Cecily Strong fans, rejoice! After missing the season’s first three episodes, Strong returned to Saturday Night Live this weekend for an 11th year, and in top form.
In this season’s premiere, Strong was unexpectedly missing from the new opening credits, stirring speculation about her status with the show. But the simple fact was that the new credits were filmed in New York while she was 3,000 miles away headlining The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, at L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum. (Produced in association with SNL boss Lorne Michaels, the one-woman show ran through Oct. 23.)
In this weekend’s cold open, Strong introduced her Kari Lake impression. Lake is a former TV news anchor turned Arizona gubernatorial candidate, and her soft-spoken attitude plays right into Strong’s talent for playing seemingly normal people with craziness simmering just beneath the surface. Or, as she says, “Jump on into Kari Lake, Arizona — because it’s placid and serene on top, but underneath, it’s a whole lot of giardia.”
Strong also played a shoe executive in one of those sketches that you would think was too implausible if it weren’t based on an actual news story. Ye (né Kanye West) rolled into Skechers after Adidas kicked him to the curb and was summarily escorted away from another sneaker company. Strong is smug as the exec takes a principled stand against antisemitism… only to then join some colleagues in bragging about the fact that Skechers was even in the conversation.
It was little wonder that Strong was in nearly every sketch of the first hour; she has the backbone of SNL for years. Kate McKinnon had wilder characters, yes, and Kenan Thompson has been around longer, but Strong is the show’s best actor, hands down, and has been for some time now. Like Chris Parnell and Phil Hartman in years past, she’s often cast in the straight man roles to ground a scene in reality and, as a result, is underrated. So enjoy her time on the show now because, when she leaves, it’ll be years before the hole she leaves behind gets filled.
Watch the Kari Lake sketch above, then grade the episode: