Eddie Murphy returns to 'Saturday Night Live' and brings Gumby, Buckwheat and Bill Cosby with him

Lizzo, Eddie Murphy and Kenan Thompson on Saturday Night Live. (Photo: Rosalind O'Connor/NBC)
Lizzo, Eddie Murphy and Kenan Thompson on Saturday Night Live. (Photo: Rosalind O'Connor/NBC)

Eddie Murphy returned to Saturday Night Live for the first time in 35 years, and he brought a few familiar faces with him. And we don’t just mean such classic Murphy characters like Mr. Robinson, Buckwheat, Velvet Jones and, of course, Gumby.

Not long after taking the Studio 8H stage — a place he hadn’t visited since February 1984, save for a quick appearance on the show’s 40th anniversary special in 2015 — the biggest star in SNL history was joined by such comedy world luminaries as Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Kenan Thompson, all of whom can trace their own careers to his ‘80s success. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” Rock said, speaking for everyone in that studio. Of course, he also couldn’t resist tweaking his colleague and mentor. “My kids love Lizzo.”

Musical guest Lizzo did indeed justify that love by rocking the mic in her two musical performances. But the night was all about Murphy, who had the audience — both those in the room and everyone else watching at home — in the palm of his hand from his first joke: “This is the last episode of 2019; but if you’re black this is the first episode since I left back in 1984.”

In the interim, the comic became a major movie star — his latest film, Dolemite Is My Name, is currently streaming on Netflix, and easily ranks among the best of the year — and also a family man. Murphy mentioned that he recently welcomed his 10th kid into the world, and noted how his full house is a far cry from the bachelor image he had in the ‘80s.

“If you would have told me 30 years ago that I would be this boring stay-at-home house dad and Bill Cosby would be in prison, even I would have taken that bet,” he said, before busting out his Cosby impression from back in the day. “Who is America’s dad now?”

The online accolades for Murphy’s hosting gig started rolling in early and often as the episode unfolded.

Even Murphy’s flubs were comedy gold. Midway through the night’s second sketch — a parody of a Nailed It-style cooking competition — he accidentally dropped a swear word, and then pulled an embarrassed double take that proved he really is a dad now.

Heading into the show, it was an open question as to whether Murphy would revisit some of his vintage characters, or if he would insist on all-new material. Turns out that he came ready and willing to play the hits. While neither James Brown nor Stevie Wonder made an appearance, Murphy revived four favorites to huge applause and big laughs. (And that was just from the cast.) Here’s how we’d rank their returns.

4) Buckwheat

The Masked Singer
was the obvious — maybe too obvious — place for Murphy’s not-so-Little Rascal to pop up. Once the mask was off, there wasn’t much to the sketch: just Buckwheat doing his ... um, unique interpretations of such tunes as “Respect,” “Single Ladies” and “Feliz Navidad.” But it’s good to know that he’s still “otay” after all these years.

3) Velvet Jones

Murphy’s smooth-talking salesman nabbed a spot on Black Jeopardy to hawk his line of outdated how-to books, but he came away learning a valuable lesson about modern women. A lesson that he immediately made part of his business plan by updating his oh-so-’70s advice for the Instagram era. Murphy’s flub ratio was highest in this sketch, but the gags went over like Velvet.

2) Mr. Robinson

Hey, kids! Can you say “gentrification”? Murphy’s uptown version of Mr. Rogers has gotten a crash course in that particular lesson in the three decades since we last visited his apartment. “It’s like a magic trick,” Mr. Robinson helpfully explained. “White people pay a lot of money and then — poof! — all the black people are gone.” The only thing that could have made this sketch any better would have been a cameo by Tom Hanks ... in a red sweater, natch.

1) Gumby

As if the top spot was gonna go to anyone else, dammit. While a sizable segment of the current SNL audience probably has no idea who Gumby is, Murphy made sure they’d remember the green claymation star’s name, tearing into “Weekend Update” hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che, and even taking a dig at SNL mastermind Lorne Michaels. “I’m staying here,” Murphy-as-Gumby said to whoops and hollers. “The people want to see me!” Based on his command performance tonight, we want to see him on SNL again real soon.

Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 on NBC

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