It's been two days since Bill Hader announced his departure from Saturday Night Live, and already he's got company. The New York Post is reporting that Fred Armisen, who was said to be pondering his exit for a while now, has locked it in internally: "A source at NBC has confirmed to The Post that, after months of rumors, veteran performer Fred Armisen will ... be leaving the show." Oh, also: "Headliner Jason Sudeikis will 'probably' jump as well, the source said." If you're counting at home: That's Hader, Armisen, Sudeikis, and Seth Meyers all dunzo. Time to panic?!
But first, a moment of appreciation. In the 11 years he's been on the show, Fred Armisen has done everything. Partially, that's thanks to his indeterminate ethnic background (for the record, 1/2 Venezuelan, 1/4 German, 1/4 Japanese). Mostly, though, it's skills: Goofy, evil, sappy, clueless, female — Armisen can do 'em all. He was the go-to for dead-panning Middle Eastern dictators or Jewish New York billionaire mayors or brilliantly hacky Latin American drummer/percussionists. He turned New York Governor David Paterson into a gleefully self-aware, New Jersey–loathing maniac, and did it so well he somehow got away with blind jokes. I mean, the guy did Obama! And it was passable! In his later years, as he swallowed up more and more screen time, Armisen became, by default, a marquee name. But it wasn't like with Hader or Sudeikis; nobody was claiming Fred as their favorite cast member. Fred Armisen was one of the greatest utility men in the history of the show.
How long is a year in cultural terms? Or maybe a better question is, when a public figure disappears from a show for a year after a tearful good-bye, at what point does his or her return become what you want it to be? The problem with inviting Kristen Wiig back to host SNL 12 months after her departure to reprise her roles — as Gilly, improvisational songstress Kat, Doonese, a Californian, and the Target Lady — is that we haven't had enough time to miss them yet. The best sketches of the night were the ones that featured Wiig in roles we hadn't seen her in before (scuttling across the ceiling as a Korean water ghost!), but SNL is predictably self-referential, so Wiig's best-of collection was practically obligated to appear. It didn't make for a bad show, especially because of Wiig's matchless energy and the obvious joy on the cast's part to get to play with her again, but the laughs you get from being borne back ceaselessly into the past are always tempered with a little sadness, like showing up to your one-year high school reunion. Being reminded of the events of a year ago lacks the potency of real nostalgia as well as the fresh promise of something that straddles the present and the future, a sketch that works so well the first time around that you crave more of it (and then repeats four times after you've grown unable to stand it anymore). Wiig is still one of the best comediennes out there, but occasionally she was upstaged by her own homecoming.
The cold open was terrible, but the good news is that everything improved from there. C-SPAN's coverage of the Benghazi hearings is trolling for ratings, so Jodi Arias (Nasim Pedrad) and Ariel Castro (Bobby Moynihan) appear to testify as special guest stars. The audience sounded pretty chilly on this little joke desert, but I'll give it points for being brief. Wiig's monologue, during which she sang “I'm So Excited” and danced herself backstage, was charming enough: misidentifying her former cast mates and dressing room, Tasering Kenan Thompson twice, and happening upon a pregnant Maya Rudolph making out with Jonah Hill in the closet (“We're trying to make a baby”) were high points. Gilly's moment was over in a blink, which was good news for me over in the Gilly-averse corner. It's nice that Wiig is poking fun at her camera-1, camera-2 amnesia after such a short absence, but if you didn't already figure that you were in for more old than new sketches, this monologue killed any lingering doubts.
This Friday sees the release of Iron Man 3, with Robert Downey Jr. returning to the role that took him from (hugely rewarding) indie purgatory to all-out blockbuster movie star. But there are more than two chapters to the RDJ saga, and this week the Grantland staff looks back at some of the most memorable moments of his career.
Look, here's this alternate ending from Silver Linings Playbook. Ideally, this scene would go on for another 15 minutes with De Niro straight-up murdering Ricky for wearing a Vikings shirt, then wiping the blood off his hands and digging into some braciole while Cooper and Lawrence suck on each other's tongues in the La-Z-Boy.
Still sickly unable to get over my disappointment at losing KDAY, a bright spot in Vince Vaughn's Saturday Night Live this weekend was seeing Steve Jones — Sex Pistol and host of "Jonesy's Jukebox," first on the now-defunct Indie 103.1, then on KROQ — pop up in the best skit of the night ("History of Punk"). I have a serious affinity for Steve Jones, mostly because of "Jonesy's Jukebox," and I was really pleased to see him chilling at 30 Rock. Unfortunately, the sketch in which he appeared was one of the few high points in a show that had some notable clunkers ("Junior High Prom," you pedophilic Great Gatsby alien, you). It wasn't the worst episode in recent memory, but it was overshadowed by Melissa McCarthy's episode last week for sure. At least the Weather Channel soap opera proved that there was something special about "The Californians." That magic is tough to re-create.
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.
An Obama-inspired fantasy trilogy called Queen of the Tearling has landed a seven-figure deal. Quick! You dictate, I'll type! Jimmy Carter and the werewolves! There's a magic crystal buried somewhere in Mount St. Helens! Throw some virgins in! We gotta move on this!!
Buuuuuuurn. Patrick Carney of The Black Keys dissed Grammy-snubbed Justin Bieber, saying that "he's making a lot of money. He should be happy." You know what's better than a million dollars? A billion dollars. You know what's better than a billion dollars? A billion dollars and a Grammy. You know what's better than a billion dollars and a Grammy? The artistic freedom to Instagram pictures of yourself all sweat-drippy in a lace bra, otherwise known as being Madonna. In other Grammy drama news, here is Adele disapproving of Chris Brown.
Alex Jones, you so crazy! Why would anyone ever want to take your guns away? While appearing on Piers Morgan’s CNN show Monday night, the psychic radio host and conspiracy theorist (who’s behind the petition to get Morgan deported) defended his Second Amendment rights and melted down like crayon shavings in a hot petri dish: “I'm here to tell you, 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!” and “You have hordes of people burning down cities and beating old women’s brains out everyday” are among the highlights. He also challenged Morgan to a boxing match: “You're a hatchet man! And I'm going to say this here, you think you're a tough guy? Have me back with a boxing ring and I'll wear red, white, and blue, and you'll wear your Jolly Roger.” Earlier, Jones was detained at the airport for refusing to remove his shoes because he caught athlete’s foot on a prior voyage. I hear it’s terminal.
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.
Seven Psychopaths, Martin McDonagh's follow-up to 2008's excellent In Bruges, comes out this weekend, and while we're certainly looking forward to the director teaming up with Colin Farrell again, it's a pretty good bet that nine out of 10 scenes will be effortlessly stolen by Christopher Walken, arguably the original modern psychopath. With over 120 films on his résumé, not to mention all those SNL hosting gigs, and countless other cameos over the years, going down a Walken YouTube rabbit hole can be a daunting undertaking. So come in, have some champag-nyeh, and let the Grantland staff be your guide to the best of Walken on the Internet.