‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: Eddie Murphy Returns Home for the First Time in 35 Years

The last episode Murphy hosted was Season 10's Christmas episode in 1984.
Eddie Murphy, "Saturday NIght Live"
Eddie Murphy, "Saturday NIght Live"
Will Heath/NBC

It’s been 35 years since Eddie Murphy hosted “Saturday Night Live,” practically to the day. The last episode he hosted was actually a Christmas episode — from Season 10 — which aired on December 15, 1984. While he technically did return to “SNL” back in 2015, during the “40th Anniversary Special,” he only made a brief appearance onstage in a monologue.

This weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” brought more milestones for Murphy. This homecoming marked his third time hosting “SNL,” and third Christmas episode. Fun fact: This also marked his first time hosting the show while not also a regular cast member (which he was from 1980-1984).

Host: Eddie Murphy

Funnily enough, the Bill Cosby joke and impression Murphy made in the monologue somewhat harks back to the reason Murphy didn’t perform at the “40th Anniversary Special.” As he told The Washington Post after the fact, Norm Macdonald had written a “Celebrity Jeopardy!” sketch which would’ve included Murphy as Cosby. According to Murphy, “There’s nothing funny about it. If you get up there and you crack jokes about him, you’re just hurting people. You’re hurting him. You’re hurting his accusers. I was like, ‘Hey, I’m coming back to SNL for the anniversary; I’m not turning my moment on the show into this other thing.’”

This sensitivity to that topic — as the Cosby joke he made during the monologue was really at the expense of hindsight — falls in line with a lot of what Murphy has said recently about his comedy in particular. Murphy has been vocal lately about his comedy past and looking back at his work within the context of how comedy and society have evolved.

At no point has he come across as upset that he can’t “get away” with comedy like he used to back in the day, and if anything, he’s grown as a person and artist. Which is part of what made this episode of “SNL” a fascinating one, heading into it, as the characters he’s best known didn’t have the opportunity to grow with him, especially the ones that’s origins aren’t exactly still in the pop culture lexicon (Gumby and Buckwheat, for example).

A follow-up to the “Extreme Baking Championship” sketch from last season’s Don Cheadle episode, the premise for this sketch is quite straightforward. It works because of the commitment to the visual gags, as well as the self-deprecation that comes as a result of each terrible reveal. Murphy’s attempt at Sonic the Hedgehog leads to some great lines, like his resigned, “I think I just made a lot of bad choices,” and his exchange with Aidy Bryant’s character about why an attempt at “Sonic the Hedgehog” is brown.

Murphy: “And why is it brown, Mitch?”
Bryant: “I don’t know, why is anything brown?”

Best Sketches of the Night: “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood 2019,” “Home For the Holidays,” and “Aidy Bizzo & Lizzo”

Naturally — like the Adam Sandler episode last season — this was an episode of “SNL” all about nostalgia. But it was not an episode all about bathing in that nostalgia, no matter how much times have changed. Instead, it went out of its way to reveal how certain sketches from over 30 years ago could still exist and function in 2019, with a new perspective.

“Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood 2019” succeeded the best in this case, because it had the perfect natural evolution that was gentrification and the sketch-ending 23andMe twist. Velvet Jones in the “Black Jeopardy!” sketch didn’t just get lectured about #MeToo, the character also subverted what we’d expect to be his purview with the “How to Be an Instagram Ho” book. The entire Gumby character was specifically always about pushing buttons with this children’s character, so they just amplified that on the Weekend Update edition that would already have more jokes made for pushing buttons (with the Colin Jost/Michael Che joke exchange).

Buckwheat, of course, is always funny, no matter the context. So the idea for a sketch being nothing other than “What if Buckwheat was on ‘The Masked Singer’?” basically wrote itself.

