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+]
HelpFund: Hader is Charles Daniels, asking for 39 cents a day for African aid. But those in the village are not having it, asking for more money (or at least money that rounds nicely). By the end, the villagers are holding Daniels hostage for $200. What started out like a seemingly anachronistic commercial parody turns into a prime example of how diversifying the show”s cast and writing staff yields small gems like this. There”s NO WAY “SNL” could have done this three seasons ago. And while the cold open indicates there”s plenty of room for the show to grow in this regards, “HelpFund” demonstrates how far they have come in a short amount of time already. If nothing else, this proves that Leslie Jones should get more screentime, and get it fast. [Grade: A-]
Hader and Wiig introduce “Love Is A Dream,” a classic sketch involving Jan Hooks and Phil Hartman. It”s a classy move on the show”s part to not simply put up her picture as tribute. No grades here. Just respect for “SNL” for airing this, and respect for two of the all-time greats the show ever had.
Weekend Update: It”s 12:20 am, and we”re just starting “Update” now? Well alrighty then. Pete Davidson makes his second “Update” appearance to discuss the “No Guns” policy at the 2014 BET Hip Hop Awards. Davidson explains that the policy is directly related to purchasing gold chains, which turns into a story about his relationship with 2 Chainz videos. It”s not a strong as his appearance in the season premiere, but it”s fine all the same. But really, who cares about Davidson? Stefon is back, and the crowd is ecstastic, and I”m slightly sad. For his part, Stefon is sad because Seth Meyers isn”t there. I”m sad because this character had a perfect sendoff. But only overthinking morons like me worry about this stuff, so if you”re excited about this, I can”t blame you. Stefon is still plenty funny (“If you”re some dumb folks just looking to get murdered, I have just the place for you!”), and seeing Hader crack up at the second (and third) mention of Dan Cortese is still funny. But having Che do the interview reveals how rote these appearances are, and while it sounds stupid to say it, Stefon primarily worked not because of the material but because of Meyers” in-show love of the character. The two had an actual relationship that grew over several seasons. But hey, everyone in the audience ate this up, and I imagine most of those reading this did as well. I totally understand why they did this, and I still don”t like that they did this. [Grade: B-]
Puppetry For Advanced Students: Sweet! The initial appearance of Anthony Coleman was a highlight of season 38, and while I”m not terribly surprised to see him return, I”m still delighted. And the good news is they didn't soften this character at all for the second go-round. There”s still plenty of darkness lurking barely under the surface. (“Here”s a joke: ‘GOD!””) Why this wasn”t earlier in the show, I will never understand. The crowd is more into this than any other sketch all night. Throw in what”s probably the first puppet-centric Vietnam flashback in the show”s history, and you had something that managed to differentiate (if not exactly exceed) the original iteration. [Grade: A-]
Inside SoCal: Let”s just pretend this didn”t happen. I wanna keep the overall grades on the Mooney/Bennett shorts higher, and lumping this in will bring down the curve. But this wasn”t funny the first time, and it”s not funny now. The best of their work mixes a Dadaist approach coupled with a modern sensibility. But “Inside SoCal” just feels sleepy and sloppy. [Grade: D]
The Cat In The Hat: The Cat has a romantic history with the mother of two children who imagine him into existence. This starts off painfully slowly, but builds as it progresses. Learning that the mother married Thing 2 (sorry, Jonathing) is a funny punchline, both verbally and visually. Not much here, but nowhere near the disaster it seemed in the first thirty seconds. [Grade: B-]
Best Sketch: “The Group Hopper” by a nose over “HelpFund”. But ask me tomorrow and I'll probably change my mind.
Worst Sketch: “Kim Jong-Un Cold Open”
How was Hozier? Hozier and his ponytail was perfectly fine, and his mix of gospel and rock certainly stands out in this current musical landscape.
Takeaways: This felt like an imbalanced episode, cast-wise, with a feel more akin to last season where everyone seemed to be fighting for the same oxygen at the expense of each other. Wiig”s presence didn”t help, but certainly wasn”t the only cause. What worked REALLY worked, but there was all too little middle ground, yielding a wildly uneven (albeit rarely boring) episode.
What did you think of tonight”s episode? Too much Wiig, or not enough? How are you feeling about the season after three episodes? Sound off below!