‘SNL’ Is Always Better When John Mulaney Writes It

Photo: Will Heath/NBC Photo: Will Heath/NBC

John Mulaney has been putting up #tbt pics of his SNL years all week, and he has barely aged. And although his face has remained that of an ageless lifesize doll, Mulaney has grown a lot as a performer. When he did “I Love It” on Update back in his writer days, he was so nervous. You could see the sweat beading on him. But this past weekend, my little baby wasn’t scared to host. He was having the time of his life.

Mulaney got to bring back sketches that got killed during his tenure at Studio 8H, and he added his dark je ne sais quois to the rest. This episode felt, for lack of a better word, rigorous. Every line felt like it fought its way onto the script through a pile of dead jokes. This show was a reminder that SNL can be great when a true nutbar genius like Mulaney is at the helm.

Cold Open

Disgraced Trump “lawyer” Michael Cohen (Ben Stiller) is given a lie detector test by Robert Mueller (Robert De Niro). This was a loooong set up for a Meet the Parents reference. The problem is there are already two iconic lie detector TV scenes—Mr. Show’s and The Simpsons’. Repeating a bit from a 18-year-old movie isn’t going to stack up. Those jowel appliances on De Niro look great, though, and Ben Stiller looked properly ashamed of himself for teeing up the milk joke.

Monologue

Mulaney’s stand-up set goes through his favorite SNL musical intro (Sir Pat Stew intro-ing Salt n Pepa), how weird things were in the past (gazebos) and are today (recaptcha). Mulaney’s Sir Patrick Stewart run showed us exactly why this episode was going to rule: the man is a always recording. John Mulaney’s brand has always been hyper-observant, which should be a dumb thing to say about a comic. It’s all based on observance. But Mulaney dials in on the teeniest minutiae. Day players on Law & Order? The way someone said the word “pepper” a decade ago? John Mulaney is the comedic equivalent of the camera guys in a nature documentary that only film bugs. It’s a very important contribution to the ecosystem.

Drag Brunch

At a drag brunch, the waitress queens read the customers. But Alex Moffat is getting very specific and personal drags. “You’ve never worked for anything in your life,” Mulaney’s drag queen murmurs directly into Moffat’s face. “You got everything handed to you. The one thing you haven’t been able to purchase is a personality.” Mulaney’s contour needs work, but the shade is on-point.

School Walk Out

I think we finally broke the curse on that classroom set. And Luke Null got two lines! Go Luke! A gun control walkout is complicated by adolescent horniness. Honestly, I’ve been involved in enough activism that was ruined by boners, and this is the most harmless version of that scenario. What made the scene work so well was Mulaney’s matter-of-factness about his predicament. If he had hammed it up more, the whole scene would have fallen apart.

Wild, Wild Country

Y’all watching Wild, Wild Country? This is the second sketch in recent memory where Kenan played someone too down-to-earth for the mystical nonsense surrounding him. First as the BBQ-ing ancestor of Black Panther in Sterling K. Brown’s ep, and now as guy who went to Rajneeshpuram for the booty. That premise is a little tired, but the impression work of the supporting players saved the sketch. I was so glad they brought Nasim back to play Sheela. And Beck was spot-fucking-on as that one cult lawyer guy who cries.

Diner Lobster

If they had decided to just do Lobster Mis for the rest of the episode, I would have been fine. What about the Thenardiers? Let’s have “Master of the House,” but about the dishwashers and how they resent the lobster for getting to just sit there. Let’s have more Mean Girls on Broadway #spon! Would Eponine also be a lobster? Or maybe she’s a crab — the sky’s the limit! Pete Davidson could not keep it together for this truly outrageous feat of theatrical production, and who could possibly blame him? I don’t think we as a nation were ready for Lobster Mis in 2010. The world had to get a lot more surreal in order for an audience to feel empathy for an aged lobster condemned to death. In 2018, we’re all the lobster.

Weekend Update

Speaking of the world getting a lot more surreal, pundits on TV are mocking teenagers now. And not in a general, “millennials are lazy and entitled,” way. Specific teens. Kate McKinnon came by as Laura Ingraham and really hit the nail on the head: the olds hate teens who stick up for themselves because the olds never did it. “When I was in high school, it was bad to try,” she says. “I said I wanted to try art, and I got kicked in the face. But I didn’t say I was getting bullied; I just grew up into this.”

Then everyone’s favorite stage dad LaVar Ball came through to brag about his sons Lonzo, LiAngelo, LaMelo, “and my long lost Mexican son, LaBiblioteca.” The bravado was fun, but what I most enjoyed was an oddly brutal takedown of Tevas that snuck into this bit. “Lightweight, breathable, and with a backstrap that’ll leave your ankle raw as hell.” Drag ‘em, LaVar.

Sitcom Reboot

Amazing Andrew Cunanan joke that went over the audience’s heads. Apparently we’ve run out of stuff to reboot, because somebody gave the green light to redo Switcheroo: a 90’s sitcom that focused entirely on the incesutal implications of a body swap. This was as close as we got to seeing George St. Geegland on the show. Something about the references to group therapy and Jonestown felt very Oh Hello!

Horns

Lucian the horrorcore phreak has to break it to his juggalette girlfriend that he’s getting his horn implants removed. She does not take it well. Mulaney’s calm doctor demeanor carries the sketch. No matter what nasty body mods Lucian has (calf-holes??), it doesn’t phase this man who got his degree from some sketchy place called Harvard. I would have liked to see more of the weird body modifications that were merely alluded to in this sketch. Was the prosthesis budget shot on De Niro’s Mueller?

Real Intros of Reality Hills

This should have been the first sketch of the night, not the 10-to-1. Seeing Mulaney play gay twins would have clearly laid out what kind of evening they had in store for us. Whoever is pitching these reality show parodies this season is killing it. New E! Lineup and Floribama Shore are two of my most rewatched sketches of the season, and this is a fine entry to that canon.

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