Elevator
Fun fact: Clearly, NBC agrees that the evening’s first-worst sketch didn’t quite gel, as they haven’t made “Halloween Block Party” available online yet. (Its use of the song Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” might also be a factor there.) There’s no point in elaborating on a bit that readers can’t watch, so please enjoy the runner-up for worst: A truly bizarre “Haunted Hellevator” that claims it offers 100 floors of frights. Tom Hanks has Oscars, guys.
“Saturday Night Live” takes a break next weekend, but returns on Saturday, Nov. 6 with host Benedict Cumberbatch and musical guest Solange.