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Welcome back to SNL in Review, fellow Coneheads! Tonight is a coronation. Our legendary host Will Ferrell – a.k.a. Ron Burgundy, Buddy the Elf, Steve Butabi, Marty Culp, Craig Buchanan, Alex Trebek, among many other characters and impressions – joins the storied Five-Timers Club.
Five-Timers is one of the most grandest parts of SNL lore. Introduced during a 1990 monologue-sketch featuring new member Tom Hanks, and referenced over the years, the actual club was not actually seen again until 2013, when Justin Timberlake was ushered in. (Melissa McCarthy and Dwayne Johnson have also had brief onstage ceremonies recognizing the landmark.)
The last host to join the Five-Timers Club was Jonah Hill, who was welcomed by Tina Fey, Candice Bergen, and Drew Barrymore last November. But – with over 20 official members of the club – it may be unlikely the show returns to the well so soon. Especially given the range of things Ferrell could be capable of – but who knows! One thing is certain: Ferrell joined the show during one its nadirs, and lead a rejuvenation almost single-handedly. And since then, he’s had one of the best post-show careers, fostering a comedy empire. For that, and other reasons, whenever he comes back is special.
I am joined this week by former SNL cast member, Patrick Weathers. He was on the show during its infamous sixth season, and appeared opposite Ferrell in The Campaign. I asked him how much fan service we might see tonight – any chance Gene Frenkle might return for another cowbell rendition?! “I’m sure we’ll have some surprises [tonight], but not everything will be new, for the sake of fans and nostalgia,” says Weathers.
“He’s enormously talented. And smart. Just look at his choice of movies he’s made,” he adds. “[Ferrell] didn’t originally know I’d been on the show when we worked together. He told me he couldn’t watch SNL until he was about 14, but I was on the first season he watched. That was when he first decided to be on SNL, and make it his career.”
Anyways, time to go streaking!
Welp…we return to another grotesque Alec Baldwin-as-Trump cold open. You either buy into what they’re doing here…or you don’t. Seeing Baldwin enter, face covered, the crowd is immediately on his side. (Why does it always look like he’s purposefully mid-yawn?) Mikey Day, Heidi Gardner, Cecily Strong and Kyle Mooney play reporters outside Air Force One. Surprisingly, Ferrell appears as Ambassador Sondland. There’s some confusion momentarily when he enters; not sure what’s going on. To me, seems odd Ferrell isn’t playing Bush here, if he’s going to pop up in the Cold Open. And, as Sondland, this isn’t an impression — there’s nothing being satirized. Now, if Bob Odenkirk or Jeff Ross was tackling the goofball diplomat-turned-witness, that would be something.
Otherwise, this is yet another limp, confused political cold open. The crowd — once enthused — seems perplexed by the joke by the end. What can we do?
Weathers adds: “The political stuff is too caustic now… [but Ferrell’s] Bush era material was very funny.”
Ferrell reappears without his bald cap to 8H. He turns to crowd work — and Ryan Reynolds is in the audience. This, too, is odd — Reynolds is the ex-husband of Colin Jost’s fiancée (Scarlett Johansson, who will host next month. Hm.)
Ferrell is thrown off by Reynolds’ presence — that seems to be the gist here, combined with his reliance on old silly pop culture phrasing. “Backstreet’s Back — Alright! Ryan Reynolds is here!”
SNL makes another acknowledgement that the show is terrible, this time Ferrell calling out the monologue itself. Then another hard pivot — Ferrell begins to (badly) impersonate Tracy Morgan… who pops up onstage. “What is happening?” a rightfully confused Reynolds wonders. Very odd, guys — and not in a good way.
Ferrell is “actually funny, with a great improv mind and excellent comedic timing,” according to Weathers. “Ultimately, he’s a professional. Here’s one way I think about it: When [former SNL writer] David Sheffield was preparing to write Police Academy 2 with Barry Blaustein, he told me when the cops they were studying would pull over for a donut or coffee, they could immediately focus when something came over the radio, and do their duty. That’s what Will was like when we made The Campaign, we’d be talking and being casual, then, immediately, very professional and focused.”
“Heinz” is a funny commercial parody about those awkward, and trite jokes about big meal toots. And the reveal — that ketchup bottle farting has been replaced with sexual moaning — is clever. This is a great use of Ferrell’s talents: the aggrieved and frustrated everyman. To me, it reminds me of his first big sketch, which he also did in his SNL audition: “Get Off the Shred!”
MSNBC Democratic Debate
It is fun seeing Melissa Villaseñor as Rachel Maddow! Previously, Maddow has been played by Abby Elliot and Cecily Strong.
Maya Rudolph, Larry David, and Woody Harrelson are back as Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. “Mama needs a gif!” says Rudolph, which is an astute, great ongoing joke, considering Senator Harris does seemingly strive solely for viral moments during these debates. I especially love her Tik Tok-Lil Nas X homage. As much as these cameos feel silly — Fred Armisen as Bloomberg comes to mind — Rudolph is a slam dunk here.
Rachel Dratch is also back as Amy Klobuchar, reflecting on her quivering bangs. She kills — and yet, most of the noise here comes from celeb entrance applause lines. (If she’s here, maybe “Love-ahs” could be a sketch later in the show?) For some reason, Ferrell attempts a Tom Steyer, which is…. fine. The celebrity cameos here are simply out of control. Even if the writing landed, the star power overshadows everything.
