Of all the comedians Saturday Night Live has shaped and developed in its 44 seasons and counting, Adam Sandler is indisputably one of the biggest names to ever emerge from it, and he’s objectively the most successful one. As Sandler noted in his opening monologue, while he prepared to host his first-ever episode of the show after being fired by Lorne Michaels in 1995, his movies have grossed over four billion dollars. Who else in the show’s history can make a claim like that?
Saturday night’s episode was a proper homecoming for Sandler, a pleasant mix of old faces, classic characters, and experiments with some of the current show’s closest approximations of Sandler’s onetime star persona. After all, as even fans of the actor know, the Adam Sandler of 2019 is hardly the boyish oddball who broke out with parody songs and fits of rage 25 years ago. In both his acclaimed dramatic performances and much of his latter-day comic output, Sandler has settled into a more grizzled mode, his comedy these days emerging from resignation and annoyance, almost reactionary to the kind of high-energy madmen that made him a star years ago.
Saturday’s episode tasked Sandler with playing a mix of these modern-day straight men and a few characters that wouldn’t have felt out of place in his heyday. It was an interesting moment for the actor to return as host; his recent stand-up special 100% Fresh offers some of the sweetest, most vulnerable material he’s put out in public in years, and in that same way, Sandler ended up using the opportunity to bring out some of his friends (notably Chris Rock in the monologue) and pay tribute to others.
As much as it was a celebration of Sandler’s legacy, the episode also felt a bit like the farewell Sandler never got to give at the end of his first run. And as those go, it was a pretty Adam Sandler version of one.
Oh Mr. Sandman, Bring Me a Dream
As far as translating 2019 Sandler into the modern SNL goes, the best sketches unsurprisingly emerged from allowing him to slide into the kind of specific, quietly filthy gags that the show has exhibited at its best this season. “Rectix” might build on a particularly one-note premise (a father’s erectile dysfunction medication is actually just an anal plug), but between Sandler’s dorky pleasantries, Aidy Bryant’s chipper reaffirmations of their marital pegging, and a particularly hysterical pharma-commercial animation, that one joke goes a long way.
But then, not every sketch was so fortunate. “War Zone Reporter” at least added a bracing sense of discomfort to SNL‘s ever-shaky handle on political comedy, with Mikey Day and eventually Sandler attempting to broadcast a political coup through cutesy Snapchat filters. But the gag never goes beyond “mildly disquieting”, and in the vein of some of the most unbearable modern sketches, it goes on for what feels like forever on that one joke alone.
Sandler’s appearance on the latest iteration of “Last Call” shared that run-on tendency, but like the best permutations of that sketch, it also allowed Sandler, Kate McKinnon, and a guest-appearing Kristen Wiig to take their physical comedy instincts as far as they can go, and off they went.
This Week in Popular Stuff, We Guess
Modern SNL is rarely worse than when it attempts to substitute topicality for actual jokes, and on that basis, this week’s cold open had to be among the very worst of the season. It feels like a minor mercy that Sandler wasn’t dragged into the proceedings of what started as another C-SPAN sketch, took a quick jab at AG William Barr’s congressional no-show last week, and then segued into another Family Feud sketch.
Aside from Kenan Thompson’s ever-enjoyable Steve Harvey, the Feud premise never seems to have much in mind comically beyond “everyone plays somebody in the news, we guess”. Making it Endgame vs. Game of Thrones only made the jokes even more brutal, as the broad-as-possible humor wouldn’t be especially noteworthy for anyone who recognizes it, or funny to somebody who doesn’t. These topical-impressions sketches have been a part of SNL‘s DNA as long as the show has been on the air, but consider how seldom they’re actually the classic ones discussed years down the line. There’s a reason for that.
Holes Covering Other Holes
At the risk of this being yet another of these recaps’ weekly stumps to get Kyle Mooney’s bizarre sense of humor more screentime, we’ll instead celebrate it when it happens.
“Holes” is the exact kind of smart-stupid thing in which SNL should be investing, particularly in an era where alt-comedy is now a fringe form of mainstream comedy and fare like Netflix’s I Think You Should Leave is capturing the comedy zeitgeist. It’s at once an adept parody of Meatloaf videos, an excuse for Sandler to indulge his hair-metal impulses once more, and a chance for Mooney and Beck Bennett (the former looking like a cross between Eddie Vedder and Kenny G) to sing for several minutes about how clothes are just holes with fabric around them, holes used to cover our own, less publicly-appropriate holes.
This was so, so dumb. More of this, please.
Weekend Update Drops the Ball
Okay, yes, Opera Man returned and it was appropriately nostalgic and fun.
But hey there, Weekend Update. You return after a three week sabbatical, and not one mention of how one of the hosts publicly accused a journalist of bestiality while calling writers the soft and over-sensitive ones? Funny, that.
Chris Farley Forever
However, you have to feel for the singer/songwriter, as the biggest musical story of the evening wound up coming right after his second performance, where instead of a sketch, the 11:50 timeslot was filled by a musical tribute from Sandler to his dear, departed friend Chris Farley.
Listening to Sandler re-engage the nervous, shy vulnerability that originally made him a star was resonant enough. But watching the actor use his SNL hosting gig to sing about how he worried that his old friend would go out like John Belushi or John Candy, and that Farley idolized them and considered that warning an honor, is something else entirely. There’s a lot of history at Saturday Night Live, and some of it is especially painful. But at the very end of the night, one of its saddest occurrences became a celebration of one of the biggest personalities to ever grace a show defined by its big personalities. It was a reminder of why this show still matters to people, at least enough to argue about it every week.