It’s always fun when a former Saturday Night Live cast member returns to Studio 8H, but boy is it a treat when Bill Hader comes back. Over the course of his eight-season run on SNL, Hader cemented himself as one of the most talented and versatile cast members the show has ever had, a Phil Hartman-like utility player who helped elevate every sketch he was in. Whether he was stealing the show as some over-the-top character or just playing the straight man to everyone else’s craziness, Hader could melt into a role of any size. (That is, of course, when he wasn’t breaking and cracking up on air.) He was also one of the most gifted impressionists SNL has ever seen, and his impersonations ran the gamut from the classic (Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood, Alan Alda) to the delightfully kooky (Vincent Price, Keith Morrison, James Carville).
Which is why it’s such a blast to have him back — and in the spotlight, no less, promoting his upcoming HBO show Barry. Like Hader’s last hosting stint, in 2014, Saturday’s episode was a mix of greatest hits and new additions. Of course Fred Armisen showed up for a Californians redux, and there’s no way “Weekend Update” would’ve ended without a guest spot from Stefon. But there were also plenty of hysterical surprises, from a cameo by Stefon’s co-creator John Mulaney to whatever that wheelchair sketch was. The writing and sketch premises didn’t always pop, but Hader’s enthusiasm was infectious, and the result was an episode that had both the audience and Hader himself dissolving into laughter.
Monologue: The Californians return
After a giddy, self-deprecating monologue recapping all the things he’s learned since leaving SNL — the commercials are fake, who knew? — Hader segued into what he does best: sketches. One onstage quick-change later, and he was launching right back into everyone’s favorite bleach-blond soap opera, this time paying tribute to Vanessa Bayer’s deported maid, Rosa. (The closeup of Rosa’s picture got one of the biggest laughs of the entire episode.) All the old staples were there — Fred Armisen’s ridiculous white sunglasses, dramatic music cues, inexplicable pronunciations of “La Brea” — but this time, Pete Davidson joined in as Rosa and Devin’s long lost, man-bun-wearing son, who’s just trying to figure out what’s up with everyone’s accents.
Cold open: Rex and Mooch and Wolff
SNL kicked things off with Alex Moffatt as Anderson Cooper, highlighting a few of the quirkiest characters and forgotten oddballs of the Trump administration. There was the ever-creepy Jeff Sessions (Kate McKinnon) and the recently fired Rex Tillerson (John Goodman), as well as Armisen as Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff and Hader as canned communications director Anthony Scaramucci. (It’s a role Hader briefly played on last year’s Weekend Update: Summer Edition). As Tillerson marveled over how far he’d fallen and Wolff preened over how much he knew, Scaramucci was just glad to be back in the spotlight. “I’m the fidget spinner of the Trump White House,” he explained gleefully. “I made a big splash, and then one day, everybody was like, whoa, what the hell was that about?”
The cold open also served as a reminder of how much fun it is to just watch Hader and Armisen riff off one another. (Hader’s over-the-top accent as he kissed Armisen on the forehead brought back memories of their old “Weekend Update bit” about the Gay Couple from New Jersey.) If you’re not watching their IFC spoof series Documentary Now, you’re missing out.
Stefon (and Shy)
What, like they weren’t going to do Stefon? The beloved Ed Hardy-wearing city correspondent returned to share some St. Patrick’s Day tips. (Former New York St. Patrick’s Day hotspot Wee Little Baby and its human Roombas must have gone out of style.) The club names were ridiculous, Hader couldn’t stop laughing, and Roman J. Israel, Esq. was referenced. It was everything you want from a Stefon bit, and it was perfect.
Then, in a surprise cameo, John Mulaney showed up! The comedian and former SNL writer co-created Stefon with Hader, and he became notorious for changing the cue cards right before Hader went on, hoping to make him break on air. (It worked every time.) This time, Mulaney got on the air himself as Stefon’s leather-clad lawyer and “conceptual piss artist” Shy, who gave Stefon some advice on how to be a little more politically correct. It’s a throwback to Mulaney’s 2012 stand-up special New In Town (available on Netflix; go watch it), in which he recounts how he once got yelled at for writing a joke with the word “midget” in it. Add in a crack about Seth Meyers’ “A Closer Look,” and you’ve got a “Weekend Update” segment that was just as charming and weird as Stefon himself. Shy 2020.
Best impression showcase: “Jurassic Park Auditions”
SNL loves a good fake screen test, this time using Jurassic Park’s 25th anniversary to trot out a few quick impressions. Hader broke out old classics like Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood, and an always welcome Alan Alda, but there were a few fun additions, too, like Pete Davidson as Adam Sandler and Leslie Jones as Whoopi Goldberg. Aside from Hader, the biggest standout was Kate McKinnon, who pulled triple duty as Jodie Foster, Ellen DeGeneres, and Lisa Kudrow.
Best Bill break: “Girlfriends Game Night”
Everyone has that one friend who brings their significant other to every single gathering, and sometimes, that significant other is Horace. Hader plays the ancient, wheelchair-bound man, with Cecily Strong as his much-younger wife. They’ve been trying to get pregnant, and as Hader zips around on his scooter, bashing into things, it isn’t long before he, Strong, and the entire cast are devolving into laughter. Unlike other cast members known for breaking (looking at you, Jimmy Fallon), Hader never seems to break intentionally, and he always tries to fight through the giggles — which makes the whole thing all the more hilarious.
“Weekend Update” highlights
In addition to appearances by Stefon and Betsy DeVos (more on that in a minute), Pete Davidson stopped by the Update desk to weigh in on Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love and his recent essay about mental health. On one hand, Davidson praised Love for his openness and attempts to reduce the stigma around mental health; on the other, he couldn’t help but wonder whether Love should “leave it to the big boys.” “I’m sorry you missed your three-pointer, Kev, but I’ve been in therapy since I was 6 years old,” Davidson joked.
Weakest sketch: “Sacred Rock”
Even a bonkers Hader performance, all wide-eyed and scraggly-haired, couldn’t rescue this bland sketch, in which two hotel employees recount their encounters with aliens in the Sedona desert. Kate McKinnon’s alien abduction sketch is a funnier version of a similar premise — although I would like to see her compare experiences with Hader’s Rodger.
Musical moment: Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire are no strangers to the SNL stage, having performed on the show five times. On Saturday, the indie-rock sextet returned to play their new songs “Put Your Money on Me” and “Creature Comfort.”
The group also popped up in a sketch later in the night, wherein a Canadian producer (Hader) is accused of inappropriate conduct, only to immediately apologize and resign. Arcade Fire are revealed to have worked with him once, and in typical Canadian fashion, they immediately start apologizing.
Episode MVP: Kate McKinnon
Is it a cheat to say Hader? It’s been five years since his final episode, but he seemed right at home in Studio 8H. Otherwise, kudos have to go to the always reliable McKinnon, who brought back two of her best impressions from the Trump administration: Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. In McKinnon’s hands, Sessions is part unapologetic Trump lackey, part cheery Alabamian goblin, and DeVos is somehow even more clueless than she was on her recent disastrous 60 Minutes appearance. “I think the problem is that the words that were coming out of my mouth were bad,” DeVos explained. “And that is because they came from my brain.”
SNL goes to Wakanda, as Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman hosts the April 7 episode. Cardi B is also on board as the musical guest.