Sob! Look: It’s time for Saturday Night Live to shake things up. Stars like Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg (and poor Jason Sudeikis, who got way less of a sendoff tonight but is supposed to be on his way out as well) have to depart so the show can avoid total stagnation. But I’ll admit to getting totally choked up at that wonderful, show-closing farewell to Wiig. Having Mick Jagger as a host was worth it just to justify that performance of The Rolling Stones’ “She’s A Rainbow” and “Ruby Tuesday”—even if it was Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Régine Chassagne handling the lead vocals on the medley. The spirit of community that surrounds SNL is hard to deny, especially in recent, strife-free years, and seeing former cast members like Amy Poehler and Rachel Dratch pop up with no fanfare for the big goodbye was sweet.
Anyone who reads these reviews knows I’m not the biggest fan of Wiig’s work in recent seasons, but there’s no doubt she’ll be well-remembered as one of SNL’s pivotal cast members. She’s always been a terrific sketch actress too, it’s just her recurring characters that chafed so much. Sketch acting was never Samberg’s strong suit, but he’s been even more important to the show through his involvement (with fellow Lonely Island members Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer) with the digital shorts. Sudeikis’ place in the pantheon is perhaps less-assured—but if he is gone, I’ll definitely miss him too.
Still, change is good, and this season, while not horrible, definitely shows how SNL is crying out for new blood. There weren’t a lot of downright stinkers in the 37th season, but there were also only a couple of standout episodes and a heavy reliance on repeated skits. It’s a pity the season couldn’t go out on more of a bang, especially considering that the final segment was so lovely, but (perhaps fittingly for the big sendoff) this week was composed of sketches we’ve seen before, and the result was hit-or-miss.
When the Lawrence Welk Show title card flashed to open the episode, I audibly groaned as I always do, but, weirdly, this turned out to be one of the best sketches of the night. (It’s probably the first time I’ve ever enjoyed Welk.) Jon Hamm’s involvement definitely didn’t hurt (“You get that I’m Italian, right?”) and generally warm feelings toward whatever Wiig did this week added to the cocktail, but I think this was a genuinely funny outing for the sisters from the Finger Lakes. “I went numero duo in this boat” had me laughing out loud, not so much for the poop joke but because she was calling the gondola “this boat.” And Hamm deep-throating her tiny hand was an appropriately gross farewell to the sketch.
Given the choice between Gilly, Penelope, Target Lady, et al., Welk isn’t the worst option. However, a final Penelope outing is definitely optimal over Secret Word, which needs to be banished to the furthest circle of Hell forever now that Wiig is gone. Mick Jagger (who was very enthusiastic and on the whole night) pulled a lot of focus as a barely closeted action star, but I wish Bill Hader had pushed against the fourth wall more for the sketch’s final outing. When Wiig mistook “canal” for “anal,” he snapped, “It would never in a million years be anal!” But that was pretty much the extent of it.
Although Jagger got plenty to do tonight, he had one showcase sketch, the karaoke bit where he was too nervous to go up and do a Rolling Stones song. Which was cute, if overlong (it went on long enough that I started to get genuinely annoyed at Vanessa Bayer’s intentionally annoying character). Jagger basically went big with every role he played, especially the Secret Word contestant and Steven Tyler. While that might grate with another guest host, it’s excusable because he’s Mick Jagger—he’s expected to go over-the-top. As a first-time host (although he’s done sketches before and hosted with the Rolling Stones way back when) he did an all right job.
The return of “Lazy Sunday” served as a perfect, final Digital Short bow for Samberg, even though there was no way it was ever going to top the original. The outright surprise of what you were seeing with the original “Lazy Sunday” was part of the magic. That first bad impression of a comedy rap song (almost always bad news) was followed by the shock that it wasn’t just funny, it was actually kinda good. That sweet spot is where The Lonely Island operates, and its contributions will be missed.
A couple of other returning sketches had severely diminishing returns. Kenan Thompson’s Al Sharpton impression basically consists of a funny wig and his looking alarmed when someone says something complicated. Since no one is talking about the gaffes on Politics Nation anymore (or talking about Politics Nation in general), it’s time for this spoof to go. The return of The Californians, which I heartily enjoyed last time, also didn’t do much for me. Part of the joke is how drawn out and slow everything is, which really worked the first time, but got boring here since we know the joke. (I did like Jagger’s glasses, though.)
So You Think You Can Dance At An Outdoor Music Festival was an opportunity for the cast to trot out some impressions in an easy panel format. Hader’s Dave Matthews was technically sound but instantly boring, and everyone else sleepwalked (Abby Elliott had a couple lines as Jewel, Fred Armisen had a silly sight gag as Santana, and Jagger screeched away as Steven Tyler). I don’t mind the presence of these sketches in SNL, but there just wasn’t a proper hook here.
Finally, we had the one recurring sketch that always seems to hit — a visit from Stefon. How does this one stay fresh? The formula is very rigid: The character is always going to reference something involving a midget and always going to demand sympathy from the audience because Seth doesn’t love him. Hader is always going to start cracking up about three jokes in. Yet it always works. Honestly, if Hader was leaving along with the rest of them, then this show would really be entering a radically different phase. SNL needs to hold on to him as long as possible.
So what does the future hold for SNL? There’s no doubt that Taran Killam will be getting more and more to do in coming seasons. With Wiig gone, Vanessa Bayer is due to break out as the show’s female star. But it’s definitely going to be a weird, transitional season next year. As bad as that could be, it’ll be fun to watch SNL leave its comfort zone as it always has to during these periods.
- Jon Hamm needs to host next year, maybe the opening episode. “Chef Boyardee!”
- “Do I detect sage butter?”
- My favorite Stefon word this week: draggers. “When an old dog has short legs but a long penis.”
- An exemplary Steven Tyler critique: “It needs more scarves! I’d give you mine but it keeps my head from falling off.”
- Did I miss anyone in the goodbye credits? I saw Dratch, Kattan, Poehler, Forte, Parnell, Hamm and, of course, Steve Martin (always nice of him to drop by).