This past weekend marked the return of former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Bill Hader, this time making his debut as host of the show. Not only is this episode the best of the season so far, but it’s one of the best episodes of “SNL” in the past five years. A couple special guests popped up, Hader brought back a couple favorite characters from his time on the show, and there was nary a dull moment. So let’s get to the hilarity!
39 Cents – Whether it’s late morning, early afternoon or after midnight, we’ve all seen these commercials asking for the more fortunate to help struggling people in a country abroad. What’s great about this sketch is it mocks both the marketing of trying to convince privileged people to help those in another country, while also adding character to those who need help, wondering why these charities are asking for so little. It’s irreverent and evidence of exactly what “Saturday Night Live” was created to do 40 years ago.
The Group Hopper – With all these dystopian sci-fi young adult adaptations hitting the big screen lately, this couldn’t come at a better time. Taking aim at The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games, Divergent and even The Giver, the trailer throws around made-up terms meant to instill fear, suspense, and tension, complete with all the tropes we’ve come to expect from these flicks. Also, it’s interesting that every episode of “SNL” so far this season has had a movie trailer parody, which I’m not complaining about in the least.
Puppet Class – Sure, Bill Hader reprised some of his better known characters for his return to Studio 8H, but this was one we weren’t expecting. When Seth MacFarlane hosted the season premiere of “SNL” back in the 38th season, the puppet class sketch was a gem. Now, with Bill Hader back as war veteran Anthony Peter Coleman trying to come to terms with his dark past, it shines even brighter. Plus, look at how great Taran Killam is with that puppet. With a little more training, he could work at the Jim Henson Company. My only wish is that the camera could get an angle so we just see the puppet talking for some shots.
Inside SoCal 2 – After flopping last week, Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney are back with a vengeance with another edition of Inside SoCal. This sketch probably isn’t for everybody, but there’s so much technical humor as far as making bad television, mixed with the perfect portrayal of these characters, that it absolutely cracks me up. Pete Davidson fits in perfectly with the crew, and it was awesome to see Bill Hader pull off another great impression.
Hollywood Game Night – It’s a celebrity impression showcase, but all of the zings “SNL” makes at the expense of NBC’s own real game show were just fantastic. I could watch Taran Killam do Christoph Waltz all day, but Bill Hader’s awesome Al Pacino impression always takes the cake. (If you don’t believe me, rewatch the holiday sketch parodying “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with Pacino in the lead role.) Also, kudos to Beck Bennett for a great Nick Offerman, and hey, Kristen Wiig appeared in more than just the opening monologue (but we’ll get to that).
Herb Welch: Virginity Pledge Rally – One of three Bill Hader characters revived, this was the weakest of the trio, though still very entertaining, mostly because Hader seems to elevate even the most mediocre sketches. That’s all that really needs to be said.
Kim Jong-un – Let me be clear that while I thought this was the worst sketch of the night, Bobby Moynihan still pulled some good laughs out of me. But there was part of me that felt like it was too easy. Still, the way Moynihan does childish characters like this is always top notch, and again, while this sketch was the worst of the night, it wasn’t really that awful.
Cat – There’s something disturbing when it comes to thinking about The Cat in the Hat, a figment of the children’s imagination, having sex with their human mother. But that’s also what made this awkward meeting of the broken up couple even more hilarious. I laughed so hard when Hader interrupted his happy rhyming to ask if the kids’ father was home. This only would have been funnier if Mike Myers was host and was bold enough to do this sketch.
Colin Jost and Michael Che are on a roll. These guys work extremely well together, and after some hiccups in the first couple episodes, this was the smoothest run of Weekend Update yet. Che’s delivery is starting to get less sputtery, and Jost is very comfortable as himself finally. Keep up the good work, fellas.
Pete Davidson – Well, not every appearance by Pete Davidson is going to be a winner (though he had some great moments throughout this entire episode), and while this was a slightly amusing stand-up style bit, his debut on Weekend Update in the season premiere was infinitely better. Still, it’s clear this kid has great comedic chops and a lot to say despite being so young.
Stefon Returns – This is what everyone wanted, and Bill Hader did not disappoint. From his addressing the absence of Seth Meyers, to the usual cracking up in the middle of the piece, this was classic Stefon. And I’m pretty sure one of the clubs is characterized by the sound of a Taun-Taun from The Empire Strikes Back.
Tribute to Jan Hooks
As we reported last week, “Saturday Night Live” veteran Jan Hooks passed away, and she will be missed terribly. But Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig introduced one of her classic sketches that gets played all the time in various “Best of” clip shows. What’s wonderful is that this is one of those sketches that casual viewers of “SNL” don’t really understand, because it’s not flat out funny. It’s one of those short films that “SNL” used to do every now and then that was just a charming, original piece of work. Making this even more bittersweet is that Hooks is opposite the late Phil Hartman in this beautiful short. Rest in peace.
Not enough can be said about Bill Hader. There were little-to-no mistakes throughout the entire episode, and you can tell that his presence just made everyone comfortable, and they all brought their A-game. Pretty much everyone had something great to do (though Aidy Bryant was fairly absent this episode), and Hader just knocked it out of the park. These kind of episodes are the ones that show you “SNL” truly is magical. But it sounds like Bill Hader really can’t sing.
There’s no doubt that this week’s MVP has to go to Bill Hader. As a former cast member, it makes us wish he was still around to help make the show this good all the time. Of course, that wasn’t always the case when he was a cast member, but that’s just how “SNL” works. Hader’s return also showed that so far, his presence on the show has been irreplaceable, as there’s not a cast member who is as versatile and gifted when it comes to unique characters, amazing impressions and stellar voice work. Hader could host once a year, and that would be just fine.
The Final Word
We’re only three episodes in, so it’s not a crowning achievement, but this is the best episode of the season so far, and it’s likely to be one of the best when the season is over. This ranks with some of the best episodes in a long time, and the only thing that could have made it a little better was the return of Seth Meyers. But at the same time, letting Stefon mingle with the new Weekend Update hosts keeps the audience focusing on the new guard, and things are slowly but surely getting better and better every week.
We’ll be back in a couple weeks after Jim Carrey hosts “Saturday Night Live” on October 25th.
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