Adam Sandler – abruptly fired from “Saturday Night Live” 24 years ago – returned to the scene of the crime for the first time Saturday to remind viewers, fans, NBC and almost certainly Lorne Michaels that there are no hard feelings.
But still...maybe just one or two? Maybe.
In easily the most memorable “SNL” of the season if for no other reason that it was built almost entirely on indelible memories, Sandler and cast reprised voices and characters while a handful of former, also beloved, cast members turned up too: Chris Rock, Kristen Wiig, and Jimmy Fallon, to name three.
Also for this return, Opera Man, and if there was no Hank Gelfand or Canteen Boy along for the ride, they were certainly here in spirit, as was Chris Farley – fired along with Sandler all those years ago and who died in 1997 of a drug overdose at age 33. Sandler sang a moving tribute – that's right moving, even if it was Sandler doing the singing – entitled “The Chris Farley Song.” It was the episode high water mark, or easily one of them anyway.
Sandler kicked it off with a monologue that established – perhaps truthfully, perhaps not – that he had “lost my virginity” in Studio 8H all those years ago. (“I don't kiss and tell but it was the Church Lady.”)
Then, of course, the I-Got-Fired Song in the guest monologue: "Between seasons I heard a nasty rumor that I was getting the sack/I called Lorne Michaels but he never called back..”
(Aside to the audience: He called back.)
Rock turned up to sing the refrain: “I was fired by NBC/then I went on 'In Living Color'/Three weeks later, they took it off TV.”
Both Rock and Sandler joined “SNL” around the same time (in 1990) but Rock left – or was “fired,” accounts differ – a couple of seasons later. He's done well ever since too, you may have heard.
The monologue was terrific, a couple sketches too – most notably “Sandler Family Reunion” – and Opera Man was in fine voice as well on "Weekend Update." As long-awaited returns go, this one was all that could or should be expected. .
It also dusted off some ancient history, and a question: What exactly did happen all those years ago? Sandler in fact was fired at the end of the '94-'95 season, in a directive by then NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer (who died in 2017) and also canned were longtime guitarist/band leader G.E. Smith and Ellen Cleghorne, Kevin Nealon, Jay Mohr, Michael McKean, Chris Elliott, Laura Kightlinger and Morwenna Banks.
The mass layoffs were one of those periodic “re-inventions” or "housecleanings" that “SNL” goes through every ten or fifteen years or so, typically after election years – 'the '94 election in fact just the year before. At the time, Ohlmeyer blamed the cast, which had “become too big and bloated. The writing needs to be crisper. The show doesn't have enough of a female voice. 'There have been few breakout characters in the last few years. There have been a bunch of guys who I don't think are necessarily focused on doing 'Saturday Night Live.' It was kind of a gig they were doing between movies.''
Sandler's “Happy Gilmore” came out the following year, so – yeah – he certainly had his eye on a brighter future.
Nevertheless, along with that unmistakable glow of nostalgia, there was the slightest of edges last night. Sandler must know he did some of this best work here, which not have seemed all that hard when we're talking about a career that includes “Jack and Jill” and both “Grownups.” But he had a heck of a run here. He certainly had a heck of a return last night.