SNL: Demi Lovato, Tracy Morgan, Kenan Thompson (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in October 2015.

A little over a year after emerging from a terrible car accident that nearly killed him, Tracy Morgan called up his “co-Obi-Wan Kenobi” Lorne Michaels (whom he loves like his daddy) to let him know that he wanted to come home as soon as he got on his feet. There was legitimate concern that he would have trouble making it through the grind of the whole 90 minutes, or if he could even walk on his own. He acknowledges in his monologue that his mental capacity may not be at 100%, but the truth is, it never has been. This is perhaps the biggest and most successful comeback story in “SNL” history, as the returns of Tracy’s most beloved characters, the show really hitting its stride with its election cycle material, and gratifying trips into the bizarre make for the best episode of the season thus far.

Democratic Presidential Debate – Seven years ago, an emergent political figure bore a striking resemblance to an “SNL” cast member. Tina Fey was no longer on the show, but it still felt inevitable that she would play Sarah Palin. This cycle’s doppelganger did not promise quite the same certainty, as Bernie Sanders’ “SNL” alum twin has a much more contentious history with the show. But sometimes, you just gotta focus on the comedy, with Larry David’s excellent cameo as the Vermont senator perhaps unwittingly committing him to at least a year’s worth of guest appearances. The shoe certainly fits, as Bernie’s propensity to spout percentages and esoteric facts sounds a lot like dialogue from “Seinfeld” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Elsewhere, Kate McKinnon continues her superstar turn as Hillary, with her debate version relating to millenials with accuracy but also insanity. And those other guys are a mix of barely present, just happy to be there, and (Alec Baldwin-portrayed) delusional. A-

Tracy Morgan’s Monologue – Tracy gives his intro over to a three-minute reunion of “30 Rock,” in the guise of footage from the original series that supposedly predicted his accident and recovery. It really does feel like this could be from an actual “30 Rock” episode at first, what with that show’s live episodes and propensity for time-shifting whip pans. This is more than just a clever setup for a possibly not-100% Tracy to have support from some familial co-stars, and it is also further evidence of how even though “30 Rock” is invested in the details of pop culture ephemera, it still manages to be timeless. B+

Family Feud – Game show sketches are formulaic. Conflict involving divorced families is predictable. But combining the two makes for a vibrant mix, as this battle between a divorced woman’s brood and her ex’s new family makes for her an accurately titled edition of “Family Feud.” The elements of this particular show are well suited to drawing laughs out of this clash, as Steve Harvey’s saucy style stirs the pot and the necessary “chance to steal” gag gets the job done. B

Brian Fellow’s Safari Planet – Tracy Morgan’s iconic sketch about an enthusiastic, but buffoonish animal lover is an excellent example of a surreally concocted character, but it is just as susceptible to formula as every other recurring piece. Luckily, it has a perfect element for messing with the routine: living critters. Thus – even with Tracy screaming at a smoking cartoon beaver, “You don’t even know me, Daddy!” – Elizabeth the Camel indiscriminately walking in front of the camera is the star of this sketch. B

Mitchell’s Fake Cocaine – The concept of passing oneself off as cool via false claims of drug use is a ripe comedic concept, but what this commercial parody is really advertising is confidence in spite of making party fouls. Beck Bennett’s shill for not-very-effective excuses is just trying to make sure he has something to offer the social world, even when his stomach refuses to cooperate. B

Demi Lovato – “Cool for the Summer” and “Confident” – Demi Lovato is not going to win a lot of pretentious converts over to loving pop, as her music is typically slick and heavily produced. But she is a polished performer, so she excels on stage. Imbuing “Cool for the Summer” with plenty of horns cleverly combines a nightclub feel with that hit’s streetwise sensibility. It would be a lot of fun to stick with that, but then she segues into “Confident” and lives up to that title like no one else ever has on the “SNL” music stage. B+