This current era of “SNL” loves to rely on pre-tapes with the juxtaposition between the perfect end product and the over-the-top frustration that led to it, and this sketch was no different. But as this episode reminded everyone: It’s very funny when Eddie Murphy yells in a deep voice. That’s something this sketch provided plenty of, with Kenan Thompson as his dad, Maya Rudolph as his wife, Chris Redd and Ego Nwodim as their kids, and Mikey Day as their future-son-law. But the highlight is this exchange, after Murphy’s character welcomes Day’s into their family at the dinner table:

Nwodim: “Why?! Why can’t I marry him?! Because he’s white?!
Murphy: “YES!”
Nwodim: “You guys are being so racist!”
Rudolph: “Damn right we are! No offense, Matthew.”
Day: “None taken.”

So in case you feel like you missed something, “Aidy Bizzo & Lizzo” was actually cut for time. It’s not hyperbole to say that should be considered a criminal offense on time’s part, especially as the sketch is a follow-up to the excellent “Aidy B & Cardi B” sketch from Season 43. While not as great as the original, it’s still great in its own right and deserves to be highlighted as such.

Worst Sketch of the Night: “Holiday Gig”

This is slightly cheating, but the “Worst” Sketch of the Night was the cut-for-time “Holiday Gig” sketch. A recurring sketch — “tweedle dee twee,” etc. — this is a sketch that’s always pretty much fine, not great. It’s for the best it was cut, though it’s not exactly bad either.

Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong

While Murphy’s F-bomb was caught by the censors in “Holiday Baking Championship,” Strong’s as Jeanine Pirro at the end of her Weekend Update appearance wasn’t. Merry, you know, Christmas to you too, “SNL.” The combination of Strong as Pirro, Tulsi Gabbard, and the “sexy ass elf” in the “North Pole News Report” sketch cemented her status as Best Female Performer, but so did her getting Colin Jost to say, perhaps, the funniest thing he’s ever said on “SNL”: “It’s in my mouth.”

Best Male Performer: Eddie Murphy

This one is a no brainer, and it’s especially on display in a sketch like this. This is one of the few original character sketches in this episode, and honestly, it also belongs on the Best Sketches of the Night list. “North Pole News Report” was Murphy at a 111 (not even an 11), without him tripping over his words (which happened a couple of times).

Final Thoughts

This last “SNL” episode of the year had everything: Gumby, Jason Sudeikis, Lizzo’s Christmas-themed twerking, and Pete Davidson joked he’d be going to rehab during the break.

If there’s one episode where it makes sense for there to be a lot of celebrity cameos, it’s the Eddie Murphy episode. The vibe at Studio 8H this whole week must’ve been like a welcome-home party (or absolute chaos), and surely there were plenty of other former cast members and major stars who tried to be part of it all. At the same time, this episode found a way to use all of its cast, without them getting lost or thrown away in favor of said celebrities. Even the opening monologue — which looks like it’s just going to be Murphy, Tracy Morgan (in his second opening monologue of the season, fulfilling the prophecy), Chris Rock, and Dave Chappelle — allows Beck “Joe Piscopo” Bennett to get some comedic shine. It’s interesting that Kenan Thompson is just there to send Bennett away though, as he really doesn’t feel out of place up on that stage with those men, considering the legacy he has created on “SNL” (and growing up on television and film even prior to “SNL”).

The only exception, as always, is Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump, which is honestly all just puckered lips at this point. A lot happened in the cold open, and it was honestly a really good bit of chaos in action — Kate McKinnon even did a wardrobe and character change, from Elizabeth Warren to Nancy Pelosi — to the point where the “Jerry Springer” Trump twist actually worked. The issue is, Trump is still played by Baldwin. That’s the lowest low, especially in a sketch that brings back Jason Sudeikis’ cocksure version of Joe Biden — as Woody Harrelson was perhaps all live-TVed out, after this week’s “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” — and Cecily Strong’s family movie villain version of Tulsi Gabbard.

Speaking of the latter, the live crowd surprisingly didn’t pop for the “Present.” line as hard as anyone would expect… but that was towards the tail end of a lot of other crazy in this sketch.

But they did pop hard for Buckwheat, which is all that really matters.

Grade: A

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