Saturday Night Live: “Ben Affleck; Kayne West”
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Saturday Night Live: “Ben Affleck; Kayne West”

B+

Saturday Night Live

“Ben Affleck; Kayne West”

Season 38, Episode 21

This is the second year in a row that SNL has had major goodbyes to address in its season finale (Kristen Wiig last time, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen here) and it’s the second year in a row they’ve absolutely nailed it. Sure, this was pretty much a typical season finale otherwise, with a better-than-usual mix of good sketches and clunkers, a very competent host in Ben Affleck (joining the five-timers club) and a friendly drop-in from Amy Poehler. But, as frustrated as I can get with these guys, it’s crazy how emotionally invested I am in these big farewells. Stefon’s wedding got me choked up. Armisen’s lovely, subdued Ian Rubbish song was exactly how he should sign off. It’s just a sketch show, but if you’re deep in your SNL fandom, it’s like a family member moving away.

We’re approaching a huge transitional moment for the show, one everyone wrote about last year with the departure of Wiig but is still far from complete. Seth Meyers will be gone after Christmas to host Late Night; Jason Sudeikis can’t stick around forever either, although the lack of a goodbye sketch and Hader and Armisen’s prominence in the goodbye credits makes me think he’ll hold on a little bit longer. SNL has a talented core to launch its next wave in Bobby Moynihan, Taran Killam and Kate McKinnon (along with Kenan Thompson, a grand old man in terms of years on this show). The future is certainly not dire. But it’s also going to be different, and it’s probably going to be a little shaky for a season or so (while fascinating to watch for us SNL dorks).

I’m going to miss Bill Hader most of all, who would definitely have a place on my top 10 all-time SNL cast members, if not top five. Even though he’s been around for a long time and certainly deserves to move on to greener pastures, I’d happily have him around forever and ever. Wiig and Armisen’s departures made sense because it felt like they had done everything they could do on the show, but Hader is so versatile and talented, there’s just limitless potential there.

Stefon’s wedding was a perfect sign-off for a recurring character that never, ever got old. Which is crazy when you think about it—it’d be perfectly reasonable for me to be sick to death of Stefon considering that he followed such a rigid formula and made countless Weekend Update appearances. But nope, he got me every time which is a real testament to Hader and John Mulaney, who he co-wrote the sketches with (and who returned to the credits again tonight to pitch in, of course). Everything you could have hoped for: appearances by Stefon’s entourage of freaks (the internet is furiously cataloging all of them right now, I’m sure), Anderson Cooper, some genuine emotion from Seth Meyers. Beautiful stuff.

Armisen’s goodbye, where he was joined onstage by Carrie Brownstein, J. Mascis, Kim Gordon, Aimee Mann and Steve Jones, was less of a nod to his enduring presence on the show (11 years, longer than everyone except Franken, Meyers and Hammond) and more to his overall persona and work on Portlandia. It didn’t have quite the emotional punch that Wiig’s dance to “Like A Rainbow” had last year, but it was certainly lovely.

What about the episode itself, Sims? Ben Affleck didn’t have quite as good a show as his last appearance in 2008 (when his Keith Olbermann impression just slayed me) but he’s always a reliable hand and gamely brought in Jennifer Garner to mock his Oscar speech for a solid monologue (Moynihan’s five-timers club t-shirt was also very special).

“Bengo Fuck Yourself” should have been even more insane—I wanted Ahmadinejad’s meeting with Hader’s evil executive to last forever, and everything following that wasn’t quite as good, but the concept of the sketch was solid and “I’d like to thank the Academy as well as the elders of Zion” was a nice, vaguely risky little button.

Things sagged a little around Weekend Update. I’m all for original sketches, and there were a bunch this time, but a lot of them felt only half fleshed-out. Hader’s depression-era bum, who turned out to be an evil scoundrel, spent too much time on Affleck’s boring exposition and not enough on McKinnon’s evil little girl/40-year-old prostitute character (she had the funniest line of the sketch, and it was also her only line).

The straight camp, with Ben Affleck as a furiously closeted gay-to-straight counselor, should have had some extra twist to it, because the initial joke was so obvious and never moved any further. Sure, Affleck and Killam putting their mouths an inch from each other is funny, but it’s not quite enough.

The fake funeral, which followed Stefon’s big day and a real emotional fever pitch for the episode, was a total downer, with Affleck doing a lame Mexican accent and once again, the initial joke proving to be the final one. The guy’s a dirtbag and his whole family doesn’t like him, fine! Oh, that’s it? That’s the whole joke? I see. How long is this sketch going to be? The same goes for the cops making emotional noises (the penultimate sketch)—funny for 30 seconds, then a bit of a bore.

Well, now it sounds like I hated the episode. But Stefon! And the return of the ex-porn stars, this time slinging Hermes handbags with cowboy Girth Brooks! There’s a sketch starring two of the show’s big talents (Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong, the latter being the breakout featured player this year) that we’ll probably be sick of in a couple years but right now is still right on the money. Hell, even Kenan’s Al Sharpton made me laugh at the top of the show.

My point is, it’s a transitional time, and a somewhat sad finale, but SNL is still doing okay. This was a shaky year, with a few real stinkers and a bunch of forgettable episodes and hosts, but there’s always beautiful potential at the core of this show and that’s why I tune in every week (it’s not because I’m paid to, honest!). See you all for what should be a fascinating season 39.

Stray observations:

  • Sharpton addresses it. “I’m super-skinny now, but for some reason, this camera…I don’t know.”
  • Loved every time Ahmadinejad said “park the car in Harvard Yard.”
  • Oh, Amy Poehler was wonderful as ever. Not enough love for her. She should host again next year!
  • Already dreading when Hader comes back to host and they exhume Stefon. I kinda never want to see him again.
  • “One of my eyes doesn’t work. It got sucked out by a butt.”

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