This season of “Saturday Night Live” has been surprisingly devoid of nostalgia, something I didn”t think would happen in this, the show”s fortieth season. But with former cast member Bill Hader returning tonight, look for that to change. And honestly? That”s fine. I have no problem with the show occasionally celebrating its own history, especially since much of the current cast was there during Hader”s tenure. Look for many of Hader”s classic characters to make a comeback tonight. Will there be a Stefon appearance? One could argue (and I would argue) that the Stefon sendoff was so perfect that any future appearance of the character would dilute that moment. But since Stefon did make another appearance during Seth Meyers” farewell, anything”s possible.
Something that”s not possible but definite: I”ll be liveblogging everything that happens tonight. Also definite: Many of you will rend garments when I give something a “B” instead of a “B+”. I am just giving the people what they want: A reason to hate me. It”s how I roll, and how I”ve been rolling for five years here at HitFix.
Come back at 11:30 pm EST when things kick off properly!
Kim Jong-Un Cold open: Kim Jong-Un is upset about rumors concerning his health. I”m concerned that this sketch is dead on arrival. There's just nothing here that warrants its placement as the cold open. Bobby Moynihan gives it his all, but energy alone doesn”t engage the crowd. What a terrible, terrible cold open. It”s all uphill from here, right? [Grade: D]
Monologue: Hader notes that while he”s done many impressions over the years, he”s never sung. Before he can actually, Kristen Wiig comes onstage, because of course she does. “I told you to stay backstage,” says Hader, and part of me thinks he”s totally serious. She sings most of the song, which is only fair since Hader might actually have a worse voice than I do. I did not think that was biologically possible! Harvey Fierstein, referenced earlier in the monologue, shows up to help Hader. He kicks Wiig offstage, but she comes back on with a saxophone and STARTS SINGING AGAIN. Bill Hader”s the host, right? Just checking. [Grade: C]
WXPD News: HERB WELCH! Welcome back, you beautiful bastard. Welch is covering a high school abstinence protest, with Taran Killam taking over the Jason Sudeikis anchor role. Welch still has fantastic one-liner comebacks to the studio. (“I know you”re smooth down there!”) After being AWOL last week, Pete Davidson appears here as the primary player opposite Hader. It”s still a fun premise, with Welch”s casual racism towards Cecily Strong”s teacher somehow toeing the line between offensive and really funny. This is a formula sketch, but the formula is still strong. [Grade: B]
The Group Hopper: A fantastic parody of recent YA films, from the language (“You”re a Circumscriber…and I love you!”) down to the fantastic visuals that establish this as a viable entry in the cinematic series to the casual observer. Most impressive about this? The sheer length of this parody, which feels longer than most sketches. Once again, Davidson gets the prime spot here, with Sasheer Zamata as the female lead. (She was all but absent last week as well.) In fact, this was essentially populated by featured players plus Hader (playing Elizabeth Banks” role in “The Hunger Games”, essentially), with few (if any) repertory cast members to be seen. Given the scope of this production, I wonder how many here had time to actually rehearse sketches this week. [Grade: A-]
Hollywood Game Night: As I hoped/predicted, we”re getting a sketch that involves every cast member doing his/her best impressions. (Killam”s Christoph Waltz slays me every time, and Beck Bennett”s Nick Offerman is SPECTACULAR.) Wiig returns with her Kathie Lee Gifford, because I”ve wronged some god and this is my punishment. Basically, this is variation on “Celebrity Jeopardy,” with the celebrities so incredibly stupid that it defies logic and Kate McKinnon”s Jane Lynch replacing Will Ferrell”s Alex Trebek as the put-upon host. Hader”s Al Pacino is as good as ever, but with so much time and energy put into Gifford, there wasn”t enough room for anyone else to say anything, especially poor Vanessa Bayer and Aidy Bryant. [Grade: C+]