A year-and-a-half after closing the door on his beloved eight-season run on “Saturday Night Live,” Bill Hader made his Studio 8H hosting debut in the most hilarious episode yet of the show’s frustratingly average Season 40. While many could’ve predicted the episode’s comic success well in advance given how familiar we are with Hader’s master impressions and one-of-a-kind sketch character acting, it was still an absolute delight seeing the fan favorite back in his old stomping ground. Even in something as forgettable as Hader’s opening monologue, in which the actor brought out buddy Kristen Wiig for one of her multiple cameos, the sweet earnestness all over his face was well worth a smile. Hader, who has won rave reviews recently for his work opposite Wiig in “The Skeleton Twins” (now playing), even had to hold back tears during the show’s signature signoff. More so than his impeccable comedy skills, Hader’s joy for entertaining and apparent gratitude for being able to do so made his hosting debut a winning affair.
But with all the focus on Hader’s return, could any of the current ensemble find a way to leave their mark on the episode? Continue below for this week’s “Saturday Night Live” MVPs.
Bill Hader (Entirety of Season 40, Episode 3)
It may be cheating to include the host on this list, but it’s hard not to give Hader an MVP shout-out when the answer to the above question is pretty much a resounding “no.” While Hader didn’t follow other former-cast-members-turned-hosts such as Jimmy Fallon and Andy Samberg by bringing out a parade of celebrity friends (Hader limited his cameos to Harvey Fierstein and Wiig, who’s always a welcome presence when she’s putting her deliriously rude spin on Kathie Lee Gifford), he followed suit by dominating every sketch of the night, essentially turning the entire cast into the evening’s straight man opposite his many eccentric characters. It’s up for debate whether or not sidelining the cast this week was a good call when the show as a whole is still so unevenly assembled, but who’s complaining when the writers let Hader fire on all comedic cylinders?
Unsurprisingly, Hader played the nostalgia card multiple times, bringing back his irascible Al Pacino impersonation (“Is it too early to ask to go to the bathroom?” he shouted while being introduced during “Hollywood Game Night”) and the cantankerous news reporter Herb Welch, whose irreverent jabs are always inappropriately outdated (“From the bodega to the boardroom, Latin Americans are on the rise”). Also reappearing to audience howls was Anthony Peter Coleman, the Vietnam War veteran and puppeteer struggling with PTSD. Hader debuted the character during the Seth Macfarlane episode back in 2012, and the long-awaited follow-up this week was just as darkly memorable (“If I had to use emojis during my time in Grenada they would be palm tree, flame thrower, baby, flame thrower, mosquito, mosquito, mosquito” might be the line of the night). The host even put on the hat to play the Cat in a new Dr. Seuss-inspired sketch that was so damn good it made you wish Hader could stick around and play other children’s characters with his blend of childish glee and naughty adult undertones.
But of course, Stefon’s big comeback stole the night. I’m not so sure the show needed to bring back the flamboyant “Weekend Update” city correspondent, especially since the epic “Stefan’s Farewell” remains one of the best sketches in recent “SNL” history, but his return was ultimately a no-brainer and, luckily, it did not disappoint. By having Stefon playfully address the new “Update” anchors (“Oh, one of each…” he slurred while seductively grinning at the biracial pair) and by giving him perhaps his most bizarre sightseeing spots (“Located where Donald Trump Jr.’s chin should have been, this wealthy whack-shack opened its doors in the two hours between when Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died”) and lists yet (“This place has everything: skunks, lupus, that back room that employees at Foot Locker disappear into…”), the writers made Stefon’s return as effective as possible. They even made Hader hilariously break character like never before by dropping MTV’s Dan Cortese into every joke. Best yet, Stefon made anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che seem more playful and loose than they ever have been, which is a huge plus for the struggling show centerpiece. Watch below and try not to belly-laugh.
Pete Davidson (“The Group Hopper,” “Weekend Update: Gold Chains”)
Pete Davidson’s total absence from last weekend’s episode was widely noted considering the 19-year-old newbie was the breakout cast member of the Season 40 premiere. Luckily, the up-and-comer was back this week and seemingly everywhere. In fact, other than Hader, Davidson had the most screen time of the night, clearly a promising sign from Lorne Michaels. In the YA-adaptation spoof trailer “The Group Hopper,” Davidson expertly played the fresh-faced, bumbling chosen one (his “Well that sucks!” reaction to a pregnancy was pitch-perfect), and while he spent a majority of the episode as sketch support, he returned to “Weekend Update” with another clever stand-up routine. Just like his takedown of homophobia in the season opener, his sendup of young white males and rap culture was wicked smart and extremely relatable to the young-adult/teen demographic the show is clearly gunning for given Davidson’s casting. Built entirely around the merits of his gold chain (highlight: “I was watching 2 Chainz and in the middle of the rap he goes, ‘You’re a bitch if you ain’t got a chain,’ and I’m not a bitch so… I went out and spent half my net worth on this chain”), Davidson’s latest bit proved that sometimes sly satire goes way farther than laugh-out-loud humor.
Taran Killam & Kate McKinnon (“Hollywood Game Night”)
Headliners Killam and McKinnon took a back seat to Hader this weekend, but their impressions during the gut-busting “Hollywood Game Night” sketch were funny enough to earn them a spot on this week’s scorecard. Game show sketches have always been the easiest way for the ensemble to show off their rapid-fire impersonation skills, and while everyone was pretty great in this bit (Cecily Strong’s Sofia Vergara, Beck Bennett’s Nick Offerman), no one could touch the hyped up energy of Killam and McKinnon. As host Jane Lynch, McKinnon expertly balanced suppressed jealousy (“I’m Jane Lynch, America’s #2 lesbian”) and bursts of aggression (“That’s enough!” she shouted when someone made a “Glee” reference), and Killam absolutely slayed the inquisitive intensity of Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz. Just look at Killam’s crazed eyes for proof on how amazing this impersonation is.
Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett (“Inside SoCal 2”)
Mooney and Bennett’s video sketch of the week was the only segment not completely stolen by Hader, and it allowed the duo’s singular style to stand out even stronger than in last week’s rom-com satire, “Poetry.” The pair first premiered “Inside SoCal” in Jonah Hill’s January 2014 episode, but this time they wisely swapped out digital photography for shoddy camcorder footage so the sketch could have a retro aesthetic to match all its “chill” mockery. Full of awkward pacing, stories about “homies” (a friend’s wedding, cutting to interview a boyfriend who beats off to pornography), and even more awkward pauses, “Inside SoCal 2” drew the cluelessness out of Southern Californian chillness in the most humorous way possible. This sketch might appeal more directly to those familiar with this kind of lackadaisical stoner buzz, but those who understand what Mooney and Bennett are getting at are sure to have a satisfying laugh.
Since many cast members were sidelined due to Hader’s dynamic showcase, it would be misguided to say anyone was improved or in need of improvement this week. As a result, we thought we’d finish this week’s “SNL” scorecard with the show’s warm tribute to the late Jan Hooks, who died this past Thursday at age 57. Hooks, a cast member from 1986-1991, memorably impersonated Sinead O’Connor and was one of the lounge-singing Sweeney Sisters, but the show decided to honor her memory instead with the lovely Phil Hartman-duet “Love is But A Dream.” It was an appropriately emotional tribute. Rest in peace, Jan.
“Saturday Night Live” returns on October 25 with host Jim Carrey and musical guest Iggy Izalea.