Editor’s Note: Editor-in-chief Bill Bodkin will be filling in for regular SNL reviewer Luke Kalamar this week.
This will be the first full episode of Saturday Night Live I’ve watched since Kristen Wiig’s final episode in of May 2012. I headed into the episode excited because this was also the first time I’d be seeing a full episode with cast members that Luke Kalamar has talked about so highly: Taran Killam, Cecily Strong, Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant. It would also be my first look newcomers at Michael Che and Pete Davidson, both of whom have made quite the impression already. Of course, having Bill Hader as host is awesome. Why? Well to paraphrase the kids these days…”because Bill Hader.” Musical guest Hozier intrigues me as I’ve dug his single “Take Me to Church” and I’m looking forward to what the Irish crooner has to offer as a live performer.
There weren’t many funny scenes in tonight’s episode, but the ones that were funny were home runs. The Hollywood Game Night sketch is the modern day equivalent of the famed Celebrity Jeopardy sketch back in the 90s. Just like that sketch, this worked because the impressions were spot on…well, except for Jay Pharaoh (you can read about my disdain for Pharaoh in my review on the 2014 VMAs). First, Kate McKinnon killed as Jane Lynch. She had every mannerism, nervous tick and vocal inflection down perfectly. Her line that she was “America’s second favorite lesbian” was hilarious. Taran Killam’s Christoph Waltz was a close second in terms of the best impression, as he perfectly played off Waltz’s playfulness and energy that was highlighted in Django Unchained. Kristen Wiig’s Kathy Lee Gifford was pretty one-note, but her one-liners about Hoda, particularly the “lady with no red” line was cruel, but hysterical.
The return of Stefon to Weekend Update was absolutely expected, but also absolutely necessary. The scene was perfect in every way — especially the constant references to former MTV personality Dan Cortese which seemed to crack up Hader every time. Che and fellow Update host Colin Jost played perfect straight men to Hader’s outlandish character. Speaking of Update, I dug Jost and Che as team. They seemed to play it a bit safe this week, but they were funny nonetheless.
SNL paid tribute to Jan Hooks who passed earlier this week by re-running a whimsical musical number she did with Phil Hartman. The sequence wasn’t funny, but it was a sweet, touching and truly poignant moment. Well done, SNL.
The Maze Runner sketch “Category Jumper” was solid, but was a little long. It makes “what worked” because Hader stole the scene as an Elizabeth Banks in the Hunger Games-esque character.
The Okay Moments:
The addition of Kristen Wiig, as a quasi co-host overshadowed Hader’s return. I know the two are starring together in The Skeleton Twins, but I think a surprise cameo would’ve been sufficient. Instead, Wiig was a major part of Hader’s opening monologue, reprised her Kathy Lee character, intro-ed Hozier and the Jan Hooks tribute. It just felt like SNL didn’t think Hader would draw an audience, so they hot shotted Wiig in to spike a rating.
Hozier’s performances were middle of the road. His first performance was flat and he seemed like he started way to early and was trying to compensate the entire song. His second performance was stronger — it had a nice, bluesy feel to it that the crowd seemed to dig.
What Didn’t Work:
The cold opening was horrible. You could hear a pin drop throughout the entire sketch. Bobby Moynihan tried to soldier through a weak sketch but he couldn’t save it from being horribly unfunny.
Darrell Hammond as the voice of SNL isn’t working for me. He’s too quite, too subdued. No one will ever be Don Pardo, but give us some life in these reads.
The Cat in the Hat sketch with Hader and Cecily Strong had the potential of being really funny, but the timing was real weird as they just started getting into a groove and then the sketch was over.
Maybe my expectations were high for the new cast, but the cast really wasn’t given anything good to work with. There were no recurring characters (outside of Stefan), none of the female cast members (outside of Game Night) were given anything to work with and for all the good I’ve heard about Taran Killam, he was barely registering tonight.
When this episode was good, it was hilarious. However, it wasn’t good very often, outside of Weekend Update and the Game Night sketch. Hader’s hosting gig seemed a bit flat. He’s such a funny guy and they gave him little to work with outside of a return of Stefon. Hader’s so talented and to give him such a throwaway episode and hot shot-ing Kristen Wiig in, really undercut the impact of Hader hosting. As for the cast I’d never seen before — color me undecided. I didn’t see enough of any of these cast members doing anything funny, or unfunny for that matter, that evoked a strong reaction. I think the series has a potential star with Pete Davidson, but otherwise, no one cast member stood out.
This was a middle of the road episode, that had major upside. Jim Carrey and I-GG-Y, Iggy Azalea are on in two weeks and that will no doubt be a great episode.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10
Bill Bodkin is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. He can be read weekly on Trailer Tuesday and Singles Party, weekly reviews on Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Hannibal, Law & Order: SVU and regular contributions throughout the week with reviews and interviews. His goal is to write 500 stories this year. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English and currently works in the world of political polling. He’s the reason there’s so much wrestling on the site and is beyond excited to be a Dad this coming December. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom