It’s been 24 years since Adam Sandler was fired by Saturday Night Live, making his hosting gig on this weeks episode a historic occasion. Despite being the second most successful cast member in the show’s history (his movies have made $2.8 billion, while Eddie Murphy’s have made $3.8 billion), Sandler might be SNL’s most beloved living former cast member. On the heels of his return to stand-up comedy, it’s only fitting Sandler makes his way back to 30 Rock for one more round.
And here’s the best part; it’s a great episode.
Sandler is a great host for the show, even if he occasionally gets caught up on the cue cards after two decades away. From his opening monologue through each of his sketches and the show’s surprising closing number, Sandler delivered time after time. His open monologue dives headfirst into why he hasn’t been back on the show in 24 years: hard feelings over being fired.
It’s as strange today as it was back then that Saturday Night Live fired both Adam Sandler and Chris Farley at the same time. It’s only fitting Sandler returns with a song about getting fired. Along the way he brings out Chris Rock, who has a surprisingly great voice, to sing about how he too was also fired before becoming a superstar.
The monologue sets a tone for the rest of the episode, willing to traipse into darkness but never willing to wallow in it or anger. In some ways, it almost feels like a call back to the days of Sandler, delightfully stupid and even a little dirty. We get a sketch about a reporter on the scene of a military coupe trying to live stream a report via Snapchat. Unfortunately, his screen is broken, leading to a host of filters adding adorable depth to his reporting on the body count.
There’s an infomercial about a travel agency’s trips to Italy and how it’s essential to manage your expectations about the impact of a vacation. “If you’re sad now,” Sandler warns, “you might still feel sad there.” Saturday Night Live rarely goes for the throat anymore, but this sketch is vicious about the ways some people lie to themselves to escape.
But there’s also plenty of time for silliness. The sketch about a Sandler family reunion, featuring all the relatives he ripped off to develop his characters, shouldn’t work. Instead, it’s a love letter to Sandler fans, with deep cuts and obvious references alike landing with glee. The prescription buttplug commercial is juvenile and crass, but would have made me lose my mind in high school just like millions did for “Schmitts Gay.”
There are a few moments of weakness, including a music video for a song called “Clothes are Holes” that’s met with an almost eerie silence by the audience. The cold opening, featuring The Avengers and characters from Game of Thrones, is familiar to the point of parody. However, we sort of love it for one simple reason.
When the show starts, you see the C-SPAN logo, and immediately think you’re going to have to sit through another congressional hearing sketch. Then a voice over acknowledges the writers don’t have it in them to try and write a funny skit about Bab Barr refusing to testify so they’ll be doing a sketch about the only thing everyone agrees on, The Avengers and Game of Thrones.
I love to see the show acknowledge its tropes and I hope the choice to pivot from a rote political sketch to a rote game show sketch was meant to be as funny as it was. “We can’t do this again, but we can do something like this again…” is brilliant if they’re teasing themselves.
Weekend Update was great this week, with solid jokes up top, including a brilliant one about jellyfish with a transient anus. However, the star of Update this week was Kate McKinnon’s brilliant Elizabeth Warren. The act is a perfect mix of backstory and brutal roasting of her opponents. “I always wanted to be a teacher,” she explains. “Because back then a girl could only be three things. A teacher, a nurse who gets kissed by a soldier on the street, or a dead mother of eight.”
To close out the segment Opera Man also makes his first appearance in 24 years, singing about the news like he hasn’t been gone since before mass shootings were a regular part of life. Bad news has always existed, but good lord, Opera Man takes on a darker tone in a world where no one’s sure if the President is actively trying to subvert democracy.
Based solely on the sketches, this is a fun episode of Saturday Night Live by any measure. However, it becomes a classic episode thanks to the show’s brilliant decision to replace the traditional weird last sketch with a Sandler musical performance. Anyone who’s seen his last special 100% Fresh on Netflix has had the pleasure to see Sandler perform “Chris Farley Song.” Tonight everyone else finally got the chance, and it leads to one of the few genuinely emotional moments in the show’s history.
I can’t watch, hell even hear, this song without sobbing. Admittedly that’s partly because I’ve experienced a lot of death over my short life. “Chris Farley Song” is as much a wake as it is a tribute, recalling legitimately beautiful memories of the fallen comedian without ignoring his demons. Sandler sounds on the verge of tears through the song, but while voice cracks he never breaks. The same can’t be said for the cast, many of whom are visibly wiping away tears during the goodnight segment.
Watching Saturday Night Live every week is worth it for the moments when the show seems to let go. Tonight gave us tastes of nostalgia, silliness, and darkness all while finding time to pay tribute to one of its brightest lights. Even more importantly, it felt like the first time the show was exhausted by its reliance on the same political sketches. If you can make me laugh, cry, and feel proud of the writers in during an episode of Saturday Night Life I call it a success. Let’s hope this isn’t the last time Sandler appears on the show. God bless Chris Farley.