'SNL' recap: Bill Murray and Fred Armisen kick off a night of profanity

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Despite two top-notch cameos from SNL alumni, the real hero of the night was the person with a finger on the live audio mute button. Perhaps unsurprising given the week’s events, the president’s use of the word “shithole” led to two mutings during “Weekend Update.” The third happened in host Sam Rockwell’s first sketch, when he accidentally dropped an F bomb in a scene about obnoxious kids.

In the cold open, the anchors of Morning Joe (once again played by Kate McKinnon and Alex Moffat) interview Michael Wolff, author of the tell-all Fire and Fury. Fred Armisen is a dead ringer for Wolff, so it’s a no-brainer for him to play the role. Less intuitively — though no less brilliantly — Bill Murray played disgraced media svengali Steve Bannon. Murray’s impression of Bannon doesn’t go deeper than the giant Bannon wig and a bad complexion, but it doesn’t need to. He’s as relaxed and in command as anyone who’s ever set foot in Studio 8H; even when he appears to lose the cue cards and bobbles his lines for a moment, he plays it off like a dramatic pause and soldiers on.

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Leslie Jones also appears as Oprah, which may be her first recurring character; Jones isn’t a great impressionist, but Oprah is a good fit for her. She brings back Oprah for “Weekend Update” later in the show — bringing along Stedman — and it was absolute dynamite. More of this please.

Best sketch of the night: Tucci Gang

What better way to celebrate one of the greatest character actors alive than by celebrating another of the greats? “Tucci Gang” is a perfect parody and re-creation of Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” video, right down to the inexplicable and thoroughly unnecessary tiger. The video clocks in at under two minutes; if only more SNL sketches adhered to the old adage “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Best use of the host: Marcus Comes to Dinner

Rockwell is one of those inside actors — his characters are always full of things bubbling just beneath the surface, and it’s fascinating to watch it all happen without him even saying a word. Obviously, that’s not a particularly useful skill in the broad world of sketch comedy, but in this scene about a conservative father realizing his son’s new lover is a porn star, it works perfectly. Rockwell grows more and more agitated until the revelation of his extensive knowledge of gay porn propels him up and out the door as all those things bubbling just beneath the surface spew out. It’s a fantastic sketch, and the father’s exit (and subsequent re-entrance to grab his laptop) deserves to be on a “Best of” DVD somewhere.

MVP of the Night: Cecily Strong

Strong does great work in “Fashion Panel” and “My Drunk Boyfriend”, but she really knocks it out of the park in the latest parody of one of those “real people, not actors” commercials. Being labeled as “not an actor” in this faux Chantix ad stirs up Kelly’s insecurities, and she tries to turn the commercial into a showcase for her one-woman show. Sometimes sketches about Hollywood or the theater can feel self-indulgent — actors writing about acting sometimes is funny only to other actors — but Strong makes Kelly’s desperate bid for attention feel universal, even if you don’t have a Nana from the old country.

Animals will never not be funny: Genetics Lab

This is a dumb sketch. Somebody watched one of those YouTube videos with the dog’s head and human hands in a shirt and decided it needed to be on SNL. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, a sketch is just going to be four and a half minutes of farts, and sometimes a sketch is just going to be an adorable golden retriever making actors break onstage because of how the dog’s eating a sandwich. Comedy isn’t always pretty, OK?!

Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:35 p.m. ET on NBC.

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