It’s usually always fun when a former cast member returns to host Saturday Night Live. This week was certainly no exception. After a full year without Bill Hader, he came back and certainly injected life into it. Every week I’ve increasingly had more genuine laugh-out-loud moments while watching the skits, mostly driven by the energy of the hosts. While I did enjoy Bill Hader’s turn as host, I was maybe expecting a little bit more – I wanted a few new characters out of Bill Hader, not just impressions and returns of old characters (Herb Welch, Al Pacino, Anthony Coleman – that Vietnam Vet guy). Also, I was hoping to see more chemistry between Bill and newer cast members – the show felt very dominated by the older cast members. I don’t think I ever remember Cecily Strong being used THAT much in an episode, versus the severe underuse of Vanessa Bayer (where has she been this season? She’s so seldom used these days) and Aidy Bryant, among others. Despite these little questions in my mind, I found myself genuinely enjoying the sketches, with very few losing steam. Let’s review some highlights.
Cold Open: It was only a matter of time before SNL tackled Kim Jong-Un again. This has been one of the more energetic cold opens in a while. Bobby Moynihan really dives into his Kim Jong-Un impression, and the physical comedy in this was priceless. It ended a little weird, but it was still fun to watch them crack jokes about the peculiar circumstances surrounding Kim Jong-Un’s health and absence in the general public.
Monologue: Bill Hader is totally fun and charismatic here. I was a little worried about them dipping into a musical number again here, but I love the twist that Bill Hader isn’t a classically good singer. With Skeleton Twins out, it’s no surprise to see Kristen Wiig, but after joking about having a Harvey Fierstein voice, it was a treat to have him join the stage as well.
Player of the Week: By default I’d probably have to say Taran Killam. He’s always demonstrated the best chemistry with Bill Hader. His Christophe Waltz impression slayed me, and him playing off Bill in the puppet sketch and the Cat in the Hat sketch was a lot of fun. I’ll say that an honorable mention should go to Beck Bennett, who I feel has more than earned a place as a main player in the cast for next year. The cheers around his Nick Offerman were so reassuring – he’s definitely a great featured player who can play off different types of characters.
Fake Ad of the Week: The Group Hopper was definitely a lot of ridiculous fun, and they knew exactly how to tug at all the dystopian YA tropes of late. This is also the only sketch driven by primarily new cast members – Pete Davidson was very good and convincing as the lead in this role, peppered by great supporting performances by Beck Bennett, Kyle Mooney, and Sasheer Zamata (also a severely underused player). The personification of the villainous tyrannical figure by Bill Hader was hysterical as well, and totally highlights how easily Bill can sway from both utterly effeminate to gruff and masculine. And he even jokes about his gender ambiguity in the sketch too! This was overall a wonderful movie ad spoof.
Best Sketch of the Week: This is tough, but I think I might go so far as to say the 39 Cents ad was my favorite. Maybe it’s because charity has been a topic of interest for me personally. But honestly I think the success of this sketch is that it points out something we all probably wondered for YEARS without questioning – how does the math of 39 cents work to help a poor community? It’s a totally poignant and funny sketch that challenges the efforts we put forth to provide aid anywhere, and Bill Hader’s Charles Daniels constantly trying to fight off and ignore the villagers’ commentary (wonderfully played by Jay Pharaoh, Kenan, Sasheer, and once again a Leslie Jones Cameo) was priceless. This was totally well written and builds up nicely.
I’ll also just take a moment to give Inside SoCal a shout out – this Kyle Mooney/Beck Bennett collab is probably the only consistent thing of theirs that I like. It has a quiet sort of humor, and I appreciate how Bill Hader was used in this. He’s usually such an exaggeration of a character that watching the understated California skater boy version was fun and refreshing.
Worst Sketch of the Week: While performances across the board were all strong, I might have to throw the Cat sketch in this category. The concept is definitely funny and amusing, but it almost feels like an unfinished sketch. There wasn’t a great resolve for this, and it really just hinged on this weird joke that Cecily Strong’s character has basically slept with multiple Seuss characters. Beyond establishing that, it didn’t move anywhere. Aidy Bryant and Pete Davidson were so marginalized and unnecessary, if only to establish the Seussian premise. I did enjoy a lot of the lines here (“I go by Jona-thing now”), and Bill Hader as the Cat in the Hat was good. It just was underdeveloped.
I also want to add that, while I love Kate McKinnon, I don’t buy Jane Lynch as a game show host with the same crankiness as her character in Glee. It’s like they wanted to create that same environment as Celebrity Jeopardy, but something about it didn’t hit right. That was the only pitfall to that sketch, though.
Weekend Update Bit of the Week: This week’s is actually kind of a weaker Update, but as expected, the return of Stefon is the highlight for Update. I was wondering if we’d be treated to a Seth Meyers appearance, but we only got loose allusions. I wish there was more interaction between Stefon and the new correspondents – the only comment we got out of him was saying, “Ooh, one of each.” Pete Davidson’s bit was a little dry, but I did enjoy the logic behind him listening to 2 Chainz and buying a gold chain. Ultimately, Stefon livened it up, even with Bill Hader constantly breaking character – it’s like they definitely kept throwing him curveballs because he couldn’t understand why Dan Cortese was a constant feature in each of the faux clubs he described.
Again, this episode proved strong in that we’re seeing the performance chops of most of our regular players. (With the exception, this week, of brutally underused Vanessa Bayer and Aidy Bryant) There were so many memorable characters and moments, like Jay Pharaoh’s overly poetic Morgan Freeman, Bobby Moynihan as the frazzled puppet student, Cecily Strong’s Sofia Vergara, even Kristen Wiig’s Kathy Lee Gifford – I haven’t felt this pleased with everyone’s participation in the show in a long while. It’s becoming clear that they’re carving out where each cast member’s strong suit is, and hopefully in two weeks, Jim Carrey can help bring all those wonderful comedic qualities out more.