Jimmy Fallon, Melissa McCarthy (“the Spice”), Alec Baldwin (“the Trump”) and a 42-year-old TV franchise were all part of TV history Saturday when “Saturday Night Live” finally and fully embraced that “live” mandate. Coast to coast, from sea to shining sea, “SNL” aired at the same time in New York and in California.
A big deal? Technically, yes. Creatively, a little less so. Coast to coast, live or taped, “SNL” remained much as it’s been all season. Sometimes good, more often less so, this “SNL” was supposed to be an event (or, an EVENT) but couldn’t quite get past the nonevent parts.
Asleep or otherwise engaged, here’s what you missed:
Baldwin returned in the cold open as “45,” with Beck Bennett as Mike Pence, and cue to jokes about bombing ISIS, Angela Merkel (“little German boy”), and his unintentional self-comparison to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (“I take North Korea seriously ... he’s a warmonger, quick to anger, a huge narcissist, a huge haircut ... why would a man like that run an entire country...?”).
Fallon made his entrance as Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, then — with the cold open over — he segued to his comfort zone, as impersonator of the famous and instantly recognizable. Skipping a monologue, he went straight to a cover of David Bowie’s 1983 hit, “Let’s Dance,” with full chorus and support. That was his best moment of the night, and probably the best overall of the night, too. Meanwhile, ’80s funk guitarist Nile Rodgers, who co-produced the album with Bowie, was also in the open. For Bowie fans, and for Fallon ones, that was easily the winner of the night. (A monologue? Not necessarily a Fallon strength anyway.)
His next best moment followed, as John Travolta, in a “Celebrity Family Feud” skit. Best of this bit: He played Travolta circa “Welcome Back, Kotter,” on one panel, and Travolta circa “Be Cool” (or name a movie circa ’00s), while musical guest Harry Styles played Mick Jagger and Cecily Strong a nearly perfect Liza Minnelli.
But what would a Fallon “SNL” re-entry be without at least one instance of breaking character? He did that in a novel way — by dashing just below the range of the camera, or attempting to anyway, while he transitioned from one Travolta to the next. The studio audience laughed, probably a national one, too.
How big a night was this for Fallon? Bigger for him than for “SNL”: He’s in a battle with Stephen Colbert for late-night dominance, which he and NBC have ceded to Colbert’s “Late Show.” (For the moment, anyway.) Fallon mostly stayed away from politics — his glaring weakness most nights anyway — and stayed within his comfort zone: music.
For plenty of viewers, Fallon wasn’t even the biggest of reasons to watch this historic edition — which included McCarthy’s reprisal of Trump press secretary Sean Spicer, cosplaying an Easter bunny — but Harry Styles, who performed his new hit single “Sign of the Times.” Fallon, who performed in plenty of skits last night, but still seemed missing for most of the show, was probably happy to cede the stage and spotlight, for a change.