The actual cast members fare a little better: Bowen Yang crushes Andrew Yang, and Strong is hilarious as Tulsi Gabbard, wearing Hillary Clinton’s white suit. “I have no interest in those Dalmation puppies!”
Armisen and Rudolph are back as Pocahontas’ family. It’s an interesting concept, especially following last sketch’s references to Elizabeth Warren’s supposed Native American ancestry. Ferrell is the bigoted tribe elder suspicious of John Smith (Beck Bennett). “White actors playing Natives, what year is it: 2014?” Ferrell posits at the sketch’s conclusion. You see, this sketch was not about Fox or race — it’s about togetherness around the holidays… and the inability to digest corn.
Side note: Armisen and Rudolph were great together in Amazon’s Forever last year. I spoke to Armisen earlier this year and he confirmed that the show won’t be returning for a second season. (Why they played these characters as opposed to other cast members, I am not sure. Combined with the MSNBC debate, the SNL cast is in the background tonight.)
Did you ever want to see Mikey Day and Cecily Strong rap? Here you go! They’re high schoolers throwing a party for their friends. Their teacher (played by Ferrell) joins the ruckus, apparently suffering from a midlife crisis. I am not a huge fan of the beat, and the rapping does not approach Chris Redd’s solo efforts, let alone Lonely Island — but it’s cute!
The way this music video is shot reminds me of the underrated 2017 Ferrell comedy, The House.
This is a fun, nonpolitical showcase for Kate McKinnon, who plays a middle-aged mom horny for pizza. If SNL still did those Best Of DVDs, you could see something like this added, in between maybe a Colleen Rafferty and Mermaids. Ferrell plays McKinnon’s husband, who is unable to cope once his distraught wife leaves the set.
Earlier this week, Heidi Gardner had a great interview in Variety on her specialization playing awkward teens on Update, so it’s nice to see they transition to actual sketches!
King Princess — “1950”
King Princess’s first song, “1950,” was released way back in February 2018. In fact, it’s King Princess’s debut song. You immediately see the appeal of the powerful ode to queer love with an aesthetic and guitar solo reminiscent of Prince.
The Jost bros in the audience give Colin Jost and Michael Che a huge boost as things kick off. Jost takes on Devin Nunes’ apparent involvement with Lev Parnas. Elsewhere: “True is true,” says Che, reflecting on Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy. It did give him a good excuse for being late to work, and rediscovering his weed.
“I have a small penis,” utters Guy Who Just Bought a Boat (Alex Moffat), channeling Kevin Nealon’s classic Mr. Subliminal. Ryan Reynolds joins him as Guy Who Knows the Owner — I guess Jost and him are on okay terms! In terms of the segment itself, Reynolds has the tone and delivery of a more handsome Stefon. Am I alone?
This is now the fifth time that Guy Who Just Bought a Boat has appeared on Update. He last appeared during the Feb. 9 episode hosted by Halsey.
Cinema Classics with Reese De’What
Kenan Thompson returns with another Cinema Classics alternate ending, this time for The Wizard of Oz. McKinnon is Dororthy to Aidy Bryant’s Aunt Em. Ferrell is the doctor, who inspired the Munchkins. He gets maybe the biggest laugh of the night: “WHAT WERE WE WEARING?!” Classic Ferrell rage.
Cinema Classics first appeared in 2013, then once in 2015 and 2016, so it’s interesting that this is the third time they’ve tapped it this year! (Tonight’s sketch also references the urban legend that one of the munchkins committed suicide on the Wizard of Oz set.) Overall, this is playful and well-executed.
King Princess — “Hit the Back”
“Hit the Back” is tonight’s second song from King Princess. This is her latest track off Cheap Queen. It’s funky, and danceable, yet definitely soulful.
Hi Hat Lounge – Hand Up Your Butt
Ferrell is a beleaguered ventriloquist, accused of mistreating his dummy anally. People for the Ethical Treatment of Puppets turn out to be the sponsor of this abruptly-ended sketch. It’s a little blue, but Thompson and Strong’s expressions of horror sell the dark riffs on consent.
Not that this matters, but the Hi Hat was the name of the fictional Times Square bar in HBO’s recently-completed The Deuce, easily the best thing on TV.
— Another episode in the books, dudettes. Tell me what you thought of tonight’s show in the comments below – or vote here.
— A ton of star wattage tonight. As great as it was to see Ferrell reunited with Dratch and Morgan, I’m not sure the ends justify the means. I am honestly surprised that Ferrell did not bring out any of his greatest hits tonight. Wow.
— Not a ton of Thompson tonight. In fact, we do not see him until over an hour into the show. According to SNL Polls, he was in Chicago earlier in the day, as part of his comedy experience auditions. He is the hardest working man in comedy.
— During Thanksgiving 1980, just prior to appearing on the show, Weathers had already signed to join SNL; he would not make his first appearance until Dec. 13. “I was already contracted, Eddie [Murphy] and I joined the same day, so I went home for Thanksgiving with my family.” He remembers heading to Jackson, Mississippi during that visit and diving in a neighbor’s pool. Later, at a local bull riding place — “not like Urban Cowboy, unlike NYC, real cowboys” -—he and a friend were scared out of the joint by a few locals, jumping into his aunt and uncle’s Cadillac Coup DeVille. “They wanted to mess us up.” What a great anecdote about life before joining the SNL fray. Thanks for joining Patrick! And happy Thanksgiving everyone!