We”re here near the end of another season of “Saturday Night Live.” Can you feel the warm breeze, hear the sounds of birds, and fear the prospects of months of reruns? Me too! Tonight”s host is no stranger to the show. Will Ferrell will probably go down as one of the show”s all-time best players, and seeing him back in Studio 8H should make for some fun sketch comedy. While a lot of his characters were famous as part of a pair, he also had plenty of solo characters that will undoubtedly make an appearance tonight. (Also probably making appearances? Some of those old cast mates with whom he created so many memorable moments.) Along for the ride is musical guest Usher. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! OK! (Sorry, he probably won”t perform that tonight.)
My hopes are high for this one. Let”s get to it!
Pouty Biden: Joe Biden is upset that President Obama is getting all the credit for this week”s announcement about same-sex marriage. For some reason, Biden is acting like a spoiled pre-teen to Obama”s patient dad, complete with an imaginary friend named George. Or is he imaginary? Nope, it”s Ferrell busting out his George Bush right off the top. Bush says the pair is all “guts and balls” in contrast with Obama”s more measured approach. It”s fun to see Ferrell”s Bush impersonation again, complete with references to “President Cheney” and his inability to understand the word “figuratively.” There”s not a lot to this sketch, but it”s miles better than most of the political cold opens so far this season. [Grade: B+]
Monologue: Ferrell notes that his mother is in the audience with him tonight. He vows to speak straight from his heart for the first time in his life, from his “brain place” to his “mouth hole.” He blames the piano player for his poor improvisatory speech, which gets in a dig at this week”s Time Magazine cover for good measure. This “perfect Mother”s Day” speech involves ninjas in crotchless underwear, as all good Mother”s Day speeches should. Still, this was a fairly weak monologue, with Ferrell”s strange sense of humor never quite taking off. [Grade: B-]
Nasaflu: FUNNY SNEEZE SOUNDS ARE FUNNY! I guess. Whatever. I”m sure they had a lot more fun filming this than I did watching it. [Grade: D+]
Wilson High School Alternative Prom: As foretold, the parade of old cast members has begun, with Ana Gasteyer returning to reform the singing Kulps. And it”s like riding a bike, with the pair settling into their familiar banter almost instantly. Adele, Nicki Minaj, and others get the typical Kulp treatment. And is that a Deee-Lite reference? Why not? Here”s my fear: there will be so many returning alumni tonight that none of the current cast members will get a chance to appear. Considering how many might be imminently leaving, that”s a bit of a problem, no? It”s not a problem for this sketch, but might be a problem for the show. [Grade: B]
ESPN Classic: The parade continues, with Will Forte back to reprise his role of Greg Stink. But I can”t really complains, since I do love his chemistry with Jason Sudeikis, as well as the consistent (and consistently funny) offensive slogans for this week”s sponsor: Stayfree Maxi Pads. The action bounces back and forth between a woman”s long-drive golf tournament and “live” coverage of OJ”s infamous Ford Bronco chase. Ferrell is doing a cross between his roles in “Anchorman” and “Eastbound and Down,” it seems, with diminishing returns as a result of that combination. This went on far too long, but nearly everything in-studio was funny enough to justify the length. Still, everything away from it was comedy death. (And why do I worry that I won”t see Vanessa Bayer again until the curtain call?) [Grade: B]
The 100th Digital Short: I don”t mean to read too much into this…but if that were the last Digital Short ever, would anyone complain? That was a fantastic distillation of The Lonely Island”s output, in addition to an incredible production feat to get all of those past participants back for another go around. It was one Easter Egg after another, wonderfully weaved together as both celebration, deconstruction, and summation. I can”t say enough good things about that. Even the puerile recurring joke about self-administered oral sex couldn”t bring me down, mostly because it seemed to annoy Justin Bieber so much. Just a 100% win all around. Brilliant. [Grade: A]
Usher takes the stage to perform “Scream.” Unfortunately, the size of the stage coupled with his large back-up band doesn”t let Usher show off his stellar footwork. Still, it”s a solid, catchy song, and features one hell of a soaring bridge that I”m sure will sound PHENOMENAL in those clubs that I hear kids like to frequent when I”m not shoo”ing them off my damn lawn. He”ll probably never release another single as iconic as “Yeah!”, but this one definitely should move some records for him. Wait, there aren”t records anymore. Nevermind. [Grade: B+]
