Back to IndieWire

‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: Bill Hader Unsurprisingly Impresses, Leaving Us Wanting More

The eight-year SNL veteran proved just how important experience can be in Studio 8H.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1741 "Bill Hader" -- Pictured: (l-r) Beck Bennett, Bill Hader during "New Office Product" in Studio 8H on Saturday, March 17, 2018 -- (Photo by: Kailey Fellows/NBC)

Kailey Fellows/NBC

Saturday Night Live” knows people will be or are drinking on St. Patrick’s Day, whether they watch the episode or not. But for those people who choose to do their St. Patrick’s Day drinking while watching NBC’s seminal sketch comedy show, it’s arguable that this episode of “SNL” is the sketch comedy equivalent of that same amount of binge drinking — nd this is coming from someone who was stone cold sober watching this episode. Bill Hader, callbacks and longtime jokes, some insane accents, Arcade Fire, and an upsetting amount of crap at the end of the night? That’s definitely some binge drinking holiday in a nutshell.

Host: Bill Hader

Monologue-wise, Bill Hader did something more “SNL” hosts should do: He explained how things work around here. Specifically, he explained how he only learned how things worked around here after he finally left, after eight seasons and 210 episodes with this cast. Whether it be project promotion, celebrity pop-ins, or even the length of monologues, Bill Hader explained it all. (Call him, Nickelodeon.) However, “SNL” might not want that monologue thing—that it can be as short as you want it to be—to get out. Otherwise there might be a decrease in musical monologues!

Hader hosting means it’s time to hit some pretty expected beats. “The Californians” is one of those things, and honestly, the most impressive part of the sketch is the quick change he does on the stage at the end of his monologue to cue it up. As for the sketch itself, “The Californians” has always been a “you either love it or you hate it” sketch. Speaking as someone who lives in California, I can honestly say I’ve found myself experiencing some pretty similar “Californians”-esque situations; though we don’t tend to look into a mirror after said moments. This particular Californians bit isn’t its best, but it is good for the moments memorializing Rosa (Vanessa Bayer, a week after she made a surprise appearance on the show) and Pete Davidson’s turn as Rosa’s long lost son from Encino… who has absolutely no accent and has never heard anyone in California talk the way they do. In fact, with that, this particular Californians sketch would make a pretty damn good send-off for the sketch.

But then again, this is “SNL,” so see you again sketch, the next time Bill Hader (or Kristen Wiig) hosts the show.

Plus, you can’t have Bill Hader on “SNL” without impressions, so there’s no surprise we get one of those pre-taped screen test sketches (in this case, for the “Jurassic Park” 25th anniversary). It’s even less of a surprise that he busts out the Alan Alda (and the Al Pacino) for this bit. It is pretty surprising “SNL” hadn’t already done one of these for “Jurassic Park,” though.

There are also of course the little impressions that are just a reason to joke about how things have changed in the past 20-plus years, whether it’s Kate McKinnon’s “I’m just kidding. I’m ‘90s Ellen.” or Kenan Thompson’s “Man, 1992. It is good to be O.J. right now.” Then there are impressions like Leslie Jones’ Whoopi Goldberg — who at least has remembered to go eyebrow-less — and Luke Null’s Eddie Vedder — who actually made not being on the episode at all a better option.

There’s also — again, unsurprising — the return of Stefon, who has a newfound obsession with spotting Roman J. Israel, Esq. And who can blame him? Not only does Stefon provide confirmation that he and Seth Meyers are still going strong, he allows for a brief John Mulaney cameo (as his lawyer). By the way: The way the crowd reacts, you’d think Mulaney had ever actually been a part of the cast, wouldn’t you?

Best Sketch of The Night: “Irish Dating Show”

Because this is the St. Patrick’s Day episode, there’s also a sketch early on that might have caused you to Google, “is incest big in Ireland?” At least, one of us did. Considering how much “SNL” loves to go all-in on holiday stuff, you’d expect there to be more than one St. Patrick’s day-adjacent sketch on the show. But this is it!

The Irish Dating Show sketch is basically too absurd to get into offensive territory, especially when you have Aidy Bryant’s Irish-American Molly — who came to Ireland to study stones, so many she shouldn’t be casting any — as the sole straight man in this kissing (and even more) cousins scenario. It’s a pretty hot start for the episode, after the familiar presence of “The Californians” — one that says this episode is bound to be quite unpredictable. Also, Cecily Strong’s accent choice for Siobhan is very clearly modeled after recent “SNL” host Saoirse Ronan, so it’s nice to get a pretty apparent inspiration when it comes to these kinds of things.

