Tonight’s episode of SNL will have everything.
Okay, maybe not. But after a shaky start, a visit from a beloved former cast member might be just what season 40 needs to get back on track. And Bill Hader isn’t just one of the show’s best-known recent alumni—he’s among the most skillful, versatile players in SNL history. Some would even call him the show’s best cast member ever; no less an authority than Bill Murray is one of those people.
Hader’s a precise impressionist, a chameleonic and engagingly weird performer, and, when the occasion calls for it, a perfectly dignified straight man. He’s a talented writer, too, as evidenced by both his work on SNL and the year he spent on South Park‘s staff, which won him his only Primetime Emmy (so far, at least). What really makes Hader great, though, is his uncanny ability to elevate any bit, regardless of the quality of his lines and whether he’s playing a lead role or a supporting one. And even though he was frequently the best thing about any given sketch, he never seemed hungry for the spotlight; if he were, he wouldn’t have agreed to play the host of every fake game show that appeared on SNL between 2005 and 2013. (It’s the same ineffable, flexible generosity displayed by Phil Hartman during his own tenure on the show—which makes sense, since Hartman is reportedly Hader’s idol.)
It’s only been a year and a half since Hader bid SNL farewell by sending Stefon, his signature character, running off into the sunset with his new husband, Seth Meyers. That means a good portion of SNL‘s current players has worked with Hader before—which, if nothing else, should give the cast and this week’s host a baseline level of comfort and familiarity, ideal breeding grounds for solid comedy. At least, unless the show turns into a greatest-hits lovefest that totally marginalizes the current cast, like last year’s Andy Samberg-hosted season finale.
Less well-known than Hader? That’d be musical guest Hozier, who’s still pretty new to mainstream fame; the Irish songbird’s network TV debut came a whopping five months ago, when he played Letterman. Still, his deep-voiced, bluesy tunes should win over plenty of swooning viewers hungry for the next Sam Smith. (We shouldn’t, however, expect Hozier to venture into sketchwork, as both of this season’s previous musical guests have. Then again, anything’s possible!)
Beyond the obvious—Stefon, Alan Alda/Al Pacino/Vincent Price, Herb Welch, maybe Greg the Alien if you’re very good and eat your vegetables—what are you hoping to see from Hader on SNL tonight? Which other former cast members do you think will stop by for a sketch or two, or at least to wave goodnight as the credits roll? (I’d be shocked not to see Seth Meyers, Fred Armisen, and/or Kristen Wiig, Hader’s costar in the movie he’s ostensibly here to plug; Andy Samberg is also a safe bet.) Are you looking forward to some sort of political sketch as the midterm elections draw ever nearer, or are you hoping tonight’s cold open will venture in a different direction? And which other topical topics do you think the show might try to tackle this week? (Could Hader’s onscreen brother Ben Affleck be persuaded to do a pretaped Gone Girl bit?)
Discuss below, and check back in the morning for EW’s full recap.