Watching Saturday Night Live the other night, it felt as if someone had finally turned the lights on at Rockefeller Plaza this season. For the first time in Season 40, the show was firing on all cylinders, keeping the laughs coming continuously, and bringing back familiar faces. Bill Hader returned as host, and it felt as if he never left as he seamlessly stepped back into the show and provided a much needed spark that lasted all night.
The episode started with Bobby Moynihan lampooning the much maligned Kim Jong-Un. Moynihan was great at making an over-the-top character out of dictator, one of his many real strong points as an actor, and while fairly simple, it was probably the most enjoyable cold open of the season. After the open, Bill Hader triumphantly returned to the SNL stage for his first (and probably not last) monologue as host. Seeing Hader on stage and not in character, but presenting as himself was quite fun, as he was coaxed to sing a song by surprise guest Kirsten Wiig, and later by Harvey Fierstein, making a random, yet awesome appearance. As much as I loved Wiig’s appearance, as it continued through the night, I thought it was strange and bordering on overkill how often she was used. She even ended up announcing musical guest Hozier for his second song, which is usually a task left to the guest. It was supposed to be Hader’s hosting gig, yet it seemed like at times he was co-hosting, and I didn’t know what to make of that. But, if that’s my biggest complaint for the episode, you know it was a great show.
The first sketch of the night saw the show start to lean on Hader’s very successful recurring characters from his stint as a repertory player. He played geriatric reporter Herb Welch, and killed it doing so, performing opposite Taran Killam, Pete Davidson, and Cecily Strong. It was really nice to see a recurring character from seasons of old, as a lot of what was missing from the skits so far this year was familiarity. This skit was immediately followed by a movie trailer, as Pete Davidson played a lead character in a Maze Runner spoof trying to not break his label. I think the producers of SNL might’ve listened to my editorial note, because we got a lot more Pete Davidson this week, as I had hoped for, and he delivered. Pete delivered what’s probably my favorite line of the episode as Weekend Update Rap Correspondent; “Rappers have bad posture because they wear gold chains, I have bad posture because I hate myself.”
SNL kept rolling along after the movie trailer with the recurring “Hollywood Game Night” sketch. This sketch always kills for many reasons; Kate McKinnon’s Jane Lynch impression is brilliant, and the sheer volume and randomness of other impressions they can get from the cast. It was flawlessly executed by all involved. A nice moment followed the sketch as Bill Hader and Kirsten Wiig paid homage to the recently passed Jan Hooks, who was a cast member from 1986 to 1991. SNL producers played a skit she did with Phil Hartmann from 1988 titled “Love Is a Dream.”
Weekend Update was a real highlight of the night, as the much hoped for return of Stefon was realized. Stefon, who is billed as Weekend Update’s City Correspondent, was played by Bill Hader and written by John Mulaney over the last couple years of Hader’s tenure with the show. The character could easily be considered the most popular SNL character of this current decade, and with Hader returning as host, there was much excitement over the possibility of a Stefon return. Update trudged along normally, and almost hastily before they got to Stefon, but the crowd lit up at the first sight of Hader as Stefon, basically giving it away to the television audience before the Update guest was announced. Stefon was brilliant as usual, and was a highlight of the night. As usual, the writers wrote in last minutes changes to throw Hader off, and it worked as every one of “New York’s hottest clubs” featured an appearance by 90’s TV personality Dan Cortese. Without even knowing it, Cortese became one of the stars of the night without even being on the show. While the whole Update segment felt a tad bit disjointed again, the appearances of Pete Davidson and Stefon made this episode’s Weekend Update far and away the best of the young season.
Even after Update, SNL kept going very strong, which was a very pleasant surprise. They brought back a sketch they did once before where Hader played army veteran Anthony Peter Coleman, who seems very out of place at a light hearted puppetry class that is brilliantly led by Taran Killam. Hader showed with the Coleman, Stefon, and Welch characters how easily he can play creepy or disturbed characters, and the awkward comedy that comes from his interpretations of these characters really drives those skits and shows why they’re often repeated. The puppet sketch was then followed by a pre-taped bit by the Good Neighbor Stuff guys, called “Inside Socal.” This is a bit these guys (Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett) have done before where they play laid back “Socal” guys giving the low down on what’s going on in their neighborhood. I love the character Mooney puts on in this bit, it’s really quite a different style of comedy than is typical for SNL and it’s always a nicely contrasting sketch to the rest of the night’s show.
Everything about this episode of SNL reminds me of why I love to watch (and now write about) this show. Bill Hader came back, brought his old characters, interacted great with his fellow comedians, and seemed to have a blast doing it. The writing on this episode was sharp and funny as I’ve been accustomed to over the years, as there wasn’t a single sketch I didn’t enjoy throughout the whole of the night. SNL will be on break for next week, but will come back with a bang with host Jim Carrey and musical guest Iggy Azalea. I’m hoping the SNL producers, writers, and cast will look to the success of this episode and keep it coming this strong going forward.