Honorable Mention: “Girlfriends Game Night”

Unpredictability is also the name of the game in the Girlfriends Game Night sketch, which starts one basic way and then ends another, bizarre way. Hader as old man Horace has kind of a rocky start, but once the Cialis kicks in, the fun begins. (Sorry.) From that point on (as she sits on his lap to get pregnant), Cecily Strong can barely keep from breaking, and Hader doesn’t help with his motorized chair. It’s already pretty great when he drives them into the table and jostles the white wine for the weirdest game of Uno ever, but when he reverses—pushing Melissa Villaseñor forward in the process—to make his grand speech? It’s really all prop humor and the surrealism of this bit that makes this weird little sketch work.

Worst Sketch of The Night: “Sacred Rock”

As with every “SNL” episode, there are winners and there are losers, and the trip to the Spirit Quest Lodge ends up being the loser. While the sketch really works once it gets to the return of the aliens Hader’s Roger had previously talked about in the sketch, that aforementioned previous talk isn’t all that entertaining. There’s more time spent trying to figure out Roger’s accent — and why he even has it — to be perfectly honest.

Best Male Performer: Bill Hader

Come on, it’s not even close. Though Alex Moffat — again — has a firm clutch on the regular male cast member spot, despite still only being a featured player.

Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong

“Irish Dating Show,” “Girlfriends Game Night.” Enough said.

Best Impression: Alex Moffat as Hugh Grant/Pete Davidson as Adam Sandler/Kate McKinnon as Lisa Kudrow/Mikey Day as Pee Wee Herman

Bill Hader’s Alan Alda is instantly disqualified, as it’s just one of those back pocket things the man has and busts out every single moment he possibly can. But while there were a lot of “not great” impressions, narrowing down the best one in the “Jurassic Park” sketch proves to be even more difficult. For example, the Lisa Kudrow impression doesn’t instantly feel like it’s great until McKinnon gets into the “oh no” groove” — but Day’s Pee Wee was just perfect. But it’s important to realize an embarrassment of riches is much better than the alternative, especially when it comes to “SNL.”

Also, how could Kate McKinnon have this Lisa Kudrow impression and not bust it out with Vanessa Bayer’s Jennifer Aniston impression? Come on, getting impressions for the rest of the “Friends” cast after that would have been so easy.

Grade: A-

On the negative side of things, while Hader appears in the cold open, even this man can’t stop the white noise that these things have become. As mentioned last week, it was impressive that “SNL” actually went out of their way to trick the audience into paying attention to a political cold open. That doesn’t happen here. And if only they would put that kind of effort into Weekend Update, which is completely bolstered this week by the guest appearances (McKinnon as Betsy DeVos, Davidson’s jealous-yet-honest discussion of mental illness, STEFON)… while Colin Jost and Michael Che apparently sleepwalk through their punchlines. Seriously: If the majority of the punchlines regularly don’t land and the Updater has to tease the audience about that, it’s not really the audience’s fault.

Back to the positives! This is the type of episode where even the musical guest gets in on the action, as the Canadian rock band Arcade Fire appears in the CBC Report sketch. Thankfully, it’s a sketch that’s more of a Canadian joke than it is a short-sighted #MeToo one — all with a “sorry” (or “soory,” if you’ve got the proper Canadian pronunciation down) to go with it. And a pretty decent joke from the drummer, who only expected to be asked what instrument he plays (“drums”) before he realizes what’s going on. They’ve also got some pretty striking musical performances in this episode too, if you’re into that sort of thing.

This episode also provides one of the most bizarre — and surprisingly not revealed to be a psychotic break, sort of — 10-to-1 sketches in a while, with the “Undercover Office Potty” sketch. It’s literal toilet humor to close the show, but the anticipation of it getting much more “intense” kind of helps it rise above that. Even though it never actually gets more intense. (“Intense” is code for “violent” or “scary.”) So we’re just left with literal crap to close the show. It’s probably safe to assume Bill Hader wanted this to be so, for the imagery.

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , , ,


Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox

Newswire