Saturday Night Live said goodbye to two of its biggest stars last night, both in spectacular fashion, and had all time performances from Kanye West. It was a night of teary goodbyes and awkward Ben Affleck jokes. Join us, please, as we send off Stefon and Ian Rubbish in style.
Oh man, after last week's debacle of a cold open it was nice to get some laughs before the credits rolled this time. I don't even know why this cracked me up so much. I hate the cold opens on an almost universal basis, and Kenan Thompson is far from the strongest performer on the show, but this had me giggling from the get go? Maybe I should see a doctor. Or maybe Kenan Thompson's Al Sharpton impression can be funny when he's calling a Tea Party member "Sam Adams," who's from "colonial Williamsburg" (actually Denver, Colorado).
The cold open wasted no time addressing its biggest issue: Ben Affleck is joining the Five Timer's Club and he's not getting the same welcome Justin Timberlake did when he joined just a few months ago. So Bobby Moynihan came out with a custom made T-shirt with a 5 on the front to sing him the Five Timer's Club song. A song that doesn't exist, Affleck soon discovers. There was a weird segway into gag about Affleck's marriage falling apart, complete with a Jennifer Garner cameo, and maybe this would work better if I was older and in a committed relationship. The cue card line was great, though. (That's never a great sign.)
This being Fred Armisen's last show it was nice to see him do one last impression of an insane world leader. In this case it was Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Given the host, this is obviously leading to an Argo joke. Iran's made a response movie telling the story of how Affleck tricked Hollywood, and Ahmadinejad stars in the movie as Affleck. Ahmadinejad has to say "park the car in the Harvard yard," before he reads every line to get the Boston accent right. Affleck eventually appears in the movie as a sound guy, justifying it by saying he's always wanted to appear in a movie "worse than Gigli."
The commercial parody for "Xanax for Gay Summer Weddings" was great for a number of reasons. But we had a hard time getting past Jason Sudeikis and Taran Killam as the fabulous gay couple stressing everyone out. They look too much alike and are practically the same person. Sand Sudeikis' hair is captivating here. He looks like a young Tate Donovan. If Tate Donovan ever had a full head of hair, which you can't convince me ever happened.
Bill Hader saying "I'd stab Sant-y Claus for a sniff o' glue," in an old time-y 1920's accent nearly ended me, so this was his first "we'll miss you" moment of the night. This sketch was an excuse for Affleck and Hader to speak in 1920s accents. They're both great at it, so the sketch works more than it should. But Affleck can't peel his eyes off the cue cards and it detracts from the sketch's real funny parts. He's stiff as a board out there.
The sketch about the gay reform summer camp run by barely reformed gays was... OK. If you ever wanted to see Ben Affleck and Taran Killam almost kiss, or Killam in a crop-top, it was probably a sketch you would enjoy. Too bad they didn't put it online.
Kanye West was up next, debuting his new song "Black Skinhead," continuing the same industrial aesthetic from "New Slaves," the new song he debuted on buildings around the world Friday night. This song goes hard, by the way. Kanye always brings it on Saturday Night Live. His rant seems more and more like some brilliant marketing.
Seth Meyer's delivery was back for Weekend Update after a flat and uneven outing last week. He did have a secret that was likely hard to keep so we can forgive him for an off performance. After a quick rundown of some headlines, he got to the main event: Really?!?! with an assist from Amy Poehler. (That's the second cameo from SNL's famous mid-2000s pack of female cast members to cameo in as many weeks.) