Well, at least she didn’t do Secret Word. The second Kristen Wiig’s inevitable hosting gig was announced, I had an eerie vision of the future, and it came true. This was a night low on original sketches, even though it had one of the most talented sketch performers around hosting, because it had to fit in Target Lady, and The Lawrence Welk Show, and Garth and Kat, and Gilly (thankfully just a cameo). Penelope didn’t make it, but weirdly The Californians did (not even really Wiig’s sketch, I guess just in homage to the zombified nature of the night).
When the sketches were original, they weren’t bad and Wiig was there to help elevate them as best she could. But the return of a recently-departed cast member is always going to be a nostalgia night—imagine how happy and breezy the pitch room was this week—and if you missed all of Wiig’s characters from SNL, then this was the night for you. If, like me, you thought her characters were funny the first few times and then ranged from boring to torturous with each new appearance, a lot of this episode was hard to watch.
The cold open was a very clunky start, ending faster than usual (thank God) and relying on Bill Hader and Kenan Thompson’s Darrell Issa and Elijah Cummings impressions, not really enough to hook the viewer in. The idea of Issa incorporating Jodi Arais for ratings had a little bite to it, but went nowhere. Her presence was the joke, and then everything was just flat line-readings until it was time to say “Live from New York.”
Wiig launched right into a musical number for her monologue, unsurprisingly—in fact the only thing that took me aback was the lack of surprise guest appearances backstage. Jonah Hill was making out with Maya Angelou in a closet, and Lorne provided his customary deadpan tip of the hat, but that was it! If you’re going to have a Kristen Wiig extravaganza, might as well bring out the big guns, right? Or was everyone just out of town?
We followed with an ad for 1-800 Flowers that I took as a subtle passing of the torch from Wiig to Kate McKinnon—the annoying mother in this sketch is a role Wiig would have made mincemeat out of in the past and McKinnon did an equally terrific job. The sketch was just a bunch of funny little observations, and it didn’t even need to escalate because it was just great watching those two bounce off each other.
Then, the Californians. A harbinger of doom for every episode, but particularly frustrating when you know a Wiig character retrospective is around the corner. I was sated by the following “Aw, Nuts! Mom’s A Ghost!” not because of its topicality (Asian horror tropes are not really en vogue right now) but just because it was perfectly executed and nailed that Disney Channel tone precisely. Plus, I liked the specificity of “Korean water ghost” and the horrifying, detailed manner of her murder.
Then we got to the meat of the hour, the overdone, Wiig-y meat. First, the Lawrence Welk Show. Hey, Eunice is back and she’s still a weird sexual creep with tiny hands! Anything else new? Well, Lawrence tells us the bubbles smell bad tonight (the biggest laugh of the sketch for me).
Then, for Weekend Update, we got a particularly hammy appearance by Anthony Crispino, who does make me laugh even though his delivery is basically set in stone at this point (his helium gasps at the end of the sketch were the best part). And before I could make a sacrifice to the SNL gods, Garth and Kat wheeled in for some Mother’s Day-themed improv. This has always been my least favorite Wiig character because it’s the best example of the cast having fun at the expense of the audience. We know they get a kick out of this lame improv game, but it makes for horrible television.
Then the Target Lady rose from the grave to freak out customers. I zoned out so much during her performance here that I started concentrating on the weary shoppers instead, wondering why Kenan wanted to buy a bunch of cards to have on hand for the future, laughing at Aidy Bryant’s deadpan reactions instead of Wiig’s nutty delivery.
The following two sketches were original and clung to their premises tightly, enough that I would dub them the best of the night even though they were both pretty simple. The acupuncture thing was just a gross special effects gag but it was beautifully executed and escalated surprisingly (I did not expect Sudeikis’ back to explode like that, so, props). Wiig and Bryant both did well with the physical humor but Fred Armisen probably got the biggest laugh of the sketch as Dr. Chang jumping out the window.
The dates with sixth-graders was an even simpler premise that never escalated (the joke was just everyone’s horrifying nonchalance) and didn’t need to. Cecily Strong was especially funny, annoyingly mannered in just the right way. My favorite moment was just her leaning in to say “What’s that?” Taran Killam also added his usual bit of infectious enthusiasm as a waiter who could have objected to the whole thing but instead just wanted in on the fun.
I really do like Wiig as a performer and I respect her legacy on the show, but I’m also sick of all these characters, even a year removed from them, and I’m not looking forward to this being a yearly (or so) ritual. I appreciate that Wiig obviously had an awesome time hosting, but next time, just use her considerable skills for good.
- “Even though I left 11 months and 30 days ago, it really feels like it’s been a year.”
- There are never nuts in eggs benedict.” “Well I’m sorry for double-checking.” “You’re not allergic. Nothing would happen.”
- I love Anthony Crispino’s news sources. “This guy I met in a mall in Jersey, Cinnabon Jovi.”
- I got nothing on the final sketch except that I liked the line "You are my husband but you don’t know my name, you played Coach on Coach.”