Will Ferrell returned to “Saturday Night Live” this week to lay down some firm truths. First and foremost, Ferrell seems to know that he’s partly to blame for your nostalgic pining for former President George W. Bush — and that needs to stop.
Host: Will Ferrell
Ferrell’s dim-witted version of George W. Bush was always a bit more lovable than the real thing, and very well may have helped cement the former president’s reputation for being a “guy you’d like to have a beer with.” In light of Donald Trump’s actions, Bush has seemed harmless in comparison, and even liberals are starting to miss having a Republican in office who at least pretended to care about democracy. But that’s where you’d be wrong, as Ferrell-as-W reminded viewers in this week’s “SNL” open.
“According to a new poll, my approval rating is at an all-time high,” Ferrell said as Bush. “I’m looking pretty sweet in comparison… I’m suddenly popular AF. I wanted to address my fellow Americans tonight and remind you that I was really bad. Like historically not good. Please do not look back at my presidency and think, ‘This is how we do it!’ Don’t forget we’re still in two different wars that I started. Who has two thumbs and created ISIS? This guy!”
Ferrell even showed a graph indicating the collapse of the stock market under Bush. “The stock market is at 26,000 right now,” he said. “I had you guys down to a cool 8K. I’m no economer, but even I know that it was no bueno.”
This almost makes up for “strategery.” Almost. Jokes of the night: “Some say that Mike Pence is heartless. But Dick Cheney was literally heartless” and “In my day, we didn’t let Russians rig our elections. We used the Supreme Court like Americans.” It’s funny because it’s true.
Leslie Jones as Condeleeza Rice didn’t have quite the same impact as her recent Oprah impersonation, but her Edith Bunker-esque take on “Those Were the Days” with Ferrell/Bush did add a nice coda to the reminder that Those Actually Weren’t The Days.
Things also got super meta in Ferrell’s opening monologue, a parody of first-time hosts, in which the host jokingly acted like he had suffered a concussion and didn’t believe he had ever been on the “SNL” stage before. But that allowed him to get a few zingers in, including mistaking an African-American audience member as Lorne Michaels (“the rudest man in showbiz”) and knocking “SNL” for doing too many song monologues… while doing a song monologue.
Beyond tackling George W. Bush, the “SNL” writers seemed to have a lot they wanted to get off their chests this week — reality TV (mocking two different alternative series genres — the old “Real World” format and the more recent “Real Housewives” format), taking on some of the more hotly debated aspects of the #MeToo movement (most notably, the allegations against comedian Aziz Ansari) and even organized religion.
Best Sketch of The Night: “Flight Attendants”
Let’s face it, this is why you write for Will Ferrell, to come up with characters like Gareth — the Southwest Airlines flight attendant who’s back after a month-long sabbatical and ready to share his hot take on how death is final. Extra points to featured player Luke Null for bringing the beat box skills.
“When I say ‘death,’ you say ‘is final,'” Gareth leads the plane in a chant, adding that “If you’re interested, I can recommend several podcasts,” and “Read ‘1984.’ It’s as relevant now as forever!'”
Told you this episode managed to get a bit delightfully subversive.
Honorable mention to “The House,” the kind of “SNL” parody that we would have seen (and did see, as a matter of fact) 20 years ago during Ferrell’s reign on the show. Making fun of the confessional and faux reality house drama isn’t anything new, but the sheer silliness of Ferrell, Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett arguing over the semantics of “movie night” made it work. And most importantly, it allowed for a way-too-brief cameo from Tracy Morgan as the sleeping roomie.
Worst Sketch of The Night: “Office Breakroom”
In a solid week, even the weakest sketches have their moments, and Ferrell’s confusion over “Crate and Barrel” and “Cracker Barrel” had its moments. But it was mostly a quick laugh, stretched out way too long. But both companies should be thrilled with the plugs, and the gentle ribbing at how similar their names are, despite being wildly different kinds of retailers.
Best Male Performer: Will Ferrell
Was there ever any doubt? Ferrell could have easily rested on his laurels, and showed up on “SNL” by reprising some of his signature characters and impersonations (I mean, I wouldn’t have minded an Alex Trebek appearance). But beyond Bush, this was mostly Ferrell introducing new endearingly ridiculous characters — perhaps most notably, the Air Force pilot with the nickname “Clown Penis,” and the “Kings and Queens of Santa Clarita” star Dane, throwing chicken and spreading it all over Mikey Day’s face. Ferrell seems to be enjoying a return to character building, having just hosted the Tournament of Roses Parade in the guise of “Cord Hosenbeck.”
Best Female Performer: Heidi Gardner
This was a tough one, as there was plenty to go around, and Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong, and Leslie Jones all had their moments, but it’s new featured player Heidi Gardner who got a nice showcase during Weekend Update, and gave the show a new obnoxious Millennial character that we’ll surely see again. Gardner as “teen film critic Bailey Gismert” was the epitome of a YouTube personality who claims to be an expert but actually doesn’t have much of an argument to back up any of their strong opinions. Gardner also played a major role in “Dinner Discussion,” which tackles the awkward talks everyone’s having — or trying to avoid — right now about Aziz Ansari.
Best Impression: Will Ferrell as George W. Bush
Interestingly, this and Jones as Rice were the only impressions of the night, as Ferrell focused on original characters and the show mostly avoided parodying real people this week.
When you bring on Will Ferrell as guest host, things are going to get silly. And that’s what many of the sketches were about — and how can you not giggle at Ferrell, with a straight face, as a fighter pilot explaining his choice of “Clown Penis” as a code name, or Ferrell and Strong, faces pulled straight back, doing their best “Real Housewives”-esque couple.
But it really was the subtle statements in this episode that made it standout. Besides reminding the audience not to rewrite the history of George W. Bush, there was the “Chucky Lee Bird” informercial that reminded people that the “good ol’ days” also meant Jim Crow laws; the fauxmercial “Next for Men” took on the constant revelation of celebrity sexual misconduct; and then there was that frank admission that not everyone quite knows how to handle the Aziz Ansari allegations. This wasn’t Will Ferrell’s first time back since leaving “SNL,” yet there was a vigor to this week’s episode as if it was.
“You’re going to like the way I look, I guarantee it!” a dazed Ferrell said in the opening monologue, parroting the old Men’s Warehouse tagline. And he was right: This may very well have been the best “SNL” episode of this season.