Will Ferrell’s return to SNL put him in the Five Timers club and offered the former castmember a chance to insert a little of the old Saturday Night Live into its current version. For better or worse.
Saturday’s episode featured Ferrell everywhere, and for good reason. He’s excellent at impressions and characters, even ones he probably shouldn’t try to pull off. Few are better at sticking with a bit, and he routinely makes others better around him. He’s willing to be outrageous and a bit crude, too, but in Ferrell’s days (1995-2002) sketches could take unexpected and very welcome turns.
That was certainly the case on Saturday during “First Thanksgiving,” a sketch where John Smith dined with the family of Pocahontas. It’s awkward for a lot of reasons, as the sketch notes Smith is turning 30 and Pocahontas is, uh, 12. But it’s Ferrell’s role as Pocahontas’s grandfather that makes the dinner tense.
The gist of the sketch is that Pocahontas’ grandfather is the equivalent of a modern-day Fox News watching Trump supporter, saying a “fox” is telling him natives need to be wary of immigrants. He’s hearing rumors of them bringing illness and guns, and that they should build a wall to keep them out.
Given how things actually play out between white settlers and the genocide of natives that follows all the way through Manifest Destiny and beyond, it’s a bit tough to see natives cast in the same light as paranoid doomsday Trump supporters. But then the turn comes, as the suspicious reason John Smith keeps leaving the dinner table — and not washing his hands, as Ferrell’s character notes — is revealed: he’s having digestive issues. The same as everyone else when it comes to the maize.
The turn happens slowly at first, and then all at once. Smith mentions he’s having issues with the food, and eventually every character talks about those “three or four” pieces of corn they seem to see when they look down. Then Ferrell stands up and breaks the fourth wall, addressing the audience with a message of Thanksgiving, uh, unity.
“No matter what year it is or what color we are, or whether we get our news from a fox or a peacock,” Ferrell said. “One thing’s for sure: none of us can digest corn. And that’s what’s important.”
It doesn’t make up for the overall awkwardness of the sketch, but Ferrell does his best to address it in the moment.
“I mean, white actors playing natives,” Ferrell offered. “What is this 2014?”
But few people on the show can deliver a line like “Wow, John, I guess we have a few things in common after all,” and have it hit as hard as Ferrell can. Especially when he’s talking about human waste.