Saturday Night Live recap: John Mulaney returns for Halloween episode with musical guest the Strokes

Andy Hoglund
·12 min read

Boo! Welcome, my fellow Coneheads, to a particularly spooky SNL in Review! From David S. Pumpkins, to Matt Foley’s scary story, Saturday Night Live has an illustrious history producing memorable Halloween-themed sketches. Tonight’s show, hosted by John Mulaney with musical guests the Strokes, is only the fourth episode in the show’s history to fall on Halloween itself, and the first since season 18’s show hosted by Catherine O’Hara. (Her spine-tingling monologue remains a personal favorite; she should host again!) The original Halloween SNL occurred in the fourth episode of season 7, hosted by Halloween's Dr. Sam Loomis himself, Donald Pleasence. That show featured the notorious and famously chaotic musical performance from Fear, which you can view here.

I am joined tonight by former SNL cast member, Dan Vitale! He has been in New York City for over 40 years, and says the city “isn't the nightmare it felt like last spring,” when it had a Vietnam War vibe, due to the pandemic. As a long-time stand-up comic, and someone who’s worked with Lorne Michaels on a number of shows, I asked him about SNL doing live shows as COVID-19 cases are on the rise. His response: “If they're going to do the show at all, I guess they have got to try and make at least a limited live audience work, or what's the point? That Zoom biz ain't cutting it...I gotta figure they're testing, taking temperatures, making staff people distance, they wouldn't wanna put a taint on the franchise, especially in light of the fact that venerated SNL musical director Hal Willner was sadly an early fatality from COVID.”

Still, he says he is watching tonight “if only to see if John Mulaney can keep the streak of solid stand-up opening monologues, i.e. Chris Rock/Bill Burr. If you think about it, SNL’s probably the only place you can see fresh stand-up (right now). I don't believe the big talk shows have returned to even a limited live audience. I've seen a bit of Mulaney before, he's sharp — smart funny — (and) he's probably psyched to host having gotten his start on SNL as a writer.”

Indeed as Vitale says, Mulaney is a former SNL writer, and one of the best stand-ups around. It makes sense to give him the ball. Tonight is his fourth hosting gig — his last time in the arena was the SNL Leap Year show in February. (It feels like a lifetime but was only eight short months ago!) This is also the Strokes’ fourth time on the show — they first performed way back in season 27. Buckle up for a fright fest, gang! (And queue Fire Marshall Biden in ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...)

Cold Open

With almost 48 hours exactly until Election Day, we get a holiday message from Former Vice President Joe Biden (Jim Carrey). “It’s a spooky time … but also Halloween!” He reminds us about the next holiday: Election Day! He wants to read us a scary story — no not Trigger, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven! It’s been tailored to be about the current state of play. Hillary Clinton (Kate McKinnon) pops up: “We lost before!” instead of “Nevermore!” She warns him about pending doom.

“I was wrong before!” says super wonk Nate Silver (Mikey Day), who lays out the odds. It is fun having Carrey deliver the poem.

Chris Redd and Kenan Thompson pop up to play Trump supporters Ice Cube and Lil Wayne. Thompson has played Cube on the show before. And Wayne — who has performed as the musical guest several times on the show — was impersonated by Jay Pharoah on the February 12, 2011, episode during Weekend Update. Next up is Kamala Harris (Maya Rudolph) and Mitch McConnell (Beck Bennett). The Kentucky Senator has “Old Man Purple” - his blood hates his body. Rudolph implores the crowd to vote on Tuesday. “Gain an hour and lose a president!” Carrey hollers.

Vitale says: “I've never loved this Alec Baldwin/Trump schtick, they seem to go on forever … This Jim Carrey/Biden thing looks troublesome. I hear he's been criticized for playing it too intense or manic, but what would people expect? It's Jim Carrey for chrissake.”

He also mentions “Cecily Strong showing up as Trump’s screaming daughter-in-law was a stroke of brilliant comedy.”

The elephant in the room? Season 46 has been lively and fun for the most part so far: these cold opens are a flat tire, however, and it takes these episodes a bit to recover.

As the show gets underway, Vitale wonders: “Is it just me, or are those opening credits endless? I know they're trying to be more diverse but how many friggin featured players do you need?”

