The 38th season of SNL was not its best. After Mick Jagger sang Kristen Wiig off the show last year in an emotional farewell (Andy Samberg and Abby Elliott departed with her), this season’s exits — both rumored and confirmed — were given a subtler treatment. This season's 21 episodes were occasionally brilliant, but more often they seemed to belong to a kind of blameless nowheresville in need of some substantial bulldozing. The veterans — Fred Armisen has been kicking around for 10 seasons, while Jason Sudeikis became a featured player in 2005 — have appeared understandably tired; the death of the Digital Short haunted bad episodes, whispering, "Remember me fondly?" from a corner of the ceiling. The writing was not universally bad, but it was uneven, perhaps even more so than in previous seasons. And whereas Wiig’s exit was somehow gut-wrenching (which "Ruby Tuesday" "She's a Rainbow" can be), when Bill Hader and Armisen bid good-bye to Lorne Michaels & Co., it felt like the right time for them to go. Sudeikis is probably out as well, and head writer and "Weekend Update" anchor Seth Meyers will only be able to stay with the show through the fall until he takes over Late Night, which means that next season has no choice but to attempt an evolutionary leap. Again. It might be auspicious: Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong have proven to be formidable additions to the roster, and Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan have each hit their stride; there’s also the opportunity to bring in more people of color, wackier writers, and to mess with the format in a way that might shake the stale cooties out of the sheets a little bit. You have to know when to leave the party, and this mass exodus seems to indicate that it’s time to flip on the lights and survey the room. Being the host of this kind of show isn’t exactly a thankless exercise, but the host was not the point. Ben Affleck was tasked with competing for attention not only with musical guest Kanye West, whose head was basically spinning on his neck in a self-consuming Yeezus rapture-state (love you, ’Ye), but the departing cast members' curtain calls. Did he succeed? Of course not, but he wasn’t meant to.
This weekend's Saturday Night Live has the auspices of greatness. It's not only the season finale, but also the last episode for Bill Hader (and quite possibly for Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis as well). And while Hader has already said there's nothing as dramatic planned for his good-bye as Kristen Wiig's lovely "She's a Rainbow" bit — they gotta do something nice, right? Also: Ben Affleck returns to host, but this time as an Oscar-winning director and if you think somehow Matt Damon won't be getting involved to cut his buddy down to size, youh ahh fawkin' crazy. And then there's Kanye as a musical guest: Not only is he embroiled in the most dramatic childbirth process since that of Jesus, he's also got a God-complex album everyone can't wait to hear. Plus, the last time he did SNL, it looked like this.
Bill Hader was an SNL presence so precious, he merits more than one good-bye. His impressions were among the cast’s best (Kate McKinnon, I see you), but he also brought to life original characters that were layered despite the limits, time-wise and otherwise, of the sketches in which they appeared: Stefon, Vinny Vedecci, Greg the Alien, and, though he simultaneously terrified and depressed me, senile reporter Herb Welch. Hader was responsible for the majority of the personae you wanted to hang out with after their four-minute segments ended; they were always so charming, even when they were embodied by a bloodthirsty, guts-hungry take on Dateline’s Keith Morrison. If they were real, you would want to park their imaginary butts on your sofa to take in all of Hader’s Criterion double-feature picks, drink margaritas, and gab. Hader shines bright like a di-mon, and when I attended a showing of The Great Gatsby last night, huddled under a gray cloud of casting-department disappointment, I mentally replaced Tobey Maguire with Bill Hader for a second. He seems able to take on anything, from a hypothetical Nick Carraway to James Carville to creative consulting/producing South Park. As we look forward to Hader’s next move and contemplate the uncertain future of SNL, let’s spend an hour or so staring zonk-eyed at the computer in honor of some of his greatest hits. Cue up the DJ Baby Bok Choy single, everyone. It’s Stefon’s funeral (just kidding, he’ll pop back up in a year to give a special appearance like Gilly) and we’re going to Boof to shoot meth mixed with his ashes.
In the words of the legend himself: "It has to happen sometime." Bill Hader — who, over the last eight years at Saturday Night Live, has quietly put together a body of work that can rival the best to have walked through the doors at Studio 8H — is leaving.
In an interview with the New York Times this morning, Hader announced that this Saturday's season finale will be his last SNL ever. (Silver lining: Kanye's the musical guest. Maybe Bill will get an Auto-Tune emo ’Ye rant all to himself?) As the Times explains, "Mr. Hader's contract at 'Saturday Night Live' expired in spring 2012, but he was persuaded to stay on for an additional season. In February, he told Mr. Michaels that he was ready to move on, he said. 'I’d heard stories that you get very emotional in those conversations,' he added, 'and I’ve had other people tell me, "Oh, I cried." I didn’t, but I did think I was about to faint.'" As for why he's bouncing: He wants to move to L.A., where his wife, movie director Maggie Carey (The To Do List), works, and where he's got his own fair share of upcoming movie projects; also, seeing Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig leave pushed him to do the same. Basically: "It got to a point where I said, 'Maybe it’s just time to go.'"
