In the opening monologue of her debut Saturday Night Live outing back in 2011, Melissa McCarthy said she’d dreamed of this moment her whole life. It showed.
As a star member of legendary West Coast comedy collective, The Groundlings, sketch work was already embedded in McCarthy’s DNA before she broke through in Bridesmaids. When she showed up to host later that year, she was game-tight, ready to handle anything the writers could throw her way. Although some scenes in that episode used her sparingly, and one sidelined her entirely, by the time she came back in 2013, every sketch was built around her. McCarthy, who is coming back for her fifth hosting gig this weekend, was then well on her way to becoming the best, most consistent host of the modern SNL era.
Historically, there have been many frequent visitors who’ve achieved “best host” status at one point or another. Steve Martin, who’s been around since the earliest episodes, certainly had his heyday. Alec Baldwin, who holds the top slot for most hosting duties ever at 17, can claim it as well. Christopher Walken, Tom Hanks, Tina Fey–these are all performers who deliver the goods time and time again. McCarthy, however, is another matter entirely. Never has anyone emerged on SNL and carved out a niche so quickly. Over the four episodes she’s hosted in five years, McCarthy has written her name on the floor of studio 8-H, and lit a match to it.
The first thing that should strike SNL viewers about McCarthy is her commitment. She is never afraid to look ridiculous, she’s up for absolutely anything, and you can count on her going all the way. In her very first episode, she squeezed a whole jug of ranch dressing on her face as an effervescent kicker to a sketch. She’s hit on Jason Sudeikis in a way that made his true self-look slightly uncomfortable, beneath the layer of character. Her affinity for big, over-the-top moments, apparent in her films as well, lends a live-wire energy to a show that’s at its best when least predictable.
It’s more than those broad turns, though. McCarthy is such a consummate pro as a performer that even her more grounded sketches pulse with quiet intensity. One of the elements that made Mr. Show an all-time classic was how Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ acting transcended the realm of sketch acting. Viewers really bought into their characters, even when those characters were objectively ridiculous. Melissa McCarthy has this same level of performance in spades, infusing even the role of a mom watching Terminator 2 on family movie night with formidable acting chops. You can’t take your eyes off her.
Those quiet moments are few and far between, though. They’re the glue that keeps her episodes steady. What McCarthy is most known for bringing to the SNL table, however, is loud, weird, physicality.
She established what she was capable of in that first episode, with the Lulu Diamonds sketch. It was a parody of an old Mae West character–only in this version, Diamonds’ seductive strut always ended with her falling ass-over-teakettle down a staircase. McCarthy is always game for doing wire-fu in an opening monologue, or teetering around on ridiculous Wizard of Oz stilettos. Watching her on this show makes it difficult not to ache with envy over L.A. audiences who got to see her just go for it, week to week, as a part of the Groundlings cast.
Although the wild-card volatility of not knowing who she’ll play next is an absolute strength, McCarthy even has a recurring character, like other “best hosts” before her. After playing explosively abusive, Bobby Knight-like basketball coach Sheila Kelly in an early appearance, McCarthy returned in 2014 to slot Kelly into a new role–that of a congresswoman modeled after Rep. Michael Grimm, who notoriously threatened a reporter. Kelly seems like a character that could be thrown into any situation. Of course, the real character fans want to see is the performer’s apoplectic press secretary, Sean Spicer, whom she immortalized back in February.
Melissa McCarthy feels pretty, oh so pretty. (And oh yeah, she hosts #SNLLiveCoastToCoast this week with HAIM)
Posted by Saturday Night Live on Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Good news, for those in suspense, video footage in New York today has confirmed there will be a Spicer in store this week.
— Donie O'Sullivan (@donie) May 12, 2017
While McCarthy’s newfound SNL renown can be chalked up to Sean Spicer, her years of consistency provide a plethora of other reasons why her appearance this weekend is not to be missed.