By Adam Carlson
October 12, 2014

When longtime cast member Bill Hader returned to Saturday Night Live on Saturday, for the first time back since his departure last year, the audience couldn’t suppress its adoration. Before Hader could even begin his opening monologue, someone shouted out, “I love you!”

Without a second thought, Hader said, “I love you, too.”

It was an appropriately affectionate kick-off to an episode, the season’s third, brimming with familiar pleasures. Hader and his catalogue of vocal tics slipped into nearly ever sketch. Even Kristen Wiig (and her saxophone) popped by for a bit. And in the sketches where Hader took a supporting role, in newer material, the cast seemed sharper for it.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird

The monologue hinged on Hader’s desire to sing on SNL, for the first time, with Wiig showing up to encourage him and then theater legend Harvey Fierstein, then Wiig again, this time with a saxophone. All three riffed on a quick show-written tune, Hader’s voice so bad it nearly scraped the floor. That was the joke, which was really just its own kind of joy, seeing these three weirdos all pulled together and dancing.

The best joke also came during the best sketch, a faux movie trailer for The Group Hopper, a mish-mash of borrowed references from The Maze Runner, Divergent, and all of their ilk that was “adapted from a YA novel written entirely in the comments section of a Hunger Games novel.”

The faux-trailer starred Pete Davidson as a boy who thinks his parents named him “TheHero” (get it?), and co-starred Hader as the horned, genderqueer antagonist and Sasheer Zamata as the love interest. Sample line: “You’re the chosen one and I’m a virgin pregnant with your baby.”

The throwback took on Hollywood Game Night, an actual show, hosted by Jane Lynch (“America’s No. 2 lesbian”). Most of the episode’s sketches trended strange, but here was something familiar: Lynch was played by Kate McKinnon and she presided over a classic SNL roster of celebrities: Taran Killam, excellently, as Christoph Waltz, Cecily Strong as Sofia Vergara, Jay Pharoah as Morgan Freeman, Beck Bennett as Nick Offerman, Hader as Al Pacino, and Wiig as Kathie Lee Gifford. The punchlines were all but beside the point as Wiig too Gifford’s slip-sloshery to the next-level.

The worst sketch could have been edgy in a good way, given a few more days. But alas–it was a miss. Hader played Charles Daniels, a sad-eyed old white guy walking through a dusty, impoverished African village in a commercial for a relief fund. But his repeated request for just 39 cents a day starts rubbing the villagers the wrong way, who gather and then heckle him. What kind of math even gives you that number? And what country does Charles Daniels think he’s in, anyway?

The weirdest sketch was the last of the night, as two bored, Seuss-like children summoned The Cat in the Hat to their house on a rainy day. Things took a turn when the Cat immediately recognized their mom (“Linda?”) from a prior relationship, and it was revealed that she’d cut him out of all of her pictures and hidden his daughter from him.

Other Things

SNL alumna Jan Hooks, who died at age 57 earlier this week, got a special tribute. Hader and Wiig introduced a clip of her “Love Is But a Dream” sketch with Phil Hartman, the two singing and dancing as a princess and her prince. Both Hooks and Hartman are dead now, making the moments they performed together all the sweeter and more sad. (For more Hooks, we have a round-up of her six best sketches.)

Weekend Update is showing real improvement, just on the level of chemistry between hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che, so maybe Lorne Michaels really is smarter than all of us. But beyond that, Update stood out this week due to the riotous return of Hader’s city correspondent, Stefon, touting his usual list of New York’s hottest new clubs like Whimsy, “condemned by GLAAD and the EPA from Ghostbusters, this old wet Band-Aid found in a Jacuzzi is the kind of place that makes you feel weird the next time you see your parents.” (Unfortunately, the clip isn’t available on Hulu, but you can find it elsewhere.)

Hozier, the night’s musical guest, never crossed over into any of the sketches. Though it was surprising during the “goodnight” closer to see much taller he is than everyone else.

Pete Davidson was very much all over last night’s episode, starring in the YA trailer, being battered by Hader’s old-man newscaster, and rolling up before Stefon on Update.

If You DVR’d It

Skip the cold open, starring Bobby Moynihan as Kim Jong-Un desperate to prove that he is not in fact crippled by disease.

Don’t skip Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney’s “Inside SoCal,” a sub-public access news show about bros, brahs, and baller art.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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