Weekend Update: We”re back to mining that Time Magazine cover for humor, with a solo “Really???” segment with Seth Meyers. It”s a fun bit, although the screenshot from “Game of Thrones” isn”t going to dispel any assumptions about the show”s explicit nature. Next up, Liam “Neese”s Pieces” Neeson gets “In The Cage” with Andy Samberg”s Nicolas Cage. (If you doubt Neeson”s comedic chops, go watch Neeson”s scene in “Life”s Too Short.” It”s the best part of the series by far.) Cage pitches a film based on “Hungry Hungry Hippos,” which I guess means Samberg has Facebook and saw that picture everyone passed around over the past few months. Samberg”s Cage is possibly the second-strongest recurring “Update” character behind Bill Hader”s Stefon, so even the lack of lines for Neeson couldn”t override my general joy at their interplay. [Grade: B+]
2012 Funkytown Debate: OK, first thing”s first: Abby Elliot is working that dress. That feels like it needs saying. Usher gets in on the action as Ferrell”s attaché in this sketch, and he”s got some solid comedic chops. If “SNL” can”t get Justin Timberlake back to host, Usher might be an interesting double-threat host in the 38th season. The best part of this? The entire cast gets to appear! I”d pity Jay Pharaoh for having to wear that outfit, but it”s simply a Parliament-Funkadelic reference, not another way to punish this man before he probably gets let go after this season. This was a featherweight sketch, but handled fairly smoothly, so it gets major props for what could have been an awkward disaster had the cast and band not synched up as well as they did. [Grade: B]
Broadway Sizzle: BILL HADER SIGHTING! Also, Why can”t “Smash” be more like this? I might actually watch it. The premise: Would-be Broadway hopefuls sing show tunes by up-and-coming composers on a public access show. This yields tunes about pear trees and mistaken sexual identities. Here”s something interesting: it”s 12:40 am, and this might be the first sketch since The Kulps to really feature Ferrell. (Too bad this is also one of the worst sketches all tonight.) Of all the hosts for “SNL” to bury, who would have expected this one? Odd. Not odd? Hader visibly breaking in his one and only sketch tonight. Never change, Bill. As soon as you make it through a show without laughing, we”ll know Señor Chang over on “Community” has body snatched you. [Grade: C-]
Usher is back, sadly not wearing his outfit from Funkytown. But he is singing “Climax”, a falsetto-laden ballad, all the same. The verses don”t have much impact, but there”s plenty of urgency in both the chorus and bridge to lift the song out of its stupor. He takes his jacket off halfway through the number, and suddenly I somehow feel much worse about all the Doritos I”m eating while writing this recap. Bah. Damn you and your chiseled arms, Usher. I still like your song, even if it isn”t as strong as your first number tonight. [Grade: B+]
Vince and Angela”s 25th Anniversary: I know we”ve seen the show do this premise before, and recently, but Google isn”t being in friend in helping me locate the specific episode in which this just occurred. But I know for sure that Bobby Moynihan did the “WHAT?”/mic drop last time, even if Will Forte wasn”t around to reprise his gravelly-voice man of mystery. One more thing…Dear “SNL”: it”s super hard to give Kate McKinnon an on-air audition if she”s only in two sketches, one of which features no lines. Just some friendly advice from me to you. [Grade: C]
Almost Pizza: Time filler! Loved it last time it aired, but I don”t grade commercials that have already aired. [Grade: N/A]
Best Sketch: “The 100th Digital Short”, which also served as a Top 5 moment for the season.
Worst Sketch: “Nasaflu.”
Biggest Surprise: The aforementioned Ferrell absence, though many people on Twitter noted that he certainly seemed under the weather tonight. That”s a far more likely scenario than the show overtly burying him, although the show has buried plenty of capable hosts over the past few years.
Next Week: Mick Jagger, serving as host and musical guests.
What did you think of tonight”s show? Did the Digital Short blow you away, or simply feel self-indulgent? Did the lack of current cast members tonight bother you, or should past members always get the limelight whenever they are available? Did the specter of imminent cast departures affect your enjoyment of tonight”s episode, or is such turnaround just par for the course in terms of your viewing habits? Sound off below!