Just as we expected, Andy Samberg confirmed to the New York Times that he won't be returning to Saturday Night Live next season. He said not returning was "one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made," but his contract was up, "and I did so much more than I ever thought I would ever even do." Some people are worried he isn't making the right call, though, and are arguing he should stick around SNL instead of heading off into the world of movies. This fear is mostly based off trailers for That's My Boy, Samberg's new movie with Adam Sandler. Part of the argument holds water: That's My Boy looks awful. Like, Jack and Jill levels of awful.
Samberg, along Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer (collectively known as the Lonely Island), produced some of the best material Saturday Night Live offered in the seven years he was on the show. The Digital Shorts gave Saturday Night Live a youthful energy that it was sorely lacking before Samberg came along. (Reminder: the show is almost 40.) The original "Lazy Sunday" sketch went super viral (we still remember watching it for the first time in our dorm room) to the chagrin of NBC, who fought to keep the video off Youtube.
But he needs to be allowed to spread his wings (and maybe fail) on film. There's a great moment in the Saturday Night Live 25th Anniversary special where Chris Rock is giving the typical congratulatory monologue praising the show's brilliance, but breaks and says: "And yet, some of the worst movies ever made were done by people in this very room." And it's true! Saturday Night Live movies are usually awful, and performers rarely gain traction at the theatre once they've left the show. (The SNL movie exceptions: Blues Brothers, A Night at the Roxbury and the first Wayne's World.)
He doesn't have a lot of experience on the big screen, yet. His IMDB page is mostly cameos and voiceovers in cartoons. His one starring vehicle so far, 2007's Hot Rod, wasn't a critical or financial success, but we argue you should go back and watch it. It is funny. The movie has an energy, like its amateur daredevil main character, that makes it seem like it knows it's not supposed to get away with its own stunts. If you can buy into that, you'll enjoy it. After That's My Boy, Samberg's only other live action credit for 2012 is Celeste and Jesse Forever, a romantic dramedy with Parks and Recreation's brilliant Rashida Jones that was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, which usually has a good eye for worth-watching festival fare. If Celeste and Jesse Forever is a success, and we start counting Hot Rod as a success, he's two for three on the big screen.
Those numbers aren't bad, and we'd rather see him flop at the box office rather than toiling away on Saturday Night Live for another three to five years. Will Ferrell was on Saturday Night Live for seven years, from 1995 to 2002. He went on to make the box office smash hits Blades of Glory, Semi-Pro and Land of the Lost. (Depending on who you talk to Talladega Nights could be added to that list as well.) For every Anchorman quote there's
an equal and opposite reaction a Jon Heder movie. Seven years is plenty of time for an SNL performer. Staying too long is even worse, though. Tim Meadows and Darrell Hammond both stuck around for more than ten years, and history hasn't been nice to them because of it. Success isn't guaranteed at the box office, but it's better than growing old on TV.
If Lorne Michaels had his way, I'm sure Samberg would be sticking around 30 Rock. It'd be interesting to know what kind of money he left on the NBC negotiating table. Samberg told the Times the door was still open for Lonely Island to come back every once in a while for a Digital Short. For now we're applauding you, Andy Samberg. Good job getting out while the going's still good.