After an underwhelming episode with Bruce Willis, pretty much anything would seem like an improvement for SNL's next show. Fortunately, Edward Norton's episode was markedly better than the last few, thanks to a game host and strong musical guest, even if the writing continues to be sub-par.
The Wes Anderson parody was easily the strongest and most fully realized segment, drawing primarily from Royal Tenenbaums, with some smaller nods to Rushmore, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom. I have to admit that "failure to grasp a simple concept" is pretty reliable as far as a sketch premise goes, so "School Visit" and "Steve Harvey" both made me laugh. "School Visit" was the stronger sketch, with Nasim Pedrad getting a rare featured segment on the show as an elementary school student who doesn't quite understand "Stranger Danger". The sketch works because Pedrad plays her character with such undue confidence, while Norton is able to hold his own against Pedrad in his role as the police officer; the remaining cast also does some good support work. "Steve Harvey" was weaker and didn't have an ending, but Harvey's (Kenan Thompson) completely wrong guesses about punny Halloween costumes were some good quick laughs.
The show's weaknesses were still apparent last night. Norton's final sketch, where he explained individual pieces of Halloween candy he gave out, had some good lines, but seemed like a quick rewrite of the Christmas ornaments sketch from the 2011 Steve Buscemi show. Miley Cyrus' cameo in the monologue didn't bother me as much as it did other people, but the gratuitous twerking reference that ended "12 Years Not A Slave" only served to instantly date the sketch. A sketch revolving around a "Rain Man"-type character 25 years after the movie got some grousing from the message boards for its untimeliness, but the bigger problem was a lack of an ending. Weekend Update was mercifully shorter than usual, but Cecily Strong still seems a little tentative, and Bobby Moynihan's Anthony Crispino character seems to be more to provide Seth Meyers something to react to than anything else.
I'm still baffled by the decision to hire six new featured players to replace three (four if you count Tim Robinson's move to the writer's room). I understand that Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis were the cast's foundation in the last few seasons, but the huge number hired seems to indicate a lack of faith in the established cast; this is even more aggravating when you take into consideration their limited opportunities to develop their own dynamic, especially during the reign of Kristen Wiig as alpha-castmember. Kenan Thompson is being pushed as this year's bedrock, but he doesn't have the versatility of the departed players; why the show didn't look for a stronger black performer to replace him is a mystery. To their credit, Bobby Moynihan and Taran Killam are still very dependable in whatever they do, but there are so many players competing for airtime that the cast can't establish a true group dynamic.