by Julian Spivey
The most recent episode of “Saturday Night Live” (May 4) was an episode many of us longtime ‘SNL’ nerds never thought was going to happen … former cast member (and hall of fame one if such a thing existed) Adam Sandler was returning to the show to host.
Sandler was a cast member on the long-running, legendary sketch comedy show from 1990, when he joined as a 23-year old stand-up comic, until 1995 when he was let go as part of truly the last complete overhaul of a ‘SNL’ cast when the show once again received the infamous “Saturday Night Dead” nickname that’s been used too much during “down times” (it’s in quotations because everybody seems to have a differing opinion on these – for some the show has been in a down time since John Belushi left the show in the late ‘70s for instance) of the show’s run.
While Sandler wouldn’t make my 10 greatest ‘SNL’ cast members of all-time list (and potentially not even top 20) he had enough iconic moments on the show for me to form a 10 best moments list and still leave off some notable moments (sorry Canteen Boy). Him hosting was a moment we’d never thought we’d see because he’s no longer the huge box office star he was in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s and surely, he’d been asked a time or two before and turned it down. It’d gotten to the point where he and Eddie Murphy were the two most famous ex-cast members to never return to host an episode (though Murray actually (and controversially) hosted once while still a cast member in the early ‘80s when his “48 Hours” co-star Nick Nolte had to cancel last minute due to illness).
Because Sandler’s return to host the show 24 years after leaving it I had the highest expectations I believe I’ve had for any episode this season and likely in a long time. Ultimately, the show didn’t quite live up to those expectations, but there were certainly enough highpoints throughout to make it worthwhile and maybe even one of the best episodes of the season.
The show began on an interesting cold opening in that it wasn’t a political sketch – though it wryly faked being one with a C-SPAN bumper at the beginning – and instead turned out to be an ‘Avengers’ versus “Game of Thrones” episode of “Family Feud” with Kenan Thompson reprising his frequent impression of Steve Harvey (perhaps for the final time, as Thompson is likely leaving the show at season’s end). This, and the show’s lack of political humor all night, surprised many – especially given all the news surrounding attorney general William Barr during the week – but I wasn’t surprised at all for a couple of reasons. I didn’t think the show would be very political in an episode hosted by Sandler who seems about as apolitical as a Hollywood star comes and likely has a mass conservative fandom as a result. It’s also not a bad idea to capitalize on the current pop culture supernovas that are “Game of Thrones” and “Avengers: Endgame.”
Sandler’s monologue was one of the real highlights of the show and something I’d been anticipating for about a month since his return to host was announced. Unsurprisingly he did it as a song, but maybe surprisingly about how he left ‘SNL’ when he and most of the cast at the time was fired at the behest of then NBC President Don Ohlmeyer (a real tool of a guy if you don’t know about him and this particular show). The monologue featured Sandler’s friend and former co-worker on the show Chris Rock, who was frankly underutilized on ‘SNL’ and became a massive star in the years following his departure. It wasn’t the only former ‘SNL’ cast member cameo, but surprisingly was the only former co-worker of Sandler’s to appear on the night. I was certain close buddies David Spade and Rob Schneider would show up – I would’ve liked to have seen Spade, but we likely dodged a bullet with Schneider.
The absolute worst moment on the episode appeared early on when Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett did their typically odd collaboration with a song called “Holes,” about how clothes are basically just holes for our bodies – yes, it was exactly as stupid as that sounds. I’ve never been on the Mooney train and continue to be annoyed by anything that has his “created by” stench on it.
One of the “should’ve seen it coming” moments during the episode was when Sandler played himself attending a Sandler Family Reunion and all of his family members essentially did the playful, child-like imitation of him we frequently see. This sketch featured cast members just doing their best Sandler impressions with Mikey Day and Melissa Villasenor doing the best jobs before the cameo by former ‘SNL’er Jimmy Fallon showing up. Fallon has the best Sandler impression I’ve ever seen. The sketch also featured a surprising return from Kristen Wiig, who would appear again later in the show to better use.
Wiig would appear in Kate McKinnon’s recurring sketch featuring her character Sheila Sovage, a trashy bar patron who always hooks up with random, equally trashy men as last call. The man in the sketch, as always, is played by the week’s host and Wiig plays Sandler’s wife in the sketch as they’re interested in Sheila for a little ménage a trois. It makes perfect sense for Wiig to join McKinnon in this sketch as Sheila is akin to some of Wiig’s most memorable recurring characters from her time on the show, accept McKinnon’s character is funnier. Sheila is one of McKinnon’s most popular recurring characters, but the sketch always gets more laughs from the sheer disgustingness of it more so than anything else – this time Sheila and her swinger partners partake in three-way tongue kissing with McKinnon, Wiig and Sandler all getting to know each other a bit more than previously.
There were two things I wanted to see in particular from Sandler during his return to host – one of his memorable characters, preferably his best Opera Man, and one of his comedy songs. We got both, though I’m a bit surprised Opera Man was the only character Sandler and the writing staff (which included an old favorite Robert Smigel specifically for this episode) chose to reprise.
It was great seeing Opera Man return to Weekend Update, his first appearance since February of 1995 not counting a brief appearance during the 40th anniversary special and a memorable non-‘SNL’ appearance in a post-9/11 benefit concert. It was hilarious seeing Opera Man take on today’s biggest news stories like the ending of “Game of Thrones,” current Democratic politicians running for President, the handsiness of Joe Biden and all the members of President Donald Trump’s administration who have been fired or quit.
Perhaps the biggest highlight from Sandler’s return to ‘SNL’ was the teary-eyed tribute in song to his good friend and former cast mate Chris Farley, who’s now been gone for more than 21 years. The ‘SNL’ appearance wasn’t the debut of this song, it originally appeared in Sandler’s stand-up shows and on his Netflix special “100% Fresh,” but it was the first time it’d been seen by many watching the show, including myself, and was certainly an appropriate place for the performance. The song was the perfect mixture of full-hearted love from one friend to another and humor. It’s obvious Farley meant an awful lot to Sandler and the song is the most touching thing I’ve ever seen from Sandler. It was the perfect way to end what essentially was Sandler’s homecoming to the show after two-and-a-half decades.