Brow Beat

John Mulaney’s Saturday Night Live Episode Was the Funniest All Season. These Sketches Prove It.

A composite of three stills from SNL showing Bill Hader dressed as a game show host, John Mulaney dressed as Humphrey Bogart, and Kate McKinnon dressed as a bodega candle.
Bill Hader, John Mulaney, and Kate McKinnon, killing it.
NBC

This week’s episode of Saturday Night Live was the best of the season, and it wasn’t a close call. Deciding which sketches to cover is usually an easy process: It’s a rare week in which more than a couple really hit, and rarer still that there’s much worth caring about in the show’s traditional dead zones like the opening monologue. This week, however, thanks to host John Mulaney, there was an embarrassment of riches. So instead of focusing on an individual sketch, here are the best three—which still leaves out worthy efforts like his ad for a toilet with an ejector seat to prevent old people from dying under embarrassing circumstances, or the really sweet sketch in which Mulaney is surprisingly at home at an all-black wedding. For the first time in a long time, the show had a deep bench. Here are the starters.

Mulaney’s first standout sketch was “What’s That Name,” a sadistic game show hosted by Bill Hader. Hader returned to the show to play Jim Jordan in the cold open, hopefully on the sole condition that they allowed him to revive “What’s That Name,” and Mulaney succeeds here mostly by staying out of his way.

There are some good lines in Hader’s patter—“No, you’re not seeing double. There’s three women there!”—but it’s his facial expressions that make this, particularly the nostril flare after “In a word? Chaos.” Mulaney basically plays in the same sandbox—like Hader, he has an all-American look that makes him extremely well-suited for playing dubious authority figures (see, e.g., “Sitcom Reboot” from his last outing)—but nobody does cheerful sadism better than Bill Hader. Kudos to Mulaney for giving him the room to do it.

Mulaney took a second shot at playing the straight man later in the night in “To Have and Have Not,” a restaging of a legendarily scorching scene from Howard Hawks’ 1944 adaptation of the Hemingway novel. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s chemistry is one of cinema’s greatest treasures. John Mulaney and Kate McKinnon’s chemistry is … not:

No one in the history of humanity has been able to keep from breaking when Kate McKinnon is doing her thing, least of all Kate McKinnon. It’s possible that Mulaney is cracking up whenever he’s not on camera, but every time it cuts to his face, he somehow manages to be absolutely stone-faced. So if this episode doesn’t win an Emmy, he should at least be in the running for a Guinness World Record.

But Mulaney’s best sketch was “Bodega Bathroom,” a sequel to “Diner Lobster,” the elaborate restaging of Les Miz as a parable about not ordering lobster at diners. Mulaney and Colin Jost wrote the sketch in 2010—Zach Galifianakis was originally supposed to play the lobster—but it didn’t get on the air until Mulaney hosted last year. “Bodega Bathroom” is the best kind of recurring SNL bit: not a recurring character, but a recurring concept. (Technically, Pete Davidson and Chris Redd may be playing the same characters they did in “Diner Lobster,” but since those characters are “the guys who ask a dumb question and then get out of the way for an elaborately staged musical,” it’s hard to be sure.) Take a musical journey into the most disgusting Broadway set since 1978’s disastrous Song of Salò:

The sketch doesn’t feel quite as focused as “Diner Lobster,” both because the songs are drawn from a wider variety of sources. On the other hand it has a talking, flying toilet. For that masterpiece of set design alone, this was the greatest sketch of the evening. Can they just appoint Mulaney Saturday Night Live Host for Life?

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