It seems obvious now, after watching last night’s episode of “Saturday Night Live” — we all should have known: If any celebrity host was going to help give “SNL” its funniest episode of the season so far, it was going to be Tom Hanks. Who else would it have been? Not even Lin-Manuel Miranda, the most lovable fella in pop culture right now, has Hanks’s long-cultivated status as a national treasure. And in the Oct. 23 episode, he proved once again just why.
After the timid, less than vibrant Emily Blunt-hosted episode, there was a noticeable increase in energy across the board. While the debate cold open was a lot like the debate itself at this point — required, pro forma, exhausting — it’s been a while since “Saturday Night Live” gave us such a consistently good episode. There were more than a few highlights scattered throughout, but here are some of our biggest takeaways of the night…
Monologue: Hit or Miss?
“You’ve got a summer birthday, that’s always tough.”
Hit, but only because it was Tom Hanks. Cashing in on his reputation as “America’s Dad,” the episode’s monologue had Hanks fully channeling his inner Mr. Rogers to give a much-needed pep talk to his offscreen son, America itself. While there were more than a few smart zingers packed in there (“You’re a lot gayer now than you used to be!”) the monologue itself was also strangely comforting in a way, thanks in most part because of Hanks’ genuine dedication to the bit. Whether we knew it or not, hearing Tom Hanks tell us that it’s all going to be okay is something we needed. Good job, “SNL.”
While Cecily Strong had a great night and Tom Hanks was consistent throughout, the most surprising performance of the night came from Kenan Thompson, who managed the high-wire act of “Black Jeopardy” — with Tom Hanks as a Trump-loving, gun-packing, denim-covered farmer — with a sparkle and a cleverness Thompson rarely gets to show. Shepherding the sketch — from silly, to touching, to dangerous — was completely in Thompson’s hands and, with the help of Sasheer Zamata and Leslie Jones, managed to make it into something meaningful, funny, relevant and universal.
Weirdest Sex Joke
This week gave us, without a doubt, the best edition of Weekend Update in quite awhile. Not only did Michael Che and Colin Jost come to play as per usual, but the social and political commentary actually proved worthy of their polished delivery this time around. And the show hit a home run when offering Leslie Jones the chance to take center stage as herself, to fully comment on being hacked earlier this summer by a bunch of internet trolls after a months-long campaign of abuse and harassment.
The way Jones casually worked in lines like “Honey bunches of Jost” and “I keep my Porn in a folder labeled Porn” while also standing up for herself was easily one of the episode’s greatest triumphs. It was a profoundly human moment in an episode that contained quite a few — to see Jones rise against the wave of hatred that defined her 2016 with such strength, intelligence, and humor was nothing short of incredible. The way she included some of her most personal and specific sexual commentary was a brilliant and defiant way to make her point: This week’s “weird” sex jokes were also its best.
Best Returning Character
In addition to her double act with Kate McKinnon that closed out the episode, Cecily Strong also revived a fan favorite for “Weekend Update” — The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With At a Party.
While it was nice to see The Girl return, she’s always been a character that can become tiresome fairly quickly, no matter how stellar a performance Strong gives — so seeing the French Ladies return during the episode’s final “America’s Funniest Pets” sketch, was absolutely unexpected. Once again, their deadpan, morbid narrations of funny cat videos proved reliably funny (especially up against Tom Hanks’s Ron Howard impression, an irritating hit-or-miss) and let McKinnon and Strong show off their skills and chemistry together again.
Most Relatable Sketch
“A Girl’s Halloween” is about as relatable as “Saturday Night Live” gets, focusing on a group of three female friends (Strong, Vanessa Bayer and Aidy Bryant) who despite a plan to keep their Halloween celebrations as low-key as possible, wind up in a series of drunk, messy situations by the end of the night. It’s basically what happens whenever anyone actively plans on staying out of trouble during a holiday in New York City, and featured some seriously strong performances from all three women, and especially Aidy Bryant, who somehow brings a knowing subtlety to even activities like “crashing through plate glass” and “sitting down in an intersection to put on your shoes.”
Best Visual Gag
“100 Floors of Fright” is the perfect example of a sketch that starts out on rocky territory and gradually moves into genius. While the initial reveal of Tom Hanks as David Pumpkins, a character in a “Tower of Terror”-esque Halloween ride dressed in a pumpkin suit and flanked by his dancing skeletons, began somewhat lacking, it quickly became funnier and funnier with each subsequent appearance.
This was thanks to both Kate McKinnon and Beck Bennett’s disappointed and confused observation after each stop (“He has a middle initial now!?!”), and the legitimately funny visual gag of Hanks in a pumpkin-printed suit flanked by dancing skeletons. His final jump scare, just as the weirdly sexual energy of the skeletons (Moynihan and newcomer Mikey Day) was the perfect button on what proved to be one of an already-funny episode’s most hilarious sketches. If there aren’t David Pumpkins gifs flooding social media over the coming weeks, then there’s something seriously wrong with all of us.
“Saturday Night Live” airs at 11:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.