Seth Meyers makes a triumphant return to SNL

By EMILY WHITNEY | October 18, 2018

Gage Skidmore/ CC by-SA 2.0 Seth Meyers successfully hosted SNL in his return to the sketch show.

Following two rocky first weeks of the season, Seth Meyers’ episode was the early high Saturday Night Live (SNL) needed. The beloved former head writer and cast member brought a familiar energy to the night, looking right at home in Studio 8H. Meyers noted in his opening monologue that he worked on the show for 12 years and couldn’t even leave the building when he departed, taking his next job just down the hall as host of Late Night with Seth Meyers. 

Sure enough, the sketches this week were funny more often than not, with Meyers shining confidently at their center. Often playing the “straight man” — the normal guy in the scene — Meyers’ tendency to crack a smile at the other cast members dispelled the nervousness that often plagues live comedy. He’s that guy everyone wants on stage, but what really carried the funny moments of the night was the goofiness in the writing. A good SNL sketch is a silly one where things get weird and everyone is having fun.

Here were the best moments of the night for me, of which there were many:

In Meyers’ opening monologue, he told a story about Kanye West, touching on the SNL-Kanye-Trump controversy of recent weeks. After musical guest Kanye jumped into a sketch on SNL, Meyers said he’s no longer surprised by him. At the time, they pitched Kanye a bit about interrupting different awards ceremonies that Kanye thought was hilarious. The sketch aired in 2007. Kanye interrupted Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009. It was a testament to how weird things have gotten and how almost nothing is surprising these days.

The first sketch of the night, “Beta Force,” was one of the only sketches of the night in which Seth got a character-acting moment, and really it was just worth it to see Seth turned into a “full psycho.”

The next sketch, “Movie Talkback,” kept the ball rolling, throwing a bone for the industry people watching. The premise is the Q&A portion of a movie screening, and various weirdos were empowered by their moment to talk at the director. The cast shone in this one, with wacky over-the-top characters like a Penélope Cruz-esque Spanish seductress (Kate McKinnon), a dog-woman (Cecily Strong), a white rapper/slam poet (Kyle Mooney) and a lost old Hollywood actress (Heidi Gardner). A similar industry-insider sketch appeared later in the less funny “A Frightening Tale,” a campfire story about a horrifying graduated film-student who explains film theory to Seth Meyers over coffee and then haunts his phone with texts about getting together again. We all know that guy.

“Traffic Stop” was a peak moment of the night that followed two traffic cops (later called “Thirsty Cops”) who pulled Meyers over to get a better look at him. The cops, played by Ego Nwodim and Leslie Jones, rattled off thirsty puns followed by light dancing, probably as a result of someone in the writers’ room finding Meyers, to quote the sketch, “fine as hell.”

One of the night’s most political sketches was the quietly biting “Jail Cellmate,” about Meyers arriving in prison and finding out his cellmate is Bill Cosby (Kenan Thompson). Cosby is loving jail, hiding his hoagies in a tunnel, slurping down the penitentiary Jell-O and chilling with a turtle he thinks is Quincy Jones. The commentary is that Bill Cosby can’t stop quoting The Cosby Show long enough to realize what he did, and Thompson’s restrained impression helps land a sketch that could’ve easily gotten too sympathetic.

Meyers provided his throwback moment of the night by joining Michael Che and Colin Jost at the “Weekend Update” desk. This was clearly his most comfortable performance and the one for which he came to be most known in his later years at SNL, when he moved from sketch performance to behind the desk. It was clear that Meyers is still a total pro here.

“Bayou Benny’s Liberal Lagniappe” was a surreal little number, but it was refreshing in its weirdness. Beck Bennett led this one as a colonel-type who spoke in a Southern drawl riddled with barely comprehensive Southern colloquialisms. Seth acted as the straight-man and was joined by characters like “MAGA Biscuit” (Alex Moffat), “Awnry Gator Dat Done Been Sleepin’ Under my House,” “Da Chili Pepper wit da Sunglass Ses” (Kate McKinnon) and Taylor Swift (Heidi Gardner) as they discussed the news at a roundtable. The most fever-dream moment of the night, it somehow worked. 

Despite some low-laugh weak points — “Trees” featured Pete Davidson essentially just rapping “Al Gore” a couple of times when asked to change a song to be about global warming, and the audience sounded nearly dead after “Cuban Vacation” — Meyers’ episode succeeded in many ways thanks to its competent host, and it made for an ideal closing before the two-week break. Saturday Night Live returns on Nov. 3 with host Jonah Hill and musical guest Maggie Rogers.

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