October 12, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Review: “Saturday Night Live” with Bill Hader


Bill Hader’s return to SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE had everything:  a singing monologue; a celebrity cameo (from Harvey Fierstein); a more-than-cameo assist from Kristen Wiig (Hader’s co-star in the current The Skeleton Twins); the return of geriatric, racist TV newsman Herb Welch; an Al Pacino impersonation; a more obscure Hader franchise character… and of course Stefon.  It was, in fact, almost precisely the episode anyone would have expected, which made it both satisfying, because Hader was one of the last SNL incarnation’s strongest performers, and slightly disappointing after the more adventurous episodes of the past 2 weeks.

Also expected, in a sad way, was the deadliness of the cold open, which was about Kim Jong-Un and his bad ankles and was just an excuse for Bobby Moynihan to do a few minutes of physical comedy.  There was nothing to it at all, and it even lacked internal logic (one moment, the dictator couldn’t climb a single stair, and the next he was dancing, albeit painfully).  The monologue wasn’t much better, with the central joke that Hader has a bad singing voice not particularly boosted by the appearances of Wiig and Fierstein.

It was nice to see Herb Welch again, though.  Those sketches were always the definition of “franchise,” barely bothering to change the lines from one iteration to the next, but enough time has gone by that one could appreciate Hader smacking people on the head with his microphone, and the vicious dynamic between Welch and the studio anchorman (Taran Killam, taking Jason Sudeikis’s place).

That didn’t compare, of course, with Stefon’s reappearance, which the audience started to cheer as soon as it became clear what Michael Che’s Weekend Update intro was leading to.  Hader couldn’t keep his composure any more now than he could back in his days as a cast regular, but who could blame him, when every club Stefon described featured appearances by Dan Cortese?  And a human defibrillator, which is that thing where you re-start someone’s heart by rubbing two little people on a rug for static electricity?  (The rest of Update continued to be moderately promising, mostly due to the arrival of Che.  There was also a desk piece from Pete Davidson, which wasn’t as strong as his first, but still suggested that Davidson, who also had featured roles in several sketches tonight, may have the SNL “it” factor.)

Hader’s Pacino came in a Hollywood Game Night parody, but while Pacino is second only to Nicolas Cage these days as a celebrity it’s impossible to overplay, and Kate McKinnon’s Jane Lynch is always worth watching as is Killam’s Christoph Waltz, and the bulk (too much) of the screen time was given to Wiig’s Kathie Lee Gifford, the sketch was owned by Beck Bennett every time he opened his mouth for his amazing incarnation of Nick Offerman.

The one mild surprise in Hader’s return was a new helping of the sketch where he plays a Vietnam vet in a puppetry class whose puppet is as tortured and wired as he is (this time including a ‘Nam flashback sequence for the puppet, in wide screen no less).  If Hader had broken character here, it would have killed the piece, but he kept his baleful composure perfectly.  Hader’s only live non-franchise piece was the 12:55AM bit, a not-quite-clever-enough sketch where his Cat In the Hat was imagined into the home of his own ex, whom he learned had married Thing 2, despite the fact that one of their children (Aidy Bryant, underused tonight) was his.

Despite the presence of a host expert at live sketches, the pre-tape unit worked overtime this week.  There was an elaborate parody of The Maze Runner and all the other dystopian YA fantasies, with impressive visuals and a good feel for the jargon of the genre.  (“You can only kill a Lurky with a Zoomerang–but nobody’s seen one of those for a thousand years.”)  A very funny parody of commercials asking for mere pennies per day to help starving African villagers had the villagers (Jay Pharoah, Kenan Thompson, Sasheer Zamata and Leslie Jones in what may have been her first sketch) turning the tables on Hader’s unctuous spokesperson.  There was also a seemingly endless installment of the Kyle Mooney/Beck Bennett skater dude news report, which made one long for the sophistication of Wayne’s World.

The show also displayed a lot of class by featuring not only a mention of the wonderful former cast member Jan Hooks, who died last week, but showcasing an entire Tom Schiller filmed sketch that starred her with the late Phil Hartman in a fantasy dance number a la 1930s RKO musicals.  Hooks never quite became a breakout star in her post-SNL career, and the remembrance was well-deserved.

SNL takes its first break of the season next week, and returns on October 25 with Jim Carrey (who’s plugging Dumb & Dumber To) and musical guest Iggy Azalea.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."