Ferrell is joined by an all-star group of friends including Alec Baldwin, Ryan Reynolds, Woody Harrelson, Larry David, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Fred Armisen and Tracy Morgan.
This was easily the most guest stars the show has had all season, and in quite some time, as we got a full roster of them for the latest Democratic debate, with a couple of them sticking around for yet another sketch.
Tracy Morgan and Ryan Reynolds totally derailed -- beautifully -- Will's monologue, with Ryan returning to Weekend Update to salvage one of the show's more tired recurring characters as best he could.
They were joined by Larry David, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Fred Armisen and Woody Harrelson for a star-studded debate that only makes us more excited for how "SNL" will approach their coverage of the upcoming elections.
From top to bottom, this was a rock-solid episode. And with all those guest stars and audience applause moments -- plus how long it took Will to list off all of his friends at the end -- there were three sketches that didn't make the live broadcast, meaning we've got even more show here than they did there.
Remarkably, there were very few weak sketches, and it wasn't the guests that salvaged it. It always helps to bring a veteran back as they tend to elevate the cast and that certainly happened here. Will is a legend on this stage and he proved why, committing fully to every character, be they self-righteous or buffoonish ... or a bit of both.
As usual, we're ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Monologue, Cold Open, "Weekend Update" and any sketches that were cut for time but made their way online. We'll skip the musical guests, because they're not usually funny - unless Ashlee Simpson shows up. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week.
CUT FOR TIME: Jeans for Men
Who knew we needed men's jeans with "tasteful rear cleavage"? Oh wait, we don't? Yeah, well we've got it, thanks to this cut-for-time ad that showed off some of that cleavage on Will Ferrell, Bowen Yang, Alex Moffat and Kyle Mooney. It really was that simple, with the visual joke being all there was to it. Was it funny or more shock value? We're going to go with the latter.
So... this went in an unexpected direction as Will Ferrell's dummy started to plead with the audience to save him from having Will's "whole hand" up his butt. Yeah, he said they were all complicit in this crime. It was easily the most ridiculous premise of the night, thus it's spot at the end, but it still managed to work because of Will's commitment to both roles of being the puppeteer and his "victim," the puppet. Talk about off-color humor, the big vat of lube at the end didn't help us feel any more comfortable than Kenan Thompson and Cecily Strong. Were we supposed to laugh or cringe? We guess it was successful subterfuge, because we feel sorry for Chippy now, too.
COLD OPEN: Chopper Talk
We can't believe it took so long for "SNL" to mock Trump's "chopper talk" reporter sessions, we only wish the chopper sounds had been so loud you could barely hear them. At least that might have better covered up whatever snafu happened when Will Ferrell came out and he and Alec Baldwin didn't even look like they were in the same script. It was a rare appearance by the host in the cold open, and after that awkward open it was clear Will was having fun riffing off of Alec. But while the setting was perfect, it didn't quite stick the landing in the jokes department.
CUT FOR TIME: Date in Mexico
This one had us worried right away as the very alone Will Ferrell started talking about how excited he was to meet his Moldovan girlfriend he met online and already spent way too much money on. Yeah, this was not going to go well. "My mom says I make bad choices," he said, moments before getting a call from Sabina and having all his hopes and dreams shattered and getting to play the other side of exhilaration. And then things went even darker as he revealed he was into the mob for the trip and found out he was allergic to lobster. This was probably the most obvious sketch, which could explain why it was ultimately cut, but Will definitely hammed it up and had fun with it.
Kate McKinnon, as the mom of a pizza-loving family, did not like being chastised for her "sex sells" approach to making a local commercial and immediately became sullen and withdrawn. It was such a melodramatic response, she almost came across like a 1940s starlet really laying it on thick. Then, they added another layer to parental stereotypes with Will Ferrell's dad having no idea how to relate to his kids without mom there. This was just playing on expectations, and yet Kate and Will really made it work with their commitment to each feeling and moment, including their bonkers reconciliation. This was a whirlwind of over-the-top emotion that actually found a satisfying conclusion as well.
First it was poor Sara Lee last week, now it looks like Heinz may be in for some craziness after "SNL" introduced Heinz Relax, the ketchup bottle that replaces those embarrassing fart noises with relaxing sighs that sound an awful lot like sex noises. Is "SNL" targeting random food products on purpose now for the extra publicity? That said, we loved the earnestness of Will Ferrell's dad early on convinced everyone believed he'd let one rip. Sometimes a one-joke premise is all you need.
Parents leave and kids have parties; it's a tale as old as time. But how often does your A.P. English teacher show up? This killer rap vibe was definitely thrown by the presence of Will Ferrell as the party crashing instructor who's going through some stuff. We love that we never find out exactly what is going on, which makes perfect sense as kids would only be peripherally aware anyway. But the awkwardness incorporated into the lyrics was just flawlessly executed by "teens" Cecily Strong and Mikey Day, with Chris Redd on the very-confused chorus.
