After an entire month off, the kids at Studio 8H welcomed us back into their clubhouse, and Seth Meyers was absent for the first time in over a decade. 

More on Meyers' absence in a bit, though. Of course Jim Parsons, the breakout Big Bang Theory star, hosted Saturday Night Live this week, and credit to Parsons for coming to play along. He was a game host willing to poke fun at his identity, which, really, amounts to "That Guy with the Line from That Show." So the monologue helped Parsons separate himself from Sheldon a bit: 

If only they included Hannah Horvath in that group. (With Dunham hosting next week, there was no shot of that happening, but I can dream.) Parsons' time on SNL wasn't revelatory — when the music started playing, I expected a monologue routine similar to Joseph Gordon Levitt, but Parsons apparently isn't as limber. Perhaps his best sketch excelled because of the writing/concept instead of his participation, but Dance Floor Killer really needs to be seen: 

Vanessa Bayer also got another chance to excel when they surprisingly brought back the Spotlightz Acting Camp sketch. Some people don't love this sketch, but that's because some people are wrong

2nd Runner-Up

But this episode was about the kids, the featured players, who were all over the screen last night. Lat night seemed like an effort to give them an opportunity to shine. (Next week will almost definitely be the opposite.) No new presence was more noticeable than Brooks Wheelan, though, the poor guy who was forgotten during the first half of the season. He appeared prominently in two sketches last night, and he killed it, earning marks of approval from both Joe and me. His 12 Years a Slave audition went exactly as you would expect. —CS 

1st Runner-Up

So let' talk about the new Weekend Update, huh? Now grizzled veteran Cecily Strong is joined by Colin Jost, and their debut as a team was ... I guess we could say "interesting"? But let's set aside the odd technical snafu, the flubbed lines in the Shaq/Barkley sketch, the strange new sincerity that's swept over Update in recent years where we're not only giving farewell speeches but also welcome speeches—set all that aside and recognize the fact that, in the span of half a season, Cecily Strong has grown into a steady hand at the Update desk. Jost is going to take some breaking in. His visible nerves in his first few bits were reminiscent of Seth Meyers on Late Night this week, actually. And we'll all have to take a few weeks to get used to the fact that we're being told jokes by a guy who looks like he'd be at the center of a hazing scandal at Princeton. But the writing was strong this week, and Jost will improve. While he does, hopefully Strong will continue holding things down like she did last night, with her best Update performance yet. That bit about the dogs "accidentally" driving the car was a delight. —JR

MVP

You know that feeling you get when SNL cold-opens with an Obama sketch? That dull sense of disappointment as you remember how deflating and disappointing such sketches usually are? The complete opposite sensation is what happens when you see that Kate McKinnon's Ellen impersonation will be leading off the show. This week, McKinnon made us laugh (that nervous posture!) and also made us think. What if Ellen does feel trapped by her expectations to dance? Mom-dancing may never look the same again. Ellen alone might have allowed McKinnon a spot on this list, but what put her over the top and into the MVP slot was her deadpan brilliance in that "Bird Bible" sketch. What a strange delight that was. —JR