The maddeningly inconsistent SNL returned last night, and Alec Baldwin was back by popular demand to host for a record-breaking sixteenth time, ending the stalemate with pal Steve Martin. The cold opening took some easy potshots at the GOP presidential candidates, but one skit in particular that stood out involved screen-test outtakes from Top Gun.
Taking over the pre-recorded slot usually occupied by the Digital Short, the segment followed in the footsteps of the classic SNL Star Wars Auditions sketch, in which Darrell Hammond's adenoidal Richard Dreyfuss stole the show as C-3PO. (Hammond has made several appearances since leaving the cast in 2009.)
We got to see Baldwin's take on the post-Scent of a Woman Al Pacino impression, which is now as ubiquitous as a Nicholson, De Niro, or Walken. Baldwin was probably better served by his spot-on, smiley Tony Bennett impersonation, which he trotted out, prosthetic Roman nose and all, for Weekend Update. Bill Hader treated us to an extremely-slimmed-down and confused Harvey Fierstein, as well as his flawless Alan Alda, which is great in and of itself, because no one else does an Alda. (Vincent Price probably would have been too old to audition for Top Gun.)
Fred Armisen was criminally underused in the episode, but here he got to do a dumb Tony Danza and shy Prince. Andy Samberg tried out his Crispin Glover, which he can now throw in his scrap pile with David Blaine and the Swedish chef from the Muppets. Kenan Thompson's Sinbad is basically interchangeable with his Jimmy McMillan and Herman Cain — it's just yelling. (Maybe he should have done Pacino.)
I would have traded Taran Killam's Tom Hanks and Bobcat Goldthwait plus Nasim Pedrad's Paula Abdul all for a Jay Pharoah routine, but he was nowhere to be seen. (Did Will Smith or Denzel Washington never audition for Top Gun?) But at least Bobby Moynihan's Natalie from The Facts of Life was worth it for the visual. The episode posted a 5.0 overnight Nielsen rating, down from the 5.3 brought in by last season's Amy Poehler-hosted premiere, but still good enough to outperform any of Saturday's prime-time shows on broadcast networks.