Will Ferrell, appearing in just about every sketch, gave his blood and sweat to Saturday Night Live last night, no matter that both bodily fluids were as fake as they were copious, a touch that only added to the host’s still-unrivaled brand of painstakingly committed silliness.
SNL – and even its most politically attuned, Baldwin-loving fans – might not have realized how much Ferrell was missed till he was back.
From his oddly endearing reprise of George W. Bush – odd because the endearment certainly didn’t blot out some pretty harsh criticism – to a long-in-coming takedown of old-school rock & roll’s queasy eye for sweet-little-16s, Ferrell brought with him an irresistible over-the-top goofiness that, as good as Trump-era SNL can be (and it can be very good), hasn’t exactly been a priority of late.
Even when the show drove toward serious, topical issues, the route was a giddy one. Ferrell has no small gift for playing the imbecile, and he plays it right up until you know you’ve been had.
One of the best examples of the night was “Next: For Men” (watch it above), a deodorant commercial parody that kicked off with a sight gag – Ferrell grossly sweating through his shirt – only to get to its very sharp point: Some men are gonna need extra protection in this MeToo era.
“Yeah, I’m a guy,” said Ferrell’s pit-stained corporate type. “I work hard, I play hard, and something’s coming out about me real soon, because I’m Next.”
Cast members Kyle Mooney and Alex Moffat, as a stand-up comic and an actor, rounded out the commercial’s roster of sleazeballs. Next deodorant’s slogan: “For men feeling the heat…because Time’s Up.”
Ferrell’s irresistible cluelessness was in full force from his opening monologue, after a (fake) backstage accident had left him (fake) bloodied and dazed to the point of believing he was making his first-ever appearance on the Studio 8H stage.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” said a soon-to-be singing & dancing Ferrell. “I have dreamt of standing on this stage my whole life! Me, Will Ferrell, on Saturday Night Live! What??!!” Soon he was introducing Matchbox 20 – and if you don’t get that joke, you were sleeping through Ferrell’s SNL Noughties.
From there, Ferrell amped up the juvenalia, appearing as a Top Gun-like fighter pilot who has eschewed his pal’s penchant for cool nicknames (Wild Card, Sidewinder) for “Clown Penis.” Yes, an entire sketch built around those two words, with Ferrell seeming to love every second of it. “We’re in the Air Force, not the seventh grade!,” he admonishes at one point, then signs off with “Clown Penis out.”
Though the episode was short on classic Ferrell characters – no Alex Trebeck, no cowbell – SNL handed its guest host two Reality TV sketches perfectly suited to his gift for comically heightening the dramatically heightened.
In the first, called “The House,” Ferrell co-starred with Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney in a Real World/Big Brother type show, with every dumb encounter under the spotlight milked for melodrama. The sketch even got the details right, from the camera angles, music and flashbacks to the over-hyped confessionals. And we got a moment of Tracy Morgan to boot.
Another take on the genre, broader if no less accurate, came with “Reality Stars,” a sketch featuring Ferrell and Cecily Strong as two recently-successful stars of a Real Housewives-type show returning to visit old friends, bringing attitude as new and phony as their faces. Hard to say what cast member Aidy Bryant was cracking up about, but Ferrell’s miraculously spot-on surgical enhancements and actorly disposition have every right to lay claim.
Visiting an otherwise unremarkable Weekend Update, Ferrell’s loudmouth Jacob Silj was another iteration of his trademark human cartoons.
The extreme comic approach didn’t always pay off. In fact, it all but ruined “Dinner Discussion,” the episode’s best blown idea. A group of friends (Ferrell, Bennett, Bryant, Kate McKinnon, Kenan Thompson, Heidi Gardner) are having dinner at a nice NYC restaurant when one of them takes the leap of bringing up Aziz Ansari. “Are you sure you want to do this?” a nervous tablemate asks. “Careful,” says another. “Waaatttch it,” cautions another as each take a stumbling turn to express their feelings about MeToo-accused comic.
Great idea, and initially well-played, but “Dinner Discussion” quickly got dumb with horror movie music and special effects, as if the sketch’s writers themselves were too nervous to follow through.
Much better was “Chucky Lee Byrd,” perhaps the episode’s best-suited sketch for Ferrell’s blissfully oblivious approach. Recalling Ferrell’s classic takes on show business lounge lizards like Robert Goulet, the bit had Beck Bennett and Kate McKinnon hosting one of those oldies CD collection infomercials, the greatest hits of a Jerry Lee Lewis-type rocker named Chucky Lee Byrd, seen in black and white vintage clips warbling such classic lyrics as “She’s a beauty queen and she’s only 17” and “She’s a candy baby and she’s only 16.”
By the time he gets to his 14-year-old “Farmer Girl” and his 12-year-old “fresh off the line” T-Bird honey, McKinnon’s appalled expression sings loud and clear.
Other skits were neither as surprising as “Chucky Lee Byrd” nor as wasted as “Dinner Discussion,” falling in the filler zone, like “Commercial Shoot” and “Flight Attendants”.
But even when the sketches leaned too heavily on a single joke, as with the Cracker Barrel/Crate & Barrel confusion of “Office Breakdown”, Ferrell never gave up, a go-for-broke approach that has earned him considerable points among the “SNL isn’t funny anymore” crowd.
Watch here as he just can’t let go of his co-workers’ teasing, latching on to his own discomfort and refusing to let go. Ferrell can hold on to a laugh like no one else.