Zach Galifianakis likes to make people uncomfortable, and he's very skilled at it. Besides two previous hosting gigs (pianos, removal of facial hair and hair-hair), Galifianakis's SNL past includes being thrown out of the audience for trespassing and getting canned after two weeks on the job as a writer, so when he advised the audience not to get their hopes up, it seemed like a suitable enough disclaimer: Galifianakis does what he does; he's unwilling, or possibly unable, to do anything else. His shtick hasn't changed much over the years, but his weirdness has found its place in the temperate tropical breezes between the ferns of time. His most recent turn as host was even better than when he dressed up as Annie and lip-synched to "Tomorrow" in 2010. Like a fine, stocky half-Greek wine, his brand of comedy is aging well, and this was a great episode despite universewide disappointment that Jennifer Aniston was nowhere to be found in the final seconds of her look-alike contest spot. That Vanessa Bayer was such a dead ringer only made it a crueler tease. If you need me, I'll be crying over at Darrell's house where I can re-cut everything with more egg rolls and Aniston.
I had an argument recently about the effects of watching a Saturday Night Live host visibly read the cue cards. I was arguing that it's distracting and sometimes seems to imply a lack of skill that undercuts anything good the performer is up to otherwise. My opponent countered that the whole point of SNL is the roughshod immediacy, and since the cue cards can change at any point from rehearsals to the taping, we should just accept it as part of the show's infrastructure. Maybe because the topic was already on my mind, I was completely blown away by Melissa McCarthy's performance this past weekend. It's kind of crazy that she was never a cast member, because she's a sketch prodigy. The second-time host's skills made watching sketches like "Million Dollar Wheel" — a basic throwaway — like an informative course in how to cram scripts into your being, into your soul, so that they still feel unpredictable and improvised. A mediocre bit dies between the time it takes to set up and when you first check to see how much longer it can possibly lie on the floor until production's janitor comes to carry it away on a stretcher. McCarthy never let that happen, because she never really allowed you to feel as though you knew what was going to come next.
The cold open kicked off with Bobby Moynihan as Kim Jong-un delivering two pieces of important news: First, the reopening of a nuclear complex that will leave North Korea's enemies "chagrined and discombobulated;" and, second, lifting a ban on same-sex marriage because "it is simply the right thing to do" (his eyes were opened by his gay nephew's weekly book discussion groups at his apartment — the nephew was executed anyway, but not because of that). Jong-un's open-mindedness isn't an indication that he's switched teams, however — so don't go thinking that! — because he's had relations with over 17 million women, whom he provided with their first orgasms ("this is not a joke. You can applaud"). Just as he trails off into his NCAA tournament pool, Dennis Rodman saunters in wearing polka-dot pants, fist-bumps him, and delivers your "Live from New York!" Remember when Rodman blew up a cold open in 1996? I didn't, but there he is, preserved in his boa. It wasn't my favorite cold open of all time, but it was good enough.
First of all: We missed you, Don Pardo, and I really hope you’re recovering from your broken hip. I’d send you an edible arrangement of candied Z-Shirts if I could. Feel better.
I am familiar with Kevin Hart, and I like him. His energy and delivery have the effect of making me slowly scoot toward the edge of the sofa until I’m basically doing a wall squat. It’s as if he’s telling a particularly engaging story at a loud party, and during his monologue I was thinking that this episode was going to be something special.
A bunch of pre-teenagers and pre-teenagers-at-heart got to stay up past their bedtimes on Saturday to scream swoonily for Justin Bieber. I know this because I could hear them in the audience. Fans waited in line in the blizzard to get tickets for the show, attempting (and failing) to complete their homework, only vacating their spots in queue if their lives were endangered by frostbite (“We weren’t going to die for Bieber,” said one. “We’re not die-hard fans, literally.”) Justin ordered them pizzas and SNL doled out hot soup so that they might live to see the legal drinking age. I guess that’s pretttty cool, it’s pretttttty cool. The host was a good sport and, despite its lackluster cold open, I liked this episode overall. The best sketch may have only featured Bieber peripherally (The Moroccans of Mulholland Drive), but from singing about searching for sweater puppies (the live kind) to taking on a Californian, the 18-year-old pulled double duty better than I anticipated.
Tracy Morgan joins Cousin Sal and Bill Simmons to describe his alter ego, Chico Divine, and what he can remember from the time he was naked in Jimmy Kimmel’s green room. He also chats about the time he was kicked out of Prince’s house, his Saturday Night Live audition, and his favorite memory from 30 Rock. Plus! His new TV project and much, much more.