Monologue

Dressed in a crisp suit as always, Mulaney welcomes the crowd. The stage is filled with fun jack-o-lanterns. He says comedians are “last responders.” He riffs about New Yorkers wearing masks. (Vitale comments on New York City and COVID-19: “Maybe the shutdown actually worked, people have surprisingly been good about wearing masks.”) Other topics include a bit about Governor Andrew Cuomo using “smurf language” and getting into fights with his family, comparing his press conferences to a binge show. “On November 3rd there is an elderly man contest,” he jokes of the election. He claims nothing will change if Biden wins, which does not track. That does lead into a nice digression about Jane Lynch being ubiquitous on TV. Mulaney’s 94-year-old Nana is voting, which he finds objectionable.

One bit of trivia about Mulaney’s grandmother: she and the mother of Seth Meyers once performed together in a hospital benefit show in Massachusetts over 60 years ago. His Mass. roots go back: Mulaney's maternal great-grandfather was George Bates, a mayor of Salem, who also served as a congressman. His maternal great-uncle is William Bates, who also served as a congressman. There is always a Massachusetts connection, especially in comedy.

As Vitale mentioned, it is great to see a live stand-up playing off an audience in these modern times. And, mechanics of their faulty political material aside, this is a definite lane, a niche that distinguishes the show at the moment. Vitale says: “I watched the first show, mostly to see Chris Rock's monologue. He didn't disappoint nor did Bill Burr's the next week. It kind of harkens back to the very beginning of the show in the fall of 1975. I think, if not mistaken, the first three hosts were the three iconic stand-ups of their time George Carlin, Robert Klein, Richard Pryor. So that part worked for me… The cold openings not so much.”

Cinema Classics

Ah, Thompson returns as Reese Da’What in this recurring segment, Cinema Classics. This is the sixth time SNL has done this sketch. This time, Tippi Hedren (Kate McKinnon) is being tormented in Hitchcock’s The Birds. “The birds, just birded a man to death!” Goofy. As always, this is an opportunity for Kate to mug.

“The birds weren’t raised right!” as hijinks ensue. It might be time to retire this.

Strollin' music video

Punkie Johnson, Ego Nwodim (Just Michelle!), Redd, and Thompson sing a '70s anthem about the opportunity to vote. But Mulaney is an election official, who informs them all their polling stations have closed. They’re “Strollin' to the polls” but the message is how black voters are reportedly being disenfranchised and intimidated. Lots of waiting in line, a contract to Heidi Gardner’s character, who had a very pleasant experience at the polls, “I Voted!” sticker. This is very pointed, and important.

Sleepy Hollow, 1790

Casting Mulaney as Ichabod Crane is hilarious. “Ichabod Crane!” yells the Headless Horseman (Beck Bennett). Instead of being scared, Crane — and later William (Pete Davidson) — are curious about the ghost’s sexual proclivities. He has … flexibility. “Now I am sending you both to Hell!” he’s enraged, rightfully. Mikey Day is concerned about the clean-up. The town is full of Puritans.

“Things are coming to a head,” chuckles Crane, after William steals the head. Gross. Did Lorne write this?!

New York tribute

Chris Redd, Heidi Gardner, and Ego Nwodim salute the wonderful efforts of New Yorkers are Kate McKinnon’s dancing older woman mugs in the background. “She’s not not a professor at Columbia,” they speculate.

New Yorkers hold up signs saying "Thank You", which is touching and heartfelt.

The Strokes — “The Adults Are Talking”

The Strokes’ latest album, The New Abnormal, is their first in seven years — it is easily one of the best projects of 2020. Tonight they are performing the opening track on the album, “The Adults Are Talking.” Julian Casablancas is unusually subdued on the vocals for most of this, as the song is driven by a peppy snare drum and classic Strokes bass line. Another very fun SNL musical performance, bueno.

Dan Vitale says: “Those guys have been together a long time, I think they took a decade or so off. That longevity is rare in the rock world,” adding it is “fun to see how the 'old guys' are holding up. A rock band in their 40's on SNL is the equivalent of the Chicago White Sox hiring 76-year-old Tony LaRussa as their new manager. When you get older you start considering these things victories!”

