It took 35 years, but Eddie Murphy came back to host “Saturday Night Live.”
The last time Murphy hosted the show, it was Dec. 15, 1984, just a few months after this one-time wunderkind (who joined “S.N.L.” when he was 19 years old) quit the program to focus on his flourishing film career. In the sketches that aired that night, he revisited several of his beloved characters, including Buckwheat, Gumby and Mr. Robinson.
Tonight, in an episode that also featured the musical guest Lizzo, Murphy returned to those characters once again. But first, in an opening monologue, he updated the audience on the last several years of his life and received tributes from a few surprise guests.
Taking the stage of NBC’s Studio 8H, Murphy told “S.N.L.” viewers: “This is the last episode of 2019. But if you’re black, this is the first episode since I left back in 1984.”
He then showed a photograph of himself when he was still an “S.N.L.” cast member. “Yeah, I look at least five years younger there,” Murphy said. “You know what they always say: Money don’t crack.”
Among the ways that his life has changed since then, Murphy said, is that “I have 10 kids now — 11 if you count Kevin Hart.” He added, “If you had told me 30 years ago that I would be this boring stay-at-home house dad and Bill Cosby would be in jail, even I would have took that bet.” Slipping into his Cosby impersonation, Murphy said, “Who is America’s Dad now?”
Tracy Morgan, a fellow “S.N.L.” alum, joined Murphy onstage and offered him praise. “If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be here,” Morgan told him. “Like, literally. I was conceived on the ‘Delirious’ tour bus.”
Chris Rock, who was also an “S.N.L.” cast member before becoming a stand-up superstar, said that the show’s creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels had compared him to Murphy when he joined the show.
“When I got hired, Lorne told me, ‘You’re going to be the next Eddie Murphy,” Rock said. “And then a year later he said, ‘No, you’re not.’”
Dave Chappelle, another titan of stand-up, told Murphy he had been an inspiration. “I followed your blueprint for my entire career,” Chappelle said. “I became the biggest star on television and then I quit.”
Looking over the assembled group, Chappelle said, “Right now you’re looking at half of Netflix’s budget, right here onstage.”
Morgan said: “Not me. I made all my millions on the road.”
Murphy asked, “You mean touring?”
Morgan replied, “No, I got hit by a truck.”
Mr. Robinson Sketch of the Week
In the first of several segments in which Murphy reprised his former “S.N.L.” characters, he donned the sweater and sneakers of Mr. Robinson, his Mr. Rogers parody, who told viewers that his neighborhood had changed considerably since the last time they saw him.
As Murphy sang in his opening song:
I was gone for a bit, but now I’m all right.
My neighbors was all black, but now they white.
The check cashing place turned into a bank.
Elevator works and the stairs they don’t stink.
The white people came and changed everything,
But I am still your neighbor.
He also taught his audience about the word “gentrification”: “It’s like a magic trick,” Murphy said. “White people pay a lot of money and then poof, all the black people are gone.”
Buckwheat Sketch of the Week
What started out looking like a straightforward lampoon of Fox’s reality competition series “The Masked Singer” took a turn when Chris Redd (playing the show’s host, Nick Cannon) introduced a new contestant, dressed in a giant corn-on-the-cob costume, who began crooning “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in an almost unintelligible patois.
It was, of course, Murphy, playing his version of Buckwheat, the old “Our Gang” character, who went onto sing other popular tunes including “Dine, Teal, Dawibba,” “I Chot Da Chariff” and “Tinga Nadies.”
Melissa Villaseñor, playing the panelist Nicole Scherzinger, told Murphy, “We’ve missed you these past 30 years.” He told her not to worry, saying, “Wherever I am, I’m doing o-tay.”
Democratic Debate Sketch of the Week
You know how these celebrity-laden, impression-heavy segments go, so we’ll give you a quick rundown of who played whom and what their best lines were:
Heidi Gardner as the moderator Judy Woodruff: “Just like ‘The Bachelor,’ the further we go, the less diverse it gets.”
Kate McKinnon as Elizabeth Warren: “I’m here and I am in my element. PBS is my safe word. Last debate, I gave you policy T.M.I., and now I am ready to walk it back.”
Colin Jost as Pete Buttigieg: “I’m the only person on this stage who isn’t a millionaire or billionaire. I live on my mayor’s salary plus a $20 a week allowance from my parents, and that’s only if I do my chores.”
Larry David as Bernie Sanders: “Look at me. Are you really surprised that my main concern is the temperature?” He added: “Let me tell you, no matter how hot the earth gets I will not wear shorts. I swim in corduroy.”
Fred Armisen as Michael Bloomberg, explaining his uninvited appearance at the debate: “For $30 million, PBS is now owned by viewers like me.”
Yes, there was also an appearance by Alec Baldwin as President Trump (who said he was there “so you people will actually watch this little freak show”), and McKinnon changed costumes mid-sketch to reappear as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose Christmas gift to Trump was two articles of impeachment.
Weekend Update Jokes of the Week
Over at the Weekend Update desk, the anchors, Colin Jost and Michael Che, made a Christmas joke swap and riffed on the latest impeachment news.
On Wednesday, the House voted to impeach President Trump. But Nancy Pelosi refuses to send the articles to the Senate until they guarantee a fair trial. So now we’re all in this weird limbo where no one knows exactly what’s going on, there’s this cast of wild characters making fools of themselves, and everyone is thinking, “Please, God, just let this end.” So basically it’s “Cats.”
In a letter to Nancy Pelosi, Trump claimed that he has been treated worse than those accused in the Salem witch trials. You know where they set women on fire for, like, wearing pants. Well, according to Donald Trump, impeachment is, like, literally worse than that. I’m a little disappointed in Donald Trump. I knew he would snap but I thought it would be fun like Tupac in ’96. This is more sad like Britney in ’07.
Gumby Sketch of the Week
In another welcome head-fake, Jost began to set up a joke about Mitch McConnell, only to be interrupted by Murphy, playing his dyspeptic version of Gumby, the venerable clay-animated character.
Murphy joined Jost and Che at the Weekend Update desk, mostly to bellow out his famous catchphrase, “I’m Gumby, damn it,” and to roast the two anchors.
“I’ve passed kidney stones with more personality than the two of you,” Murphy told them. “Face it, kid, the two of you together couldn’t Velcro my sneakers.” (Meanwhile, if you were hoping to see Murphy’s old character Velvet Jones, he turned up in a “Black Jeopardy” sketch later in the show.)