Saturday Night Live, Season 41, Episode 3, “Tracy Morgan/Demi Lovato”
Airs Saturdays at 11:30 pm ET on NBC (East coast version watched for review)
Host: All Tracy Morgan had to do was stand up on stage and crack a few jokes. Nobody had any right to expect Morgan to reach the kind of lunatic heights he did in his prime. But to watch Morgan come on SNL tonight, trot out all of his old staples from the show, and absolutely slay is one of the warmest, most uplifting moments to air in the history of TV. It’s an incredibly hard thing to articulate, because to just talk about how funny Tracy is tonight is bad writing, as is just listing adjectives for how inspiring his recovery is. But that’s the draw of it: Tonight is Tracy Morgan’s comeback and he’s still funnier than everyone else. Morgan’s antics work so well that everyone around him has to visibly restrain themselves from breaking all night; the smile Kenan has to fight back in “Yo, Where Is Jackie Chan Right Now?” as Morgan spends minutes shouting incredibly specific questions about Chan’s potential whereabouts is indicative of the kind of home runs that only Morgan can hit, and how much joy it is to see him crush again. Hell, it’s hard to think of anyone else who can deal with the stress of a ROGUE CAMEL in the middle of a sketch and perfectly ad-lib a response to it. It’s been a scary year not knowing if Tracy Morgan would ever make us laugh again. To see that gut-busting humor still comes to him so effortlessly is enough to make one cry.
Musical Guest: Demi Lovato is a good sport. She must have known going into this that much of what would be written about this episode may not even mention her. But she gives her performances her all, and even makes an appearance in a sketch. Her vocals are a little rough on the edges on both “Cool for the Summer/Confident” and “Stone Cold”, but that’s a feature, not a bug. Of course she’s going to get a little squeaky because of how hard she is performing. Demi Lovato likes to entertain, and her routine can get a little cluttered at times because of it, but when she hits those runs at the end of “Stone Cold”, all that hard work pays off.
Best Sketch: The whole show. Thank you good night. Don’t forget to tip your waitresses… What’s that? Form can’t be abandoned just because SNL pulled off a literally perfect episode? So should it be the best Family Feud sketch the show has ever done, where the families are actually characters, rather than jokes, and have an arc to them? What about the return of Brian Fellow, where the show brings an ACTUAL CAMEL into 30 Rock? Should it be Astronaut Jones demanding to see alien Demi Lovato’s clap? But Morgan and Thompson’s quixotic search for Jackie Chan can’t be forgotten now, can it? What do you want to accomplish by forcing one of these perfect little gems to be arrogant and demand special attention? Who hurt you so much that you are forced to be this cruel? Fine, it’s the return of Brian Fellow, just for posterity.
Weakest Sketch: This is a little easier: The Fairytale sketch, because it only had two solid belly laughs inside of half-a-dozen. Now let’s just move on before anyone thinks that there’s actually anything bad in this episode.
Weekend Update: Jost and Che bring their A-game this week, as they damn well should, considering the occasion. The political skewering continues, with both host tag-teaming the myth of wanting a Washington outsider as a president. This approach to the news desk has always been this duo’s strong suit: They have genuine friendship chemistry and can ping-pong off each other in a way that crescendos, as opposed to swapping the spotlight. And while the one-liners are sharp, the panelists are even better. With Tina Fey in the building to resurrect 30 Rock in honor of Tracy, she comes back to her rightful throne to drill the dissemination of nude photography on the internet; any reason to see Fey make weird poses with her body is a good reason. And then Willie makes a return to the desk, probably to show Jay Pharoah how it’s done, and brings along his life coach Woodrow (Morgan) to sing a song. To repeat: Kenan and Tracy both show up as crazy people who sing a nonsense song to close out Update. For one glorious moment, the world ceased to have problems.
Other Notes: As is expected with an episode this important, the guest stars were a-plenty. Larry David shows up in the phenomenal cold open as Bernie Sanders, ruining any chance James Adomian had of being the nation’s pre-eminent Bernie impersonator; Alec Baldwin pulls double duty as Jim Webb and Jack Donaghy; and Fey, Jane Krakowski, and Jack McBrayer show up to round out the 30 Rock revival. (Note to NBC: Please take any opportunity you can to bring back 3o Rock, especially if it means we can continue to make fun of Smash and Animal Practice). SNL is off next week, which is for the best, because there needs to be some distance between this and whatever strange letdown the Trump/Sia episode going to be on November 7th.