Saturday Night Live Recap: Welcome Back, Stefon!

Saturday Night Live

Bill Hader
Season 43 Episode 16
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

Saturday Night Live

Bill Hader
Season 43 Episode 16
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Will Heath/NBC

At a live taping of the WTF podcast in 2011, Marc Maron groused to Bill Hader that most comics had to fight for years to find their voices, while Hader simply knew what was funny about him. Given Hader’s outstanding tenure at Saturday Night Live, jammed full of idiosyncratic oddballs and a rare Emmy nomination, that supposition feels right. Though Hader does some big-name impressions, including a pretty sweet Al Pacino, a lot of his pet impersonations — Vincent Price, Bob Simon from 60 Minutes — are obscure eccentrics, and his best SNL characters hover somewhere between “weirdo” and “freakazoid.” What sets Hader apart, though, is his ability to make his high-status misfits accessible to a wide audience, or to play it straight outright (see Trainwreck). He’ll surely bring that talent back to Studio 8H in his second go-round as an SNL host.

Anderson Cooper Cold Open

Doing his best to take in the week’s frenzy of White House firings, Anderson Cooper (Alex Moffat) welcomes Jeff Sessions (Kate McKinnon) to talk about FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s exit; Rex Tillerson (John Goodman) to address his own firing by tweet; and Anthony Scaramucci (Hader) and Michael Wolff (Fred Armisen) stop by to talk about White House madness in general. Highlights include McKinnon’s mugging as Sessions, Tillerson shattering a glass when contemplating getting fired by “a guy who used to sell steaks in the mail,” and Wolff’s enigmatic shrugs regarding whether or not his statements are true. As to whether Trump’s pick for head of the FBI could be favorite TV detective Monk, Wolff responds, “It sounds right, doesn’t it?” While there’s a lot of ground covered here, the subject matter feels a bit more focused than in previous weeks.

Bill Hader Monologue

It’s been four years since Hader’s exit from 30 Rock, and he’s learned some things: SNL likes it when hosts have things to plug, for instance, and some SNL commercials (e.g. one about “toothpaste with crack in it”) are fake. Also, and most interestingly, Hader informs the audience the monologue can be as short as the host wants it. From there, a crew of costumers and make-up artists spring onto the stage to prepare him for the first sketch. It’s not a great monologue, but what a fun transition into …

The Californians

In this episode of soap opera The Californians, Devin (Hader) and Stuart (Armisen) converse about the demise of former maid Rosa (Vanessa Bayer, who appears only in a photo) with the current maid (McKinnon). In truth, it’s primarily chatter in indecipherable accents about driving directions followed by comments such as, “That’s why you ended up in Englewood, brah!” Then, when a crowd gathers to celebrate Stuart’s new clothing line, a young guy with a man bun (Pete Davidson) comes looking for Devin, his long-lost dad. “Where are you guys from?” the young guy asks. “I’m from Encino and I’ve never heard anything like that before.” As perpetually silly as the Californians sketch is, if you’re already on board, it never fails.

Irish Dating Show

This Dating Game-like show, produced by the Ireland One network, features a bachelor named Nile (Hader) choosing from a crop of bonny colleens including Eileen (McKinnon), Siobhan (Cecily Strong) and token Irish-American girl Molly (Aidy Bryant). But Nile recognizes Siobhan’s name and voice — because they’re cousins! “She’s definitely off to an early lead,” Nile tells the host (Beck Bennett). Molly protests the implication of inbreeding, but the rest of the Irish folk aren’t bothered. Then, when Nile figures out that he and Eileen are also cousins, Molly’s chances dwindle even further. This sketch isn’t likely to win over Irish people, but there’s a smart and slyly playful element to it that makes it work.

Girlfriends Game Night

Three girlfriends (Aidy Bryant, Melissa Villaseñor, and Heidi Gardner) anticipate the arrival of another friend, Jeannie (Cecily Strong), and her older boyfriend, Horace (Hader). In fact, Horace is much, much older. He’s a bald man in a cornflower blue cardigan tooling around in a motorized wheelchair and spitting monosyllables. When he calls out, “It’s here now,” Jeannie explains that they’re trying to have a baby and situates herself atop Horace’s lap for intercourse. “It’s like breastfeeding in public,” she explains while placing a “courtesy blanket” on her lap. So, who’s up for a game of Uno? The rest of the sketch is primarily Hader and the SNL players dealing with a (very) fast and powerful wheelchair. The giggling goes a long way, so the sketch is charming, even with the bout of onstage lap coitus.

Jurassic Park Screen Test

As part of the 25th anniversary re-release of Jurassic Park, producers have packaged some of the original screen tests from hopeful actors in the early ’90s. Everyone from Hugh Grant (Moffat) to O.J. Simpson (Kenan Thompson) show up to deliver would-be bits of dialogue from the movie — or, in the case of those like Joey Lawrence (Kyle Mooney) and Jaleel White (Chris Redd), just an old catchphrase. It’s quite an epic, with Hader alone doing all three of his big-name impressions: Al Pacino, Alan Alda, and Clint Eastwood. While there aren’t any jaw-droppers here, there are lots of great bits and it all moves at blinding speed.

Weekend Update

“What if it’s good?” asks Michael Che of a potential Trump sex tape featuring Stormy Daniels. “Are you prepared to see Donald Trump tear up some ass?” As the audience ponders this big question, the rest of Update’s first half considers White House turnover and the media’s treatment of all things Trump. “Stop teasing us if there’s no payoff,” Colin Jost says of bold headlines about Daniels and the Mueller investigation. “I’ll tell the media the same thing I told my high school girlfriend: I’m totally fine waiting, but then you’ve got to stop rubbing the outside of my pants.” Then Betsy DeVos (McKinnon) makes an appearance to defend her terrible 60 Minutes interview: “I may not be very good on camera, but behind the scenes my ideas are much worse.” The text of the monologue is straightforward and to the point, while McKinnon’s portrayal of a chipper idiot speaks volumes.

In the second half, there are a few Update jokes but the time is primarily taken by Pete Davidson and, oh yes, the return of Stefon! Davidson is not impressed by Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player Kevin Love’s essay about a panic attack. “Leave it to the big boys,” Davidson says, opening up about a terrifying encounter with his uncle and having suicidal thoughts at the age of 8. The laugh lines aren’t as important as the assured performance, which is brutally honest and very funny. Then, of course, Stefon kills it in his big return to Studio 8H. (It certainly helps that John Mulaney swings by to help write this segment, and he makes an appearance as Stefon’s leopard-print-tie wearing lawyer, Shy.) Among Stefon’s name drops: Verne Troyer, Roman J. Israel Esq. and Farrah-cauns — that is, leprechauns that look like Farrah Fawcett. (“But also, yes, Minister Farrakhan will be there.”)

Sacred Rock

Tourists Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan (Moffat and Gardner) are ready to take advantage of Sedona with a hike to Sacred Rock. The clerk at Spirit Quest Lodge (Mooney) is dubious, inviting Roger the Reiki healer (Hader) to talk about his recent, unfortunate experience there. In a terrible Swedish accent, the shock-headed Roger recounts an alien abduction involving getting “blasted in the Raisinette with a turkey baster.” While the Buchanans talk it over, Roger and the clerk get visited by aliens once more. Mooney’s mugging and Hader’s jabbering are fun, but this is all about the goofy accent (and the stage business gets a little confusing at the end).

CBC Report

The #MeToo movement finds its way north as the “Canadian Harvey Weinstein,” Thomas Logan, answers to charges of harassment. Logan (Hader) readily confesses that he said things to his assistant like, “You look nice today,” and “What kind of sunglasses are those?” One of his accusers (Gardner) steps forward to confirm that Logan complimented her sweater. Even after a spate of resignations, everyone feels so “sowry.” Even the members of Arcade Fire are sowry. This sketch is short and quite simple — Canadians, so goddamn polite, eh? — but it runs out of gas fast.

Undercover Office Potty

This commercial finds office drone Johnson (Bennett) unable to make time to go all the way down the hall to use the bathroom. A helpful voice over convinces him to use the Undercover Office Potty: a lamp with a flip top and a hole in which to poop. All goes well until his coworkers (Mooney and Redd) find that Johnson has not one but several lamps on his desk, and, frankly, they smell like shit. When the boss (Hader) gets involved, things look bad … until the voiceover convinces Johnson to do his biz in several oversize office supplies (stapler, take dispenser, pencil sharpener) that are also toilets. While this commercial revolves around a gross-out gag, the guilelessness of the hero and his guiding voiceover are really enjoyable. And the SNL props team deserves credit for the creative poop buckets.

With Hader as the writers’ primary collaborator, SNL hums like a well-oiled machine. The old Hader sketch and characters more than justify their returns this week; given the difficulty of sustaining such quality recurring sketches, it’s really impressive that none of them feel flat, forced, or overwrought. As fans might expect from a Hader visit, there are some genuine cast giggles, too. Add a successful cold open and Update, and you’ve got a very solid episode. It’ll be a few weeks before SNL returns: Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman is set to host on April 7.

Saturday Night Live Recap: Welcome Back, Stefon!