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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: Adam Sandler Pushes the Nostalgia Button Too Many Times

It's the one-time cast member's homecoming — and first time hosting.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Adam Sandler" Episode 1765 -- Pictured: Host Adam Sandler during the "I Was Fired" Monologue on Saturday, May 4, 2019 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

“Saturday Night Live.”

Will Heath/NBC

In case you missed it, Adam Sandler and “Saturday Night Live” have a bit of history. Sandler, of course, goes more into detail about this in his monologue, but he was a cast member on the show (from 1990-1995, having started when he was 23 years old). 24 years later, though, Sandler has never hosted “SNL” — until now, that is. It’s certainly one of the more fascinating first-time hosting gigs of this season (although, it’s still quite odd Liev Schreiber hadn’t hosted until this season).

Host: Adam Sandler

Adam Sandler gets musical twice in this episode, and the first time — in his opening monologue, where he also gets in a nice age joke about Norm Macdonald — is a quite funny explanation about why he “left” “SNL” despite it being the best time of his life. And while the same thing happened to his buddy Chris Rock, but they both seem to be doing fine now. (Not sure how fine Rock was doing when he joined “‘In Living Color'” and it got canceled three weeks later. He wasn’t even an official cast member.) The bit ends with Pete Davidson coming out to sing, only to be reminded he’s not been fired… but he doesn’t have to worry, it will surely happen soon enough.

(Strangely enough, besides this and the family reunion sketch, Davidson is barely anywhere to be found in this episode. It’s a really strange choice, considering how much he was compared to Sandler when he first joined the cast, but a stranger choice really is that he’s still even on the show. It’s the “woo” crowd—they love him and “woo” him like he’s a celebrity guest, not a cast member. Because he’s famous, not because he’s the most impressive member of the cast. This isn’t even a knock on him, he probably even agrees with this assessment.)

While the cold open for this episode is, well, cold, the monologue officially starts things off right, and it seems possible that this will be the case of a former cast member bringing out the show’s A-game (and their own A-game, really). Unfortunately, that is not what happens over the course of this episode. Not even a little bit.

The thing about Adam Sandler is that he’s proven on more than one occasion that he’s more than a one-trick pony… but he prefers to stay in his one lane with one trick. And past, let’s say, 2004, that lane has produced a lot of really terrible movies that can easily make a person question if Sandler was ever funny and if his past movies were any good. Don’t worry, he definitely was very funny and those past movies — especially the “Happy Gilmore”/”Billy Madison”/”The Wedding Singer” trifecta — honestly still hold up. (Also, this is neither here nor there, but “Mr. Deeds” is underrated.) He’s also proven that, despite all the really terrible movies, he can come out with a new stand-up special in 2018 and show he’s still got it. So it’s not a lack of ability or a fact of losing it that is to blame: Again, he prefers to stay in his one lane. Especially when it’s a lane that can get him and his buddies vacations to exotic locations to shoot said really terrible movies.

But that one lane on a sketch show can make for an extremely concentrated bit of terrible, and that’s what happens here, unfortunately. Nostalgia isn’t inherently bad, but when that’s really all there is, with the combination of the things not playing off of nostalgia just being plain bad, then there’s actually nothing of substance. Or at least, very little of substance.

On a positive note: “SNL” came back from a month break and decided to do a butt-plug pre-tape sketch. It’s crude and immature but… in a good way? That’s really more than can be said for a lot of this episode. It’s Beck Bennett’s reactions to the very, very obvious in this sketch that really sell it.

Best Sketch(es) of The Night: “Sandler Family Reunion” & “Romano Tours”

If there’s one thing to appreciate about Adam Sandler, it’s that he doesn’t have a complex about channeling, or other people channeling, his greatest hits. So that’s how you get a sketch like “Sandler Family Reunion.” Yes, “SNL” has done this sketch before with hosts like Jim Carrey and Christopher Walken. But like the audition sketches that serve as impression showcases (and by the way, do that far better than the “Celebrity Family Feud” sketches, yet somehow are less frequent) they kill — and they highlight the cast’s actual impression strengths. Pete Davidson’s Nicky (“Little Nicky”) and Melissa Villaseñor’s Bobby Boucher (“The Waterboy”) are the actual MVPs, but everyone pretty much nails this sketch. Especially Kenan Thompson as a man who clearly married into the family and doesn’t quite get the “invisible clarinet thing” they’re all doing. Plus, there are the cameos of Jimmy Fallon and Kristen Wiig (who plays Sandler’s/Carrie White’s mother, due to Sandler’s appropriately titled debut album, “They’re All Gonna Laugh At You!”)

Just one nitpick: Shawn Mendes is a talented singer-songwriter, but his few dalliances with acting have left a lot to be desired. His ‘Big Daddy’-era Sandler impression is only recognizable because of the final “Happy Meal” outburst. And it’s still not good.

No doubt a lot of people are going to feel seen after the Romano Tours, Italian vacation sketch. It’s already an okay sketch when it’s just about the tour (“See Venice, the city of wetness.”), but it’s a great sketch once it sets its sights on anyone who’s displeased about the tour and goes into the entire psychosis of vacation emotions. “Sad You” going on vacation leading to the “Same Sad You” is inspired, even before the breakdown of what the vacation “Can” and “Cannot” do. And that’s before he zeroes in on the characters within the sketch. Poor Kenan.