We're not gonna lie, we can't unsee Colin Jost's extensive comparison of Devin Nunes to Spongebob Squarepants. He also brought receipts against Trump's claims of great hearing in a solid breakdown of the week's events in the impeachment hearings, desperately hoping that Trump and Giuliani would both testify. "It would be like the Super Bowl with worse brain damage."
We thought we were over Alex Moffat's "Guy Who Just Bought a Boat" and his small penis jokes, but we're definitely here for Ryan Reynolds, though we weren't into his penis jokes, either. Honestly, the sexual wordplay is much better than the constant penis references; we'd prefer the character(s) without all of that. It was so bad we were grateful when it was over.
Beyond politics, Jost and Che moved on to other pop culture items like the story that a studio exec wanted Julia Roberts as Harriet Tubman, while Jost went with a Nazi salute joke that actually went well. And they didn't even need to really write jokes for South Dakota's real "Meth. We're on it." anti-drug campaign, but they tried. How did that get approved?!
We didn't know if we were going to see Kenan Thompson at all this week, until he showed up again as Reese De'What, presenting the never-before-seen ending of "The Wizard of Oz." This ending revealed that the Munchkins were based on actual little people Dorothy (Kate McKinnon) knew and their silly outfits on dolls she had on a shelf. In other words, it was culturally insensitive and for some reason they filmed an ending to expose this. Yeah, it makes no sense, but it was pretty funny, and like much good comedy, it also had something to say that might be worth considering about our past and how we've treated and considered marginalized groups in our society. Plus, Kate's Judy Garland was spot-on!
Beck Bennett's John Smith joins Pocahontas (Melissa Villasenor) and her family for the first Thanksgiving and he's so worried he's blowing it. Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen returned as not-Mr. and Mrs. Hontas, while Will Ferrell was her grandfather who did not approve. In his defense, "SNL' went with the more historically accurate reality that Pocahontas was 12 years old while John was nearing 30. Even sharper was the twist that Ferrell represented Trump's America speaking as a Native American disgusted by these immigrants and wanting a wall. This is brilliant political satire at its finest, coming straight from "the fox." And then their common ground ... we don't want to spoil it, but it's brilliant. And then Will's PSA at the end acknowledged all the problematic elements of the sketch itself, so it was self-aware on top of its timely commentary.
CUT FOR TIME: Cast List
Madcap chaos from top to bottom as a gaggle of students await a casting list for the school's play by the theater teacher, Will Ferrell at his smarmy, twisted best. The whole thing was him playing mind games with these teenagers, and the cast had an absolute blast bringing ridiculous levels of angst to their characters. This piece was ultimately a lot of fun and the only cut segment that would have made a nice addition to the show proper.
No one is having more fun with their political impression than Kate McKinnon doing Elizabeth Warren, and we loved her reluctant Native American food-drop this week. She was part of a star-studded reunion with Maya Rudolph returning as Kamala Harris, trying to go viral, and Rachel Dratch as Amy Klobuchar. Meanwhile Larry David's Bernie Sanders doesn't care about trends at all, but he did offer some cool '80s music references. They even got Woody Harrelson back as Joe Biden who continued to deliver great nonsensical material. Even Fred Armisen dropped in as Mayor Bloomberg crashing the party. There were so many faces and such good material, we're already sad to think that these candidates will soon be whittled down to one and we'll lose all these fun impressions.
MONOLOGUE: Will Ferrell
This bizarre premise for a monologue worked absolutely brilliantly. The entire conceit was that Will Ferrell, as host, was completely starstruck by Ryan Reynolds in the audience. And it only got worse when he found out Ryan was a fan of his. Will played someone whose nerves were getting the best of him to the hilt. He was giddy and awkward and we lost it when he crouched down to see if Ryan would laugh at one of his jokes. Honestly, only Will (or perhaps Chris Farley) could have pulled off this characterization so well. Then, we learned that nervous Will slips into Tracy Morgan, which of course prompted this former fellow cast-member to join him up there.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
With so many faces and Will dominating the night, the cast really did take a backseat to his star power. That doesn't mean they weren't noticed, though.
Bowen Yang continues to make a strong statement in his freshman run, while both Cecily and Mikey had busy and strong nights. But the edge this week has to go to Kate McKinnon (we know) because she continues to master her Elizabeth Warren and transported us right into Judy Garland in the brilliant "Oz" sketch.
But it was her emotionally tumultuous mom in the pizza ad sketch that solidified this one for her, giving her a solid night from top to bottom. She's the veteran woman of this cast for a reason and it shows. When she goes, they will have huge shoes to fill!
"Saturday Night Live" returns December 7 with host Jennifer Lopez and musical guest DaBaby.