Wednesday, October 22, 2014

SNL 40.3 Review - Bill Hader, Hozier

Original Airdate - 10/11/14

It's always an event when a former castmember hosts the show, especially when it is a beloved and revered SNL alum.  Unlike the previous episode's host, Sarah Silverman, this episode is hosted by one of those beloved and revered alums, Bill Hader.  It had been a little over a season since Bill Hader left, and this is his first hosting gig since.  It was only a matter of time before they would bring one of the most versatile performers the show ever saw back to host.  I was actually surprised it took this long.  However, the main reason he didn't get his hosting debut until now is because he didn't do anything post-SNL until now that warranted such an honor.  With the release of The Skeleton Twins, Hader was able to come back to a place so familiar to him.  How did he do?

Cold Opening

The first sketch made light of an interesting piece of current events that had been rolling around the news outlets.  North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, normally a very public figure, had not been seen in public for weeks.  Some of the speculation was that he injured his ankles.  Some probably wondered if he was still alive.  SNL solves the riddle by bringing about a public appearance of the Communist dictator via Bobby Moynihan, one of the most underused cast members so far this season.  This bit is a little silly, but effective for its purpose.


We knew what kind of performer Bill Hader was coming in to the show, however he had never had to give a monologue before.  One of the popular formats of the SNL monologue is to have the host sing a song, which brought about an interesting bit of trivia: Bill Hader had never sung a song before on Saturday Night Live.  As he considered whether or not to sing, we get two cameos: one predictable (fellow SNL alum and Skeleton Twins co-star Kristen Wiig) and one not predictable (Harvey Fierstein).  Eventually, you realize there's a reason why Hader doesn't sing, but no one really cares by that point.  The ridiculousness of the scenario brings enough laughs to kick the show off right.

Weekend Update

As our new co-anchors continue to get more comfortable, this backbone to every episode is becoming more and more of a highlight.  Jost and Che are starting to prove what kind of humor they bring to the table as they truly settle in.  There were two guests to the Update desk in this episode.  The first brought about the second appearance in three episodes for new featured player Pete Davidson (bodes well for the newcomer in the over-populated cast).  This bit about how wearing gold chains change you is not as funny as his first appearance, but he does show once again that much of the immediate future of the show rests on his shoulders.

And now the moment everyone was waiting for.  If Bill Hader is hosting the show, many former characters and bits will be considered for re-hashing.  However, one character was practically guaranteed to reappear: city correspondent Stefon.  One of the most popular characters in the show's history makes his long-anticipated return to the update desk to tell of all the hottest spots in NYC.  One of the best parts of Stefon's appearances are the moments where the jokes get the best of Hader as we get a rare crack in character.  Legend has it that this is a result of former writer John Mulaney, who co-created Stefon with Hader, changing jokes at the last minute and letting Hader know as he walks on set for the live broadcast without rehearsing them.  Even though Mulaney has moved on to his new sitcom, no one else could help Hader create Stefon's return, or bring about Hader's latest laugh fest.  According to Mulaney's Twitter post, he texted one of the SNL writers right before broadcast his customary changes to Stefon's cue cards.  Hader was never told of the changes, and you must think he wouldn't expect them coming since Mulaney wasn't around.  So he was discovering what the jokes were right along with the viewing audience, and it is quite obvious on some of them.  You can tell they had been saving up some of these jokes over the last year as this may have been one of the best Stefon sketches to date.

Best Sketch

When a former castmember like Hader hosts, you have to qualify the best sketches as reworkings of old sketches and completely fresh and new material.  The best sketch of the night was definitely the reappearance of ancient news reporter Herb Welch, on the scene of yet another story and getting all the facts wrong as he cracks insensitive and sometimes racist remarks.  It is Hader at his best.

There weren't many noteworthy original sketches, as it was obvious most of the brainpower was spent making the character reappearances hit it big.  Of these original sketches, this was my favorite as I am a sucker for a good impression.  Most of these impressions in Hollywood Game Night we have seen before, but the surprise of the night comes courtesy of Beck Bennett's Nick Offerman.  It's perfect!

An honorable mention for best sketch that has to be mentioned is this beautiful tribute to the late Jan Hooks.  Hooks was a castmember in the late 80's and early 90's and helped pave the way for future stars like Molly Shannon, Ana Gasteyer, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, and the list goes on and on.  This sketch, fittingly co-starring the late Phil Hartman, is a perfect sketch to honor a fallen great.  It also serves as a reminder just how many of the great SNL personalities have left us too soon.  The only issue I had with this touching moment is it once again reminded all of us that they have yet to give a proper tribute to Don Pardo.  I know I've belabored this point before, but Pardo was involved in more episodes of SNL than creator Lorne Michaels has.  How do you not stop for more than five seconds and pay tribute to the voice of Saturday Night Live?  No matter what happens, this season will be considered a failure if no Don Pardo tribute is aired.

Worst Sketch

There weren't really any sketches that missed their respected marks, however this one was one I just didn't get.  To start, I must confess I have not seen Divergent or The Maze Runner (although I have seen the first two Hunger Games films).  That probably adds to my confusion behind this sketch.  This movie spoof idea presumably combines the storylines of these three films to make The Group Hopper.  We see the heads of SNL are starting to recognize what I have already said: Pete Davidson is the future of the show.  He stars as a kid out to rebel against what he is told is normal.  The sketch has its moments, and I'm sure it would make more sense if I had seen all these films, but I just feel like I missed the joke.

Dark Horse Sketch

There were several off-the-wall sketches in the second half of the episode that were quite good.  An honorable mention can go out to the first of Kyle Mooney's goofy sketches to get a sophomore appearance with their "Inside SoCal" talk show.  However, my favorite goofy sketch comes from a twisted take on The Cat in the Hat.  The sketch starts off with the build-up to the Cat's appearance, only to discover that the mother of the children that called on the Cat happens to be his ex.  Hader as the Cat is perfect, and the reveal of the kids' new dad is priceless.

When I heard Bill Hader would be hosting, this is the type of episode I was hoping for.  Bringing back his history of past performances on the show gives the writers an easy episode to write as they don't need to come up with as many original sketches.  As for the original sketches, a seasoned pro like Hader can make even the dullest sketch entertaining with his showmanship.  Because of this, this was the best episode of the season so far.  However, this also makes this the least impressive episode so far as well.  The writers really couldn't screw this one up.  Although that doesn't really affect the quality of the show, it definitely is something to keep in mind moving forward.


View the full episode here:

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