TV | Ken Tucker's TV

'Saturday Night Live' season finale: Will Ferrell, comedy comfort food and weirdness

Will Ferrell’s return to Saturday Night Live last night may not have contained the comic high points of last week’s Justin Timberlake edition, but it was a lot of fun to see Ferrell and a number of guest stars roll out familiar SNL signature characters, starting in the cold-opening reunion of Ferrell as George W. Bush with Darrell Hammond as Dick Cheney.

Ferrell later summoned the late Harry Caray from heaven for a “Weekend Update” segment, which also returned Amy Poehler to the co-anchor chair. Not all the jokes were great, but her enthusiasm with Seth Meyers was.

An otherwise-deadly funeral sketch was saved by a Maya Rudolph cameo. Similarly, the inevitable Jeopardy! parody, with Ferrell as a long-suffering Alex Trebek, was helped as much by Norm Macdonald playing Burt Reynolds as it was by Hammond as the always-abusive Sean Connery (“Take that, ya poltroon!”) and Tom Hanks as a dumb version of Tom Hanks. (BTW, did you see Norm on Letterman recently? He killed.)

This was one of those SNLs in which the odder sketches were the most interesting. The Lawrence Welk Show parody, Fred Armisen’s ongoing nod to the baby boomers in the audience, was nicely surreal, with Kristen Wiig as the singer with doll-hands that creeped out Ferrell playing a singer. Ferrell specializes in the comedy of awkwardness and oddity, something few other current cast members aim for. Thus his opening monologue, which morphed into a dramatic reading in which he repeated asked the audience not to laugh, was both strange and compelling.

So was the late-in-the-show sketch that turned into a muscial production number. Ferrell sang Billy Joel’s bombastic “Goodnight Saigon” and showcased a slowly-increasing back-up band that eventually included not just the comedy guest stars and the regular cast, but also actors such as Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss, Paul Rudd on violin, and Anne Hathaway on guitar.

Like I said, not roll around on the floor funny, but always worth watching. It was a nostalgic, eccentric way to end Saturday Night Lives season.

Originally posted May 17 2009 — 12:48 PM EDT

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