Weekend Update – Michael and Colin’s extended bit of the week takes to task the strange notion that outsider presidential candidates tout their lack of political experience. Their point is well-taken, and sharper than most “SNL” political points these days, but it also feels sadly useless, as the people who really need to hear it are the unreasonable folks who are not going to listen anyway. In the meantime, though, we will take jokes about how Colin would not be a strong candidate, as his work password still has a 69 in it. Elsewhere, Michael’s take on the toddler who shot his grandmother in the back “like a coward” is sharp, fearless, and commonsensical. Michael and Colin’s Grade: B
Weekend Update: Tina Fey – “SNL” viewers can count on the former Update anchor for a solidly feminist take on the end of nude photos in Playboy. Tina is great here because she avoids a lecture. She could be excoriating about the normalization of pornography, but instead she wants to participate, and her pitch for the importance of coding and “arm butts” makes the case that Internet sex needs to be more imaginative. B
Weekend Update: Willie (and Woodrow) – Kenan’s improbably permanently positive neighbor recounts some truly hellish Halloweens and then brings out his life coach, Woodrow. Willie may or may not have been directly inspired by Tracy Morgan’s eccentric homeless guy, but their spiritual connection is clear. The evocative imagery in Willie’s tales harks back to a time (about ’97-’04) when “SNL” was more adventurous in the settings of its recurring characters. Willie is amusing on Update, but he might be able to resonate even more if we get to actually see whatever shack he is currently living in. B

The Loveliest Kingdom – A sketch whose focus at first appears to be Clockmaker Bernard’s (Morgan) graphic attempts to loosen up the uptight residents of a fairy tale town turns into something much more uncomfortable and then ends too abruptly to clarify its point of view. The disgusted reactions to the affair between Taran Killam and Jon Rudnitsky’s characters very unfortunately come off like gay panic. There is an indication that the unease might be more a concern that this pairing is between an adult and a child, although it is never clear what the age difference is exactly. This scene leaves a bad taste in the mouth and does not give itself a chance to clean itself out. C-

The Standoff – The comical misinterpretation that an actual dance is being requested when hoofing metaphors are used in fighting language is an obvious one, but that connection is not always as committed as it is in this filmed piece. Tracy Morgan might not have a typical dancer’s body, but he does have the right shoes, and the right spirit. The only disappointment is that it all cuts short before the tango really gets going. B

Demi Lovato – “Stone Cold” – Demi’s second performance has straightforward lyrics that make for a fairly simple ballad, but once again her live chops make for an intense outing whose emotional power does its best to make up for any shortcomings. B-

Yo! Where Jackie Chan at Right Now? (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – Great comedy does not always need to make sense, but unabated weirdness can be a crapshoot. This talk show dedicated to the search for the drunken master finds the sweet spot in that spectrum. This is not illogical so much as its logic is based on another dimension, or another realm of the mind. A-

Astronaut Jones in “The Martian” – The return of our favorite hedonistic spacefarer barely qualifies as a parody of the current Matt Damon space movie. To be fair, that would be a little difficult to pull off within the context of the incorrigible Mr. Jones’ adventures. These Morgan/Goldfarb Productions are so quick and charming that there is no reason to complain, especially with a pink-haired Demi Lovato joining in on the fun. B

Notes & Quotes:
-Larry David as Bernie Sanders’ material consists of the security of bank pens attached to the counter, the ease of rounding up geese, struggles with password retrieval, and confusion over where to place his elbows on the podium.
-Hillary’s reaction to the e-mail scandal: “Ahhhh! Sorry, just clearing my throat, go on.”
-Willie used to work for “Old Man Jeff Dahmer” and always got a full home-cooked meal.
-“Jackie Chan was in movies as well as karate.”
-“We checked with Asia. He’s not there.”
-“This call is over. Case dismissed!”
-“You fat dummy! Jackie Chan is 26!”
-Leslie Jones, do you have any sense of where Jackie Chan was heading next? “I don’t know. Downtown?” “Okay, write that down.”
-“Okay, so far we know that Jackie Chan was in ‘Rush Hour,’ ‘Shanghai Noon,’ and ‘Rush Hour 2.’” “We know that he was born in Asia but didn’t necessarily stay there.” “And we know that he is somewhere between 4 and 7 feet tall.”
-During the thank you’s, Tracy calls Jane Krakowski “Jane Karowski,” prompting her and Tina Fey to adorably crack up.