It didn’t take long for Bill Hader to return to SNL: After an eight-season stint, Hader left the show in 2013 but came back Saturday night to make his hosting debut — and to remind viewers what they’re missing now that he’s no longer a full-time player.
Hader brought along some old characters, including the beloved Stefon and a veteran struggling to master puppetry, for his return and also played some new ones, like a heartbroken Cat in the Hat. The one thing that ran through all his performances in the night though was how skilled of an impressionist Hader is: He disappears into each character and turns each one into someone laughable and often strange.
Before we got to the good stuff though, we had to wait through a monologue that centered around Hader’s singing voice and featured a Kristen Wiig cameo. After an unbearably unfunny cold open, the monologue wasn’t much better — Wiig encouraged Hader to sing until he finally did and revealed his voice is ridiculously low and ridiculously bad (Harvey Fierstein also appeared to showcase his less-than-stellar pipes alongside Hader).
Even the best hosts can fall flat sometimes though, but luckily that’s not what happened in the night’s…
SNL created the ultimate YA film with The Group Hopper, a parody “adapted from a YA novel written entirely in the comments section of a Hunger Games trailer.” Pete Davidson and Sasheer Zamata shine in this pre-taped sketch, which mocks the most out-there aspects of recent films like The Maze Runner and Divergent. Hader even plays a version of The Hunger Games‘ Effie Trinket and — predictably — ups the comedy of the already-weird character with an exaggerated speech pattern and out-of-place one-liners. It’s relevant and it’s funny: Just what the best sketch should be.
Once upon a time, the Cat in the Hat and Linda (Cecily Strong) were in love. Then Linda moved on and had two kids, who summon the Cat in the Hat with their imagination and make for an awkward run-in between their mom and the life-sized feline. The scene plays out like a sitcom, and Hader switches between the ready-to-entertain Cat in the Hat and the heartbroken man he is with ease. Plus, we got to see Aidy Bryant show off some sweet dance moves. More Aidy, please?
The episode started off on a low (very low) note with its cold open, a sketch that centered around Kim Jong-Un’s health. Bobby Moynihan did a fine job playing the Korean leader, but that didn’t matter much because of how boring the sketch was. Really, reading the news might be funnier than this.
Best Musical Moment
Though Hader’s singing debut was in the running (just kidding, that was horrible), Hozier wins the evening’s “Best Musical Moment” with his performance of “Take Me To Church,” a bluesy, eerie song the Irish singer performed with just enough soul.
Best (Expected) Cameo
We figured Kristen Wiig would show up: The actress co-stars in The Skeleton Twins with Hader and the two were frequent collaborators during their time on SNL. But she made more than a seconds-long cameo and ended up sticking around to play a wonderfully annoying Kathie Lee Gifford in the “Hollywood Game Night” sketch opposite Hader as Al Pacino, making us believe for just a few minutes that we were watching a rerun from years past.
Best Send-up of Guilt Trip Charity Ads
You know those commercials that ask you for just a quarter — just a quarter! — in exchange for making the lives of poor villagers better? You know how guilty they make you feel, how much you just want to help? The “39 Cents” short makes fun of this phenomenon with Hader asking for 39 cents to save the people of a poor black village. Except these people get involved in the commercial, encouraging Hader’s character to up the amount (“It’s not even a round number!”) and otherwise mocking the sheer ridiculousness of these ads — and the white people who star in them. Toward the end, the villagers ask Hader which country he’s in. His answer? Africa.
Stefon is pregnant! And, as he claimed at the end of his Weekend Update appearance, he’ll let you know if he’s keeping it. Before that big announcement though, Stefon handed out some suggestions on where to party — and Hader got the giggles. Turns out he can’t utter the name “Dan Cortese” without breaking out into a fit of laughter, and watching Hader break character — a rarity — was endearing and made Stefon’s appearance even sillier. Even Stefon can’t handle Stefon!
Pete Davidson is the newest addition to the show, and he proved why last night with work in sketches like “The Group Hopper” and his Weekend Update bit, where he talked about his heavy gold chain in relation to gun laws and got to show off his stand-up skills. Sure, the overall idea of the bit wasn’t so strong, but Davidson’s understated and casual delivery of punchlines about 2 Chainz and poor posture made the ridiculousness of his character’s rant all the funnier.
SNL alum Jan Hooks died this past week, and the episode paid tribute not by showing a clip of her straight-up humor or simply a photo of the star, but a clip of a sweet performance with fellow alum Phil Hartman called “Love is a Dream.” In the short film, an older Hooks finds a tiara that transports her back to her youth where she sings and dances with the dashing Hartman before finding her way back to her current self. It’s a romantic piece, and one that showcases the loveliness of Hooks no matter what kind of material she was performing.
Correction: The original post said Hader’s portrayal of a veteran struggling to master puppetry was a new character, but Hader played the character in 2012 when Seth MacFarlane hosted.