Claire and Nathan are both out of town this weekend, so I’m stepping in for the season finale. And as finales go, this was not a bad one for the regulars to miss. Alec Baldwin hinted at it in his monologue—after last week’s triumphant, hooray-for-everything Betty White extravaganza, this episode inevitably felt like the cast was playing out the string. Having Baldwin as the guest didn’t help in that respect—although he’s an all-time great host, his presence did make it feel like Saturday Night Live was returning to its status quo with breathtaking speed, like the show always does after it’s blessed with a surprise moment of cultural relevance.
That said, Saturday’s show was at least an above-average return to normal as the show closes out its 35th year. The cold opens this season have mostly been dead on arrival—thanks in large part to the Fred-Armisen-as-Obama experiment that just won’t end—but the opening sketch this week had a pretty funny take on the oil spill in the Gulf. None of the actual wacky spill-stopping plans were terribly amusing—when one of the real-life plans is a “junk shot,” the situation becomes tough to parody—but the general spirit of bemused cluelessness among the BP/Transocean/Halliburton execs felt spot-on. Especially this line: “Then we tried something involving a giant tube. This plan was dear to my heart because it was a suggestion of my five-year-old daughter.”
The meandering monologue had its moments. It would be easy to accuse Baldwin of going through the motions at this point, but that’s not quite it. It’s more like he relishes the fact that he’s an old hand at this, so he’s not going to make it appear like it’s any more effort for him than it is. Steve Martin made a not-very-funny cameo, as Steve Martin is wont to do.
All the best sketches were front-loaded toward the first 40 minutes of the show, which is the way it’s supposed to work, I guess, even though it usually doesn’t happen that way. Especially when there’s a low-concept, off-kilter sketch like Starfish the Script Supervisor in the mix—weird stuff like that almost always gets pushed past midnight, but it came early tonight. Starfish was yet another Kristen Wiig character whose gimmick is basically to talk out of the corner of her mouth, but hey, it was funny, so who cares? (The only thing that bothered me about this sketch: Since it was established early on that the first take of the soap-opera scene was a good one, why did the director keep asking for new takes?)
The Hudson Valley Swim Team sketch was essentially Alec Baldwin saying incredibly mean things about schoolchildren for three minutes. That was funny enough on the virtues of Baldwin’s delivery alone, but the echoes of his phone-message scandal from a few years back gave things an extra charge. Plus, there was a Lutz sighting! Any sketch with Lutz is OK in my book.
One of my favorite characters of the season was Nasim Pedrad as Bedelia, the teenager who thinks her parents are just the coolest. And even as Bedelia apparently begins her descent into recurring-character hell, the sketch worked almost as well the second time around. I think the character works so well because she’s both more mature and less mature than the gossipy girls and oafish boys who surround her. She’s bizarre but matter-of-fact and outwardly comfortable with herself—Pedrad threads that needle nicely. The ambiguity there makes me kind of uncomfortable, but I think it’s really funny.
The Gram Lampton’s Timecrowave infomercial felt like a potentially hilarious concept at the outset, but the writers ran out of ways to one-up themselves with shocking alternate realities. Once you go to the Nazi well (which was a great reveal), it’s hard to top that. The Turner Classic Movies “hooker with a heart of gold” bit was one cute joke crisply executed; the Scout Sniper School was one lame joke clumsily executed.
And then there was Grady Wilson, sex-tape magnate. I’m no great Kenan Thompson fan, and surely the Grady Wilson sketch is his most vile creation. Thompson’s “nasal-y old guy” character is tiresome enough, but watching him thrust his pelvis while he yelps lame catchphrases is agony. Admittedly, I probably hate it even more because the studio audience always eats it right up. Don’t you see, people? You’re just encouraging him!
That was the low point. Update was mostly a disappointment, too. I’m of two minds on Seth Meyers in the Update chair. I think he’s great at reading the headlines—his delivery is cutting, and he has a tight rhythm. But lord, does he make me cringe when he slaps on that shit-eating grin to interview a correspondent at the desk. And his ain’t-I-a-stinker mode gets turned up to 11 when “Snooki” makes an appearance. Nobody at the Update desk tonight could resist laughing at their own shtick. And again, the studio audience loves it when the actors break, but I can’t stand it. Although Bill Hader gets a pass because the giddiness is built into his Stefon character.
In the Digital Short, a dude on a wicked coke bender sang an increasingly scattered tune about what a wonderful, sunshine-y, super-amazing day he was going to have. I enjoyed it quite a bit. In the interest of full disclosure, though, my wife regularly accuses me of having a man-crush on Andy Samberg, and she’s probably right. I’m comfortable with it.
Oh, and the musical guest. I usually skip the music segments because for whatever reason, the audio engineers in Studio 8-H reliably do a hack job on whatever performer falls victim to their mixing boards. And yup, Tom Petty sounded bad—the mix was way too guitar-heavy. The vocals were too low, making Petty sound weak and strained, and the piano was practically inaudible.
So tonight was predictable, but overall, not a bad way to head into the summer break.
-- “I’m not one of those people who loves to hear the sound of their own voice. I don’t have to, because so many other people love to hear the sound of my voice. It’s an incredible voice.” True that.
-- “The kid has two things in common with Greg Louganis: He hit his head on the diving board, and I’ll let you figure out the second one.”
-- “Boniva won’t solve all your problems. You’ll always be a woman.” Abby Elliott does a killer Sally Field impression. Can’t imagine that comes in handy too often.
-- “You know the book 1776? He’s read it.” The Bedelia sketch was full of great one-liners. Definitely the sharpest writing of the evening, aside from the Digital Short with that dreamy Andy Samberg.