Will Ferrell is one of the all-time greatest Saturday Night Live cast members, and he also happens to have had one of the most successful post-SNL careers (Step Brothers GOAT, don't trust anyone who thinks differently). And yet, during the last couple times he's returned to host the show in the years since he left, particularly in 2012 and 2018, the episodes have mostly been... just okay. I'm happy to say Ferrell was on fire during this weekend's episode, making every sketch he was in better with his trademark manic energy. The biggest problem, as it has been in recent seasons, were the political sketches (the cold open was particularly wretched this week), and an over-reliance on comedian and celebrity cameos eating away time from the cast.
There were no less than EIGHT cameos this week: Alec Baldwin in the cold open, Tracy Morgan and Ryan Reynolds in the monologue (more on that below), and Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen, Rachel Dratch, Larry David, and Woody Harrelson, who all were part of the 2020 Democratic Debate sketch. These kinds of sketches, which are something between regurgitated highlights and surreal reimaginings of reality, are always a double-edged sword, but particularly so when you're relying on ringers to carry it. This one will undoubtedly be the most-talked about sketch of the week, and it is filled with some truly exceptional impressions and one-liners. David and Rudolph always kill it as Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris; Armisen was very funny as Mike Bloomberg; Harrelson and Dratch are totally solid; and Ferrell played Tom Steyer, whose main personality trait is that he doesn't blink. But it's also a round robin sketch with no form, and it stretched on for an interminable 12+ minutes. The only cast member who made a real impression during the sketch was Cecily Strong as the villainous Tulsi Gabbard—even Kate McKinnon's usually standout Elizabeth Warren was lost in the mix. It wasn't terrible like the obligatory Alec Baldwin appearances, but for the amount of real estate it took up during the show, it isn't that great. And at this point, it's hard to imagine how the show can course correct on this front.
But this isn't to say celebrity cameos are inherently bad—when used to actually further the comedy, not just as impression props (I still have nightmares about that sketch with Ben Stiller as Michael Cohen and Robert de Niro as Robert Mueller), they can make a sketch sing. And that was why the Monologue was so charming—Ferrell was just too befuddled by Reynolds' presence in the audience to pay attention to his lines. The fact that it culminated Ferrell bellowing like Tracy Morgan, and then Morgan stepping out to fulfill "the prophecy" was the cherry on top.
The pre-taped short Party Song was a great example of how Ferrell elevated a sketch with his haunted take on a teacher having a mid-life crisis at a house party. What is sadder than watching Shawshank Redemption at a party?
I am an unabashed fan of the recurring PBS's Cinema Classics sketches with Kenan Thompson's delightfully weird host Reese De'What. We got a good installment this week with Cinema Classics: The Wizard of Oz, which really makes you wonder about Dorothy's unconscious ideas about the Munchkins.
Rudolph and Armisen stuck around for the First Thanksgiving sketch, which walked the thin line between political commentary and confusing commentary, but had a great "talk to the camera" ending.
If you like Ferrell, you'll like his Heinz commercial.
And the 10-to-1 sketch took a Ventriloquist act to deranged heights.
There was only one guest on Weekend Update, but at least it was a pretty good two-for-one: Alex Moffat brought back his great Guy Who Just Bought a Boat character, who was joined by Reynolds' Guy Who Knows the Owner.
In addition to the fact that several cast members were almost completely absent this week (Ego Nwodim, Pete Davidson, Chloe Fineman), the other big problem with having a 12+ minute sketch mostly filled with guest stars is that THREE good sketches got cut-for-time. The best of those three is Cast List, in which Ferrell's theater director just wanted to spread "gorgeous sweet chaos" amongst high schoolers. Ferrell showed off his fun and flirty peekaboo pants in Jeans Commercial. And Date in Mexico, the weakest of the three, is worth it just to watch Ferrell eat lobster.
King Princess made their SNL debut performing "1950" and "Hit The Back."
There's no new episode next week because of Thanksgiving, but the show returns on December 7th with host Jennifer Lopez and musical guest DaBaby.