To properly celebrate the occasion of Saturday Night Live‘s first-ever coast-to-coast live telecast, Studio 8H blasted out the sounds of David Bowie from sea to shining sea. Dispensing with the traditional monologue, host Jimmy Fallon instead led an elaborate song-and-dance number scored to the dearly departed rock icon’s 1983 favorite, “Let’s Dance.” It was a curtain raiser that Fallon owed, in part, to his “History of Rap” collaborator, Justin Timberlake, who earned major kudos for kicking off this year’s Oscar ceremony with an infectious rendition of his own hit, “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” But it was also a canny live TV stunt that was best experienced in real time, with the country singing and Tweeting along. Luckily, NBC cleared the musical licensing fees so it can be watched as a video clip the morning after, thus ensuring that if you missed SNL last night, you’re not SOL.
“Let’s Dance” was certainly a more lively beginning than the obligatory Trump-dominated cold open, which Alec Baldwin seemed so eager to get through, he practically speed-read his lines. (After tonight, he’s only got three episodes left before he hangs up his toupee, and the looming relief is palpable.) Much like in the actual Oval Office, all the hard work seemed to fall to boy wonder Jared Kushner, amusingly played by Fallon with a silent swagger that recalled a Risky Business-era Tom Cruise. Steve Bannon’s Grim Reaper visage proved no match for Kushner’s Fallon-fueled smirk: Trump’s troubled chief strategist was “fired” back to the fiery pits of Hades, allowing Jared to take his seat in Oval Office, while POTUS continued to play happily with his Expandaball at a smaller workstation. But the real Kushner may not appreciate being depicted as the victor in the closely watched power struggle between himself and Bannon. After all, Trump was reportedly irked the last time that SNL suggested that he doesn’t get to sit at the big boy desk.
Best Sketch: “Before the Show”
Just when you thought that SNL‘s resident team of Drama Club veterans couldn’t top “Crucible Cast Party,” along comes this spot-on recreation of what middle school theater nerds hope their big musical production sounds like… and what it actually sounds like, right down to the unintelligible lyrics and painfully awkward choreography.
Worst Sketch: “Celebrity Family Feud: Time Travel Edition”
Okay, so casting Fallon as both the ’77 and ’17 versions of John Travolta was a nice touch. Too bad the other celebrity impressions were so listless, from Harry Styles’s twitchy Mick Jagger to Kate McKinnon’s humdrum Kristen Stewart. Bring back Black Jeopardy!
Saved by the Punchline: “Take Me Back”
Jimmy Fallon serenading ex-girlfriend Cecily Strong with Savage Garden’s 1997 pop chestnut was a sketch in search of a point until Strong put the exact right button on it: “You dragged a man off of a plane this week!” In another year or two, that joke — plus the bonus gag about Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial — won’t make a lot of sense, but right now it gets bonus points (and big laughs) for timeliness.
Best Mea Culpa: “Easter Message from Sean Spicer”
The Press Secretary’s many gaffes this week allowed Melissa McCarthy to get an Easter Bunny-sized jump on her upcoming May 13 hosting gig. Here, McCarthy’s Spicer apologized for that whole Hitler/Holocaust Centers gaffe — “I clearly meant to say ‘Concentration Clubs!'” — in his typical defensive and angry way. You might worry that McCarthy will run out of jokes before hosting next week, but the way these White House press sessions have been going, that doesn’t seem likely.
Best Offspring: Sully and Denise’s Daughter
Wanna feel ancient? Zazu and Sully a.k.a. the Boston Teens a.k.a. Rachel Dratch and Fallon are now old enough to have a college-aged daughter. In a casting masterstroke, McKinnon plays the unlucky child—an apparent straight arrow named Denise. Hey, if classic SNL characters are spawning, can Aidy Bryant play Debbie Downer Jr.?
Episode MVP: The Turtle Shirt
On a spotty night for writing, it was a low-tech, but very funny special effect that stole the show. Place the Turtle Shirt alongside Colon Blow, Mom Jeans and the Happy Fun Ball as one of the SNL products we’d most like to own.
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. on NBC. Watch clips and full episodes of SNL for free on Yahoo View.