Thirty-five years after leaving “Saturday Night Live,” Eddie Murphy finally returned to host the show for the first time last December. A cast member from 1980-84, Murphy is largely credited with single-handedly keeping the NBC sketch show alive through that period. His time there earned him three out of his four previous Emmy nominations (the fourth was for his stop-motion animated series “The PJs”), and it’s little surprise that his long-awaited hosting gig nabbed him a fifth bid, this time in Best Comedy Guest Actor.
Murphy opens the show with a monologue about how much he’s changed since he left the show, joined by fellow African-American “SNL” alums Tracy Morgan and Chris Rock, as well as reclusive comedy superstar Dave Chappelle and current cast member Kenan Thompson. His sketches are predominately revivals of his most famous “SNL” characters, including Mr. Robinsons’s Neighborhood, Buckwheat (who apparently survived his assassination attempt), Gumby and Velvet Jones. He also plays a father giving a heartfelt Christmas dinner toast (intercut with scenes of family dysfunction), an incompetent bake-off contestant and an angry elf interrupting a news broadcast about a polar bear attack on Santa’s workshop.
Can Murphy win his first-ever Emmy for this guest spot on “SNL?” Let’s look at the pros and cons.
Don’t underestimate nostalgia. How could you not vote for Eddie Murphy returning to “Saturday Night Live,” right? Regardless of the varying quality of their output in later years, both Murphy and “SNL” are comedy giants, and they haven’t been together since 1984. The quality of his performance almost doesn’t matter because he’s making comedy history just by showing up.
That said, it does help that Murphy is just as funny as you would expect him to be. He reminds us just why he’s a superstar; he’s one of the few comedians who can make a line funny just with his delivery alone. His Gumby segment on “Weekend Update” is a great example since it gives him an opportunity to just do his thing, and it’s hilarious. There’s nothing groundbreaking in the episode, but Murphy is still able to tap into that vibrant energy that made him famous.
It doesn’t hurt that one of the best ways to win an Emmy in this category is to guest-star on “SNL.” Since 2009, five of the 11 winners have all won for the sketch show: Chappelle; Justin Timberlake, who won twice; and Jimmy Fallon, another former cast member who also collected two trophies.
Murphy is also in an interesting new phase of his career; it has been a long time since “Norbit” (2007) and “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” (2002). After a years-long hiatus, it feels like he is making his big comeback, albeit one largely financed by Netflix. Last year saw him generating Oscar buzz and earning a Golden Globe bid for the streamer’s Rudy Ray Moore biopic “Dolemite Is My Name.” His days of wearing a fat suit and starring in family comedies long past, it looks like Murphy’s got his groove back, and voters may want to acknowledge that.
Has Murphy fully shaken off his career lows? “Dolemite,” a perfect showcase for his talents, didn’t result in an Oscar bid. Is that a bad sign of things to come?
Murphy is up against two other “SNL” nominees: Adam Driver for his own hosting gig and Brad Pitt for his portrayal of Dr. Anthony Fauci on the show’s second at-home special. Pitt, in particular, is an interesting opponent; voters may want to show their support for the real Dr. Fauci by voting for the star, who’s fresh off his Oscar win for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
Last year’s winner, Luke Kirby, is back in the hunt with another appearance as comedy legend Lenny Bruce on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and could easily repeat. Fred Willard is contending for his final “Modern Family” appearance, and this would be the last opportunity for voters to give the late actor an award.
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