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SNL’s “Airport Sushi” Is John Mulaney’s Grandest Musical Parody Yet

In welcoming John Mulaney back to host for a third time, Saturday Night Live essentially promised fans another sketch coupling a well-regarded social taboo with musical theater parody. The first time stand-up comic Mulaney hosted SNL back in April of 2018, his overall strong episode was essentially defined by the standout sketch “Lobster Diner.” (A man, played by Pete Davidson, brazenly orders the lobster in a grimy New York diner. A parody of Les Miserables ensues.) It wasn’t until after Mulaney’s second stint as host just shy of a year later—March of 2019, at which time we were treated to “Bodega Bathroom”—that we understood Mulaney’s mission as ongoing. (In this one, the same man played by Pete Davidson asks to use the bathroom at a grimy New York bodega. A parody of Willy Wonka, Cats, Little Shop of Horrors, and Rent ensues.) So, of course, when the former series staff writer was enlisted to headline the series’ Leap Day episode in 2020, we couldn’t help but wonder: What will this year’s “Lobster Diner”/“Bodega Bathroom” be?

Midway through the episode, we received our answer, and to great effect. Friends, we give you: “Airport Sushi.”

Knowing well that he had to up the ante with his third such outing, Mulaney laid his target upon the embodiment of New York griminess: LaGuardia Airport. The sketch kicks off with Davidson’s recurring character once again making a questionable choice: purchasing sushi from an airport convenience stand. However, where the latest entry in Mulaney’s series deviates from its forebears is that its potshots at LaGuardia are not limited to the questionable nature of its uncooked seafood. An array of musical numbers poked fun at the airport’s general state of disarray, eccentric and disruptive flyers, the coronavirus, Bill de Blasio, and more. The lot parodied the tunes of shows including The Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, Annie, Wicked, and Little Shop of Horrors, plus one send-up of Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere,” led by the legendary band’s own David Byrne.

Byrne, the episode’s musical guest, first worked with Mulaney on this past December’s Netflix special John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch, as did another surprise visitor to the sketch: Jake Gyllenhaal. The latter makes an appearance in “Airport Sushi” as “a guy who travels in pajamas” (ostensibly due to his great reverence for the process of airport security) and who, during a twist on Wicked‘s “Defying Gravity,” soars high above his fellow players by whim of some hilariously visible cables.

After the grandeur of “Airport Sushi,” which ups the ante on the idea first conceived two long years ago in Big Nick’s Greek Diner, we have to wonder if Mulaney will ever deign to bring another such parody to Saturday Night Live. If Mulaney holds that three is the golden rule in comedy, perhaps we’ll have to look elsewhere for his penchant for musical parody. Another Netflix special? Another episode of Documentary Now? Or maybe, someday, the Broadway stage itself?

We can dream.

Featured Image: NBC