OK. You know when you’re having a really brutal week at work — you’re up late like a little tension fossil at night, you’re phoning it in a little bit in the office, you’re clean out of ideas — and then Friday comes and you slay it? You really make Friday your bitch, you punch it right in the eye? And that weekend you congratulate yourself by slamming margaritas and thinking, “I needed this vacation! I’m totally invigorated! I’m going to go into the office on Monday and punch my job in both eyes, then spit in my job’s eye! I’m back, baby!” But then Monday morning arrives and you have a hangover and you realize that you should have spent your vacation sleeping in a bathtub filled with restorative sea salts and drinking $45 pressed juices because last Friday was but a hiccup in your existential rut? Well. Here we are. It’s Monday.
I couldn’t write hilarious sketches week after week, and so I hate to criticize people or group entities whose jobs are more difficult than mine. But my job involves being honest about laughing or not laughing at Saturday Night Live, and I do it somewhat reluctantly when I am stonily wondering if a Starbucks Verismo parody is racist, or repeatedly saying to no one “That’s it?” at a strangely brief "Weekend Update" or the stalled car “Top Dog Chef.” Jennifer Lawrence: Girl, it wasn’t you.
Since SNL announced that it will occasionally be crowd-sourcing host and musical guest suggestions — and since the first Host of the People (if you don’t count the Betty White campaign), Louis CK, had such a good turn — I’ve been brainstorming my short list of candidates for 2013. Jamie Foxx will host next week with Ne-Yo, and Martin Short and Paul McCartney are up on the 15th; after that, it’s up to America (well, sometimes). And I don’t trust America. America is too hung up on ska right now, and I see a lone wolf in the pack of commenters calling out for Eric Dane to host. What if that person has a high Klout score? I’m afraid of Americans. I’m afraid of the world. Trust no one. Except me. Trust me. Here is my SNL host/musical guest omakase:
Editor's note: The four day weekend is upon us, so we here at the Prospectus thought we'd leave you with a Hall Of Fame highlighting the occasional joys and frequent horrors of Thanksgiving Day. Why are Thanksgiving disasters so much more satisfying to recall than Thanksgiving successes? Perhaps there's some comfort to be found in holiday schadenfreude, real or fictional, because we can all sympathize on some level. Unless of course, you're Uncle Phil.
Some people, apparently, haven’t forgiven Anne Hathaway for the 2011 Oscars. I think it’s time to get over it and enjoy her beautiful, goobly face. I would rather see someone try so hard — like Judy Garland–style trying hard — than just zombie walking, or should I say Sloppy Swishing, his or her way through a hosting gig on SNL. But all of this is beside the point. If Rihanna’s performance of “Diamonds” doesn’t single-handedly legalize marijuana in every state (magenta dolphins!), then we’ve lost a very important battle. That set made my heart into a giant, throbbing bong that emitted a curl of smoke that spelled out RIHANNA in cursive and then wrapped around my ring finger and covered it in tattoos of screensavers. OK? OK.
It’s probably fitting that the two shows that make former New Yorkers feel the most complicated dim sum array of emotions, Louie and Saturday Night Live, conflated last weekend, less than a week after Superstorm Sandy slammed the East Coast. Missing a regional joke on "Weekend Update" or watching Louis eat at Russ & Daughters can give transplants a mean case of the wistfuls, especially if you spent the past week biting your nails and watching weather reports of swirling gray clouds, wondering if things were going to be Okay, Bad, or The Worst Imaginable. I tried, and failed, to learn to skateboard a few blocks from the Comedy Cellar; when I would come back to New York during winter break in college, I’d sneak in with friends and drink uncomfortably as comics picked on us because we were obviously terrified of being poked fun at (so, inevitably, we were) for wearing skimpy tank tops under our giant parkas. It’s easy to identify with the Louis of Louie even if you’ve never felt your sneakers stick to the floor of a pizza joint on MacDougal, but most people who leave New York allow themselves a private imaginary identity that still wanders around Union Square at night with headphones on and rents a tiny apartment with a bleak but voyeuristic imaginary view into a nonexistent neighbor’s living room, and Louie sure has a way of stoking the fires of that fantasy. In an e-mail sent to fans before SNL aired, Louis C.K. wrote:
Before I get to this SNL recap, I have a public service announcement to make: If you've been busted for cocaine, especially if you have never! ever! previously done drugs in your life, don't wear sunglasses in the dark. I am not a person who suspects people of doing cocaine in general; you can sit me down at a party and tell me a four-hour-long story about how you met your manager while wearing sequined pants and sweating your eyebrows off, and I won't have a clue. I'll just peg you as ambitious. But when a person wears sunglasses in the dark, I will immediately Google "[their name] + cocaine" and I will always find a result. So don't do that. I mean, do that if you want to do that. But just know that everyone will think you do a ton of cocaine, unless you are blind. If you are blind, and someone is reading you this recap, you go ahead and wear sunglasses wherever you want.