Emmy spotlight: John Mulaney-hosted episode of ‘Saturday Night Live’ is best of the season

John Mulaney earned a great deal of critical praise for his first stint hosting “Saturday Night Live” last April. The memorable sketch “Diner Lobster” was a season highlight that alone warranted a return hosting gig. So when it was announced that Mulaney was coming back to host on Saturday, March 2, there were certainly high expectations to be met. Luckily, Mulaney, the cast, and the crew pulled off one of the best episodes of “SNL” in years, with arguably no weak sketches even among the riskiest of ideas (looking at you, Toilet Death Ejector).

The episode started off wonderfully for Mulaney, who was in his element performing a standup routine for his monologue. The set included hilarious bits about marrying a woman of a different faith, the voices heard on the New York subway, and the similarities between an old police siren and an old gay cat dying. Mulaney’s first proper sketch of the night, “What’s That Name,” was another great showcase as a man on a game show trying in vain to guess the name of his close friend’s girlfriend and his wife’s bridesmaid. With Bill Hader visiting to play the game show host, you could tell how much fun Mulaney was having being playfully hostile with his friend.

The sketch many are talking about days later is “Bodega Bathroom,” the spiritual sequel to “Diner Lobster” that featured an elaborate musical sequence highlighting all the little quirks of a bodega and why you should never go to the bathroom there. Like Mulaney’s best material, it was idiosyncratic in its observations  — among the 525,600 things found at a bodega: ramen, one loose beer, shampoo, hot dogs, the worst ever cup of coffee, a guy who doesn’t work there watching soccer on TV, flan. Taking cues from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Cats” and “Rent,” this was a treat for any fan at the intersection of musical theater and random observational humor.

For classic cinema fans there was the “To Have and Have Not” sketch, where Mulaney played Humphrey Bogart opposite Kate McKinnon‘s Lauren Bacall in an uncut version of the whistle scene. Mulaney was an excellent straight man for McKinnon, as her character couldn’t quite figure out how to properly whistle. Another highlight was the “Cha Cha Slide” sketch, in which Mulaney portrayed a software engineer who feels out of place at his girlfriend’s wedding but soon discovers that he has a deep connection with just about everyone there.

Mulaney did not earn an Emmy nomination for his first hosted episode, despite strong critical reception, though he didn’t walk away from last year’s ceremony empty-handed. The comedian won the Best Variety Special Writing category for his standup special “John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City,” his second-ever win following a Best Original Music and Lyrics victory in 2011 for Justin Timberlake‘s “SNL” monologue. His win last year is a strong indication of how much Emmy voters are liking Mulaney, considering he beat three specials from well-regarded comedians (Patton Oswalt, Michelle Wolf and Steve Martin & Martin Short), plus a “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” special. This kind of respect could translate to Mulaney getting his first-ever Emmy nomination for acting this year, in the Best Comedy Guest Actor category.

Considering how often Emmy voters nominate comedians who host “SNL,” even over A-list stars who host, Mulaney has a good shot of getting that nomination. Looking at the other guest hosts this season, Seth Meyers is the only comedy type in line with who voters have nominated lately. We still don’t know who is hosting the final episodes of the season, but it’s going to be hard to top the greatness of Mulaney’s episode, sketch for sketch.

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