This week on Saturday Night Live, former player Bill Hader returned to host for his second time since leaving the show in 2013. Hader brought with him his infamous Weekend Update side character, Stefon, great impressions, cameos from Fred Armisen, John Goodman and John Mulaney, and plenty of St Patricks Day silliness. Returning castmembers can be tricky. Sometimes expectations can run higher than would be possible to meet, and the fit with the current cast isn’t always there. But Hader’s return was seamless, and appeared to inspire the rest of the cast to up their game as well.
Hader joined the cold open bringing back his impression of former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci (if nothing else, the Mooch approved), starting a run of great performances. He brought back The Californians- a fan favorite sketch, and a series of progressively sillier and sillier roles as the night went on.
The stand out sketch of the night was undeniable this week. Simply titled, “Irish Gaming Show” the bit takes us to a pre-The Bachelor world, with a parody of The Dating Game reminding us that dating shows used to be funny, and a lot more fun. Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong play three Irish ladies vying for the affections of Niall, played hilariously by Bill Hader. Family is fair game in Ireland’s version of the classic game show, leaving Irish-American Molly very confused.
We got to see some of Hader’s great impressions in a return of SNL’s beloved “screen test” series. The digital short series pairs a classic film with unlikely auditioners and gives the cast a chance to show off their mimic skills. Like most of the retries of the screen test premise, last night’s “Jurassic Park Screen Test” couldn’t live up to the brilliant writing and cleverness of the classic “Star Wars Screen Test” from 1997, but the impressions were fantastic, making it a memorable sketch that will undoubtedly wrack up big hits on YouTube. Hader took on the roles of Alan Alda, Al Pacino and Clint Eastwood flawlessly. The sketch kicked off with Alex Moffat delivering a perfect Hugh Grant, and included Kate McKinnon as Ellen and Jodie Foster, Pete Davidson channeling Adam Sandler, Leslie Jones as Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Redd playing Wesley Snipes and Jaleel White, Melissa Villesenor as Gwen Stefani, Aidy Bryant as Roseanne Barr, and Kenan Thomson as Sinbad and 1992 O.J. Simpson, plus impressions of Joey Lawrence, Eddy Veddar, Drew Barrymore and Pee Wee Herman.
The show got sillier and sillier, sometimes successfully, and sometimes unsuccessfully, but Hader’s characters shone even if the sketch didn’t. Like in “Sacred Rock”, a sketch that made zero sense other than to give a place for Hader to play Rodger, a Reiki healer who warns a tourist couple about an extraterrestrial experience. Rodger is some kind of cross between Muppet’s Swedish Chef and Woody Woodpecker’s Wally Walrus (for those who can remember back that far) Hader’s performance is so goofy and stupid in the best way possible that it was worth buying into the senseless premise.
CBC Report went in the opposite direction, with a brilliant sketch that was all premise- but far less fun to watch. Hader played Thomas Logan, a fictional filmmaker who’s lapses of politeness, and inappropriate comments to his female assistant like “you look nice today” and “what kind of sunglasses are those” land him in the hot seat- by Canadian standards- making him the “Harvey Weinstein of Canada.”
Weekend Update was at its finest, delivering not only great writing and performances by the anchors, but also a rare trifect– three fantastic side characters that included the return of Stefon (Hader failing to deliver a Stefon performance would be like Billy Joel not playing Piano Man), a terrific rant by Pete Davidson criticizing NBA power forward Kevin Love’s essay about having a panic attack (the best Pete Davidson Update character in awhile), and a laugh out loud performance by Kate McKinnon as White House Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Saturday Night Live will be off for a few weeks, but returns on April 7 and will be hosted by Chadwick Boseman with musical guest Cardi B.