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'SNL' host John Mulaney helms top-notch episode

John Mulaney returned for this second hosting gig

John Mulaney returned for this second hosting gig on "Saturday Night Live," on March 2. Credit: NBC/Will Heath

Finally, a first-rate edition of "Saturday Night Live."

When was the last time you thought those words? (And "well … there was one back in 1975 …" doesn't count.) The best edition this season was back in October (Seth Meyers hosted). The best of the 43rd season were, in order: May 5 (Donald Glover), March 17 (Bill Hader) and April 14 (John Mulaney). John Mulaney also hosted on Saturday. 

John who?

Well, lemme tell you about John who: He was an "SNL" staff writer back in 2008, went on to star in a short-lived, underappreciated sitcom for Fox — wrong network, wrong time. He then, variously, cameoed in some sitcoms and launched a highly successful stand-up career, highlighted by a particularly sensational run on Broadway recently in "Oh, Hello," where he starred alongside Nick Kroll as a doddering Upper West Sider who had seen better times (but, oh, what times they were.)

Currently, he's one of the proprietors of "Documentary Now!," a sendup of docs that just launched a new season on IFC. His recent episode was a production of the original cast-album of a fictional Stephen Sondheim musical, "Co Op" — roughly based on D.A. Pennebaker's 1970 film about the cast album of "Company."

You may not need to know all this to appreciate Mulaney's performance — and edition — last night, but some context does help. He's a New Yorker with a keen appreciation of musical theater. That helps to explain the single best sketch of SNL's  43rd season — "Diner Lobster," which he co-wrote with Colin Jost years ago and only got to see light of day in the episode he hosted last April.

It further explains the single best sketch of the 2018-19 season so far: "Bodega Bathroom," about a bodega customer (Pete Davidson) who asks Big Nick's Bodega owner (John Mulaney) for a key to use the bathroom. Into the bathroom he goes, setting off a musical gumbo, with "SNL" cast-performed outtakes from "Cats," "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," "Little Shop of Horrors," and "Rent." In a sense, this was the sequel to "Diner Lobster" -- equally outrageous, equally brilliant, and based on "Les Miz." 

Every sketch worked last night, with the standouts including "Cha Cha Slide," Legal Shark Tank," "What's That Name," and "To Have and Have Not" -- the latter starring the protean Kate McKinnon in various, and failed, attempts to whistle (Recall Lauren Bacall's famous line to Humphrey Bogart from the movie). "Chad Horror Movie" gave Davidson one of a few close-ups last night -- all reminders of why he's such a valuable cast-member.

Then there was Mulaney's guest monologue — itself another reminder why this is the most disposable part of every show, except when the monologue is delivered by a professional stand-up like Mulaney. This one was very funny, especially for professional subway straphangers. 

The cold open, starring Ben Stiller as Michael Cohen? Please, that one should have written itself, but with Mulaney pal and Stefon co-creator Bill Hader as an apoplectic doofus Rep. Jim Jordan, somehow the writing and open seemed even brighter.

So, all-in-all we got a winner this Saturday night, falling in the midst of a subpar season. Maybe Mulaney should return next week?


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