Weekend Update

The recently married Colin Jost jumps into the election, and Trump’s “winning message.” The crowd loudly boos at the president’s “gaslighting” about COVID-19 and doctors. Jost compares Trump to Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy — in appearance and behavior.

Michael Che tackles Lil Wayne’s Trump endorsement, and says — as a reminder — “rappers are not black leaders.” He jokes about former SNL cast member Gilbert Gottfried solving issues in Israel, which is hilarious. He ponders whether he and Jost will get drafted in the upcoming “race war,” referencing Jost’s new marriage. Jost is very explicit: he is exhausted by Trump and wants him gone. The crowd is behind him - Biden is America’s designated driver. (They also show this admittedly badass shot of Barack Obama on the basketball court.)

Kyle Mooney is back as Baby Yoda, which he has done on Update before. This is bizarre — from the voice to the makeup/costume. “Fuego ideas … let me dance more! Hey!” he slithers out. “Take it easy on the DMs, yo! Dang, You wanna do what to Baby Yoda?!” He is a fan favorite, to be sure. Apparently, he has appeared on the Joe Rogan podcast to discuss his new cannabis product. His brand includes Dago Bud and Wookie Cookies. He disses Baby Groot, as well.

With the presidential election days away, Vitale comments: “I'm going with conventional wisdom that this country wouldn't get taken twice by the same con man, this Trump is like a carnival barker who sells you a juicer that falls apart the second you get it home, why in the world would you ever go back and buy something from him again? Then again, never underestimate the ignorance of a large portion of the American people.”

“I don't know what I dread more: this lunatic Trump pulling it out a second time, and what havoc he'd heap on with four more years, or more likely he loses and what kind of retribution he can enact in his two and a half month lame duck. This guy is spiteful, I don't put any act of revenge past him.”

Big Nick’s Souvenirs

This again. OK, sure, yes — this was an instant classic the first time they did it, with Les Mis and the Lobster Diner. This time? Redd and Davidson are patronizing a Times Square store during the pandemic. Pete wants to purchase "I Heart NY" underwear. Absurdity and Broadway medleys begin. Thompson is the Times Square Minion. They begin a spoof singalong of “Luck Be a Lady” from Guys & Dolls.

Bowen Yang is Batman, which I need Warner Brothers to do ASAP. Lauren Holt is from Frozen. Alex Moffat plays Times Square Elmo, with Melissa Villaseñor as Minnie. Then Kate McKinnon appears as the Bubba Gimp shrimp mascot — she laments the lack of tourists visiting their location in a parody of “Send in the Clowns.” “Even Tim Horton’s has closed/Canadians weep.” A fun montage, saluting NYC’s many landmarks under siege during the pandemic.

Beck Bennett is the Diddler on the Roof. Maya Rudolph returns for her second sketch of the night — she is the Statue of the Liberty, who has lived through a lot — Warhol, the ‘86 Mets, CBGB. “And I’m here!” Chloe Fineman is a woman from Westchester with COVID - A+ singing voice. A homeless man played by Mikey Day scares her off, asking where former host Rick Moranis is. They finish with more Les Mis.

I am sure theater kids out there are digging this. Me? Diminishing returns! Sorry!

The Strokes - “Bad Decisions”

Produced by Rick Rubin, the Billy Idol homage “Bad Decisions” was the second single off The New Abnormal. One of the strongest tracks, this is vintage Strokes that also doubles as an exceptional soundtrack to 2020. Casablancas ends the performance crouched in a pose, contemplative. Great stuff.

Uncle Meme

Ron (Mulaney) works at Brenner Goods. His nephew is Tyler (Davidson), who has memed him — again. You may remember this exact sketch from last February. Mulaney is belligerent (for good reason), and these memes are obviously designed to go viral.

The catch is Mulaney’s Uncle Ron is, indeed, pervy. Not sure we needed this repeated. (Seems to me recurring characters used to exist in new situations within the show; now it’s like the same premise repeated with only slight variations.)

Final thoughts

-So, what did you think?! Crying from laughter … or tears? Comment below or vote here:

-Thank you to Dan Vitale for joining us tonight, and sharing his thoughts!

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