Worst Sketch(es) of The Night: “Family Feud Cold Open,” “War Zone Reporter,” & “Holes”

Seeing the C-Span bumper to open the episode immediately brought forth a familiar sense of dread about whatever “impressions” the show would force on A-list celebrities to welcome the show back. So the bait and switch of a “Celebrity Family Feud” sketch is a much-appreciated one… until you realize it’s truly the sketch equivalent of a hack impressionist’s “…and I think, it would go a little something like this.”

The highlight of the cold open is Leslie Jones’ Groot, simply because the sketch leans into the fact that this is just Leslie Jones playing Groot for the sketch, and it never veers away from that. Alex Moffat’s Thor/Chris Hemsworth has never been anything more than just a generic Australian accent, and that doesn’t change here. Seriously, he sounds nothing like Chris Hemsworth. (Maybe he sounds like Liam, but does anyone actually know what Liam Hemsworth sounds like? Has he ever spoken outside of movies, where he does American accents all the time?) The “joke” with Beck Bennett’s Thanos is that he’s a roid monster, but honestly, it’s hard not to think about the fact he looks like a purple Fat Bastard. A purple Fat Bastard who is also a roid monster. And after all these years, you would think with Kate McKinnon’s Brienne they’d give her lifts to complete the character but nope. She could honestly be playing Tilda Swinton in this sketch and you wouldn’t know the difference.

In the episode proper, here are the four biggest knocks on the “War Zone Reporter” sketch:

  1. There is not a single laugh in this sketch until it’s just about at the minute mark. Talk about a slow set-up. (In its defense, it ultimately has more laughs than the “Holes” sketch, which might actually have a negative amount of laughs.)
  2. And it’s a slow set-up to get to a Snapchat filter sketch on “SNL” (as opposed to a reboot of Nickelodeon’s “All That”).
  3. There’s a part where Mikey Day’s character notes that his phone screen cracked, and he can’t see a thing, so he’s actually unaware of the filters. That part of the premise is absolutely blown up once Sandler’s character gets involved, as he intentionally plays with and changes the filters.
  4. Yes, people want to hear Sandler do voices. There’s an entire sketch in this episode dedicated to that. But maybe don’t have him play a Libyan in 2019. Especially on a show where it took way too many years to cast enough black people to have them play multiple, real black people in one sketch.

Unsurprisingly, with Adam Sandler as the host, the episode is very bro-y. Not in the sophisticated frat bro way Weekend Update is — which is so flat this week it’s not worth mentioning outside of the Opera Man feature, as even Kate McKinnon’s Elizabeth Warren is a one-note folksy “joke”—but in that classic, beer-swigging frat boy way. That allows Beck Bennett (and, by extension, Kyle Mooney) to shine, but unfortunately, it’s not in their usual, weird but secretly genius way. Because there is nothing genius about “Hole (Clothes)” sketch.

In fact, more so than their actual ‘90s sitcom sketches, this actually feels like it could’ve aired during the Sandler era of “SNL,” but not in a good way. There are dozens of sketches from Bennett and Mooney that have suggested they should be the dynamic duo of “SNL” instead of Mikey Day and Alex Moffat (as long as “SNL” can handle a truly weird dynamic duo) and this one is not that. How did “The Last Fry” get cut for time but not this?

Best Female Performer: Leslie Jones

This is for Groot and Chubbs.

Best Male Performer: Kenan Thompson

Kenan Thompson will forever have the best reactions of any cast member, and they come in handy during the latest “Last Call” Sheila (Kate McKinnon) sketch. This turns into a ménage à trois between Sheila, Sandler’s character, and a returning Wiig (playing Sandler’s wife) and while honestly the weakest of this series of sketches, at least there’s Kenan Thompson with a stick of dynamite in his mouth. (Also, just noting for this sketch, the dread of McKinnon tonguing Sandler is assuaged once Wiig gets there, and unsurprisingly, McKinnon/Wiig really go at it. There is definitely licking between McKinnon/Sandler, but it is not the same. This is a weird thing to analyze.)

Final Thoughts

This is exactly the type of episode that the “‘SNL’ used to be good” crowd (“during my formative years” being silent but implied) will jump all over to rip apart. This ignores the fact that this episode is absolutely as juvenile and unfunny as the worst episodes of that era, when “‘SNL’ used to be good,” that they’ve conveniently erased from their minds. This is because their memories are filled with “Best Of” compilations or the hour-abridged versions of the show that cut out the worst (or, unfortunately, most music rights-related) sketches.

This is a bad episode, but that’s not because things were so much better back in the day: It’s because it tries to channel the irreverent, childish humor of back in the day, and it only shines a light on how lame that is. Yes, Sandler, Farley, Spade, and Rock all came up together on “SNL.” But you know who else came up with them? Rob fricken Schneider. And he’s still reaping all the benefits. (That’s a reference to “The Wedding Singer”, by the way, so this isn’t a matter of thinking Adam Sandler has never had anything to offer.)

Nostalgia can’t do all the work. In Sandler’s musical tribute to Chris Farley, the crowd barely woos (there are a few) when he suggests an alternate reality where he’d be part of the cast of “Grown-Ups 3.” It’s the only weak point in an otherwise extremely earnest and touching performance. Adam Sandler’s beginning and ending to this episode are both absolutely great. Unfortunately, there’s the rest of the episode in between.

Grade: D+

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