This weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live was much more than a reunion of 30 Rock castmates; it was the reunion of a man with his decades-long career.
When Tracy Morgan took the stage people wondered – hoped – that he was back. Not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, after the car accident last year that claimed the life of his friend and left him in a coma with a traumatic brain injury.
Would he be able to follow the cue cards, and run with the pace of a live show, serving as the linchpin for a full 90 minutes? As The Daily Beast noted after speaking with Morgan’s doctor last year, “[I]t was nothing short of “a miracle” that he would recover to the point of being able to perform on SNL—an exhausting, daunting comedy challenge that has sunk some of the most talented performers in Hollywood even at the top of their game.”
As soon as he took the stage, in a blink-and-you-missed-it moment, Morgan pretended he was partially impaired, a joke that some may have found offensive. “Naw I’m just playing,” he said, “Ya’ll thought for a minute that was real. But I’m back.” And in that moment time folded and the man we never got to see – the one who had to work his tail off to regain his life – faded into Tracy Morgan, comedian.
Apparently such a moment was motivation for Morgan through his recovery. In his monologue he described telling SNL boss Lorne Michaels – “my Obi-Wan Kenobi” he called him – that when he got back on his feet he wanted to come home to the SNL stage.
A celebratory spirit seemed to infect the whole show. Morgan’s 30 Rock buddies Tina Fey, Jane Krakowski, Alex Baldwin and Jack McBrayer showed up for a monologue sketch, recreating a moment supposedly cut from a 2012 Rock episode. The attention to detail in the bit, including promo banners for 2012 debut’s Smash and Animal Practice, showed how enthusiastically everyone had worked toward this reunion.
Besides Morgan’s reprisal of some of his characters like Astronaut Jones and Brian Fellow: amateur zoologist, Fey and Baldwin did double duty for the show. Fey popped into “Weekend Update” where she mocked Playboy‘s recent decision to stop including nude pictures. It was a not her finest moment.
Baldwin took the stage as Jim Webb in a parody of the Democratic debate that also featured Kate McKinnon’s manic Hillary Clinton, and Larry David doing a Bernie Sanders impression that had to leave Lorne Michaels salivating. I hope David didn’t have any plans for his Saturday nights over the six months.
But the night belonged to Morgan, who effused grateful humor for his second chance. “People were wondering, can he speak, does he have a hundred-percent mental capacity?” Morgan joked. “But the truth is I never did! I may actually be a few points higher now.” We’re just glad you’re the same old Tracy.