As expected — if perhaps not expected quite that much — “Saturday Night Live” went full retro for Bill Hader who returned to Studio 8H four years after his last host stint, and five years since his departure. Even the cold open had a blast from the past, or three blasts specifically: Fred Armisen (as “Fire and Fury” author Michael Wolff), Hader (as very short-lived White House communications director Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci), and John Goodman (as ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson).
Armisen also left in 2013, while Goodman, never a cast member, is effectively an honorary one, who has hosted the show almost as many times as Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, and is a beloved presence whenever he turns up.
The pleasure of these old home week editions is also, for “SNL,” the risk because they do tend to remind fans of a time when the show seemed to be more consistently funny, inventive and memorable. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, but with Hader back after all these years, it certainly left that impression last night.
Speaking of impressions, how many did Hader do last night?
Let’s go to some key elements, with grades!
Cold Open: Hader in fact channeled Mooch last August during “Weekend Update’s” summer primetime run. Perfect then, perfect again — or “perfect” if your idea of the Mooch also roughly parallels your idea of the Fonz. Alex Moffat’s Anderson Cooper to the Mooch: “What have you been up to?”
“What was I up to before? Nobody knows. I was the fidget spinner of the Trump White House. I made a big splash and then everybody was, ‘whoa, what the hell was that about?’ ” Overall, sharp, amusing “open.”
Monologue: Still nervous to be here after all these years, Hader reminded everyone of his chronic “SNL” anxiety (he suffered from panic attacks early on in his eight-year run here) and then deconstructed the “SNL” monologue. (Guests are here to promote something. Imagine! He’s promoting his new show for HBO, “Barry.”) He kept it blessedly short — only three minutes — before undergoing a quick change, “or as they also call it, a ticking time bomb,” for the first sketch.
By keeping this brief, Hader left more time for the rest of the show, and also reminded viewers that the monologue can be one of the most disposable parts of any “SNL.” Kudos for both!
Stefon: Hader’s most famous character, “Weekend Update’s” flamboyant guide to exclusive New York clubs, offered some interesting tips — one involving sitting on Billy Joel’s hand, another involving a “sexy form of asbestos” — but overall, he seemed pretty much the same, although slightly deeper of voice. (Hey, even Stefon gets older). As usual, Hader still broke character — a lot — and best of all, brought back John Mulaney (who long ago created this character with Hader) to consult on the politically correct designation of a particular word. Another past-blast: He closed with “A Closer Look.” Recall the old reveal, where Stefon said he and Seth Meyers (onetime “Weekend Update” anchor, now longtime “Late Night” host) are “married.”
“Jurassic Park” Failed Auditions: As an “SNL” staple, “Failed Auditions” dates back years, and is used now judiciously, or for special occasions (such as “The Lion King” for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2016 hosted edition). The return of Hader certainly qualified as a special occasion, and as a result, this “Auditions” felt special too, as he dusted off Alan Alda, Al Pacino, and (of course) Clint Eastwood, in hitched-up old-man pants. Perfect.
Overall: “The Californians” opening sketch — that old classic about the TV soap family fixated on L.A. traffic patterns — made this edition. It would’ve been perfect if Vanessa Bayer had returned, but we had to settle for a framed picture instead. At least fans had Armisen back for a curtain call. This made up for a so-so “Irish Dating Game” — you could hear Irish-Americans howl in protest from their couch — and a particularly lame “SNL” “commercial” (lamp toilet; too bad this wasn’t cut for time). But overall, Hader did not waste his return.