Let us now praise the comedy wonder that is Jim Carrey.
Carrey rose to prominence in the early 90’s as “the white guy” on the Wayans Brothers’ sketch comedy series In Living Color. While his “Fire Marshal Bill” demonstrated Carrey’s slapstick genius at its darkest, other popular characterizations from the hit show promised the kind of crossover appeal that would eventually make him the decade’s biggest comedy star.
It’s been twenty years since Carrey’s first Ace Ventura “alrighty then!” and a decade since his most critically acclaimed film performance in Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. His glee-full face still twists like it did in The Mask, though it snaps back with a few more wrinkles now.
Still, in the fourth episode of Saturday Night Live’s 40th season, Jim Carrey played like a kid in a comedy candy store: all in, balls out… like an actor with something to prove, completely unaware that, well, he’s Jim Carrey.
This was a rock solid episode of SNL, and a worthy entry among the best of the show’s illustrious Halloween episodes (Though, will anything ever top last season’s Wes Anderson horror trailer: “The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders”?) The writing was sharp and funny (I’m no fan of the SNL musical monologue, but Carrey’s “Helvis” was inspired), the cast well-used… even the show’s directing took an unusually creative turn with the evening’s best sketch, “Halloween Party,” a Carrey-Kate McKinnon dance-off parody of Sia’s “Chandelier” music video, that really must be seen to be believed.
After the tart but ultimately perfunctory Ebola-themed Cold Open, the show kicked into high gear with “Carrey Family Reunion” and never looked back. The idea that Jim Carrey’s extended family inspired all of his most iconic characters was a great way to both acknowledge its guest host’s comedy stature, while immunizing him from self-parody or cliché. Carrey took the good-natured send-ups of his most recognizable roles in stride—the highlight of which was a surprise visit from Dumb and Dumber To co-star Jeff Daniels mirroring Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas to perfection.
We all knew (prayed?) that SNL would eventually get around to riffing on Matthew McConaughey’s now legendary Lincoln car commercials, and Jim Carrey gives us the line “When I’m done rolling up this booger, should I eat it or throw it out the window?” with all the slow-burning McConaughey slink it necessitates.
The episode was deep with well-executed, strong sketch comedy, something that was lacking at the season’s start. Pieces like “High School” (BEST LINE OF THE NIGHT: Carrey’s redneck daddy defending his zombie son: “He likes art. He reads books that challenge him.”), “Graveyard Song” (totally chill ghost buds Paul and Phil don’t scare a soul), “Secret Billionaire,” and the pre-taped “Ghost Chasers” (starring just-added Featured Player Leslie Jones as a terrified “scientist and resident skeptic”) recall a time when Saturday Night Live was as much a writer’s showcase, as it was an actor’s.
There were only two real misfires. The woebegone Weekend Update still feels like a missed opportunity with head writer Colin Jost at the helm—though the return of Bobby Moynihan’s Drunk Uncle almost makes you forget how banal this segment has become. And… no offense Iggy Azalea, but seeing you perform live adds nothing to the limp, ambient club noise quality of your music. Honestly, if we wanted to watch sullen teenagers sexy-dance we could attend a local prom. (Happily, Lorne Michaels has booked Prince as next week’s musical guest!)
Headed into November, SNL40 seems to have righted itself after a shaky start, and looks poised for a proper anniversary victory lap. Few guest hosts are as comedically gifted and hard-working as Jim Carrey, so this episode may mark a season high point. However, the promise of stronger sketch writing and better use of the show’s core cast bodes well for strong episodes to come.
SNL NEXT WEEK: Chris Rock with Prince
Chris White writes and directs independent feature films. His latest, a showbiz comedy about looking for Bill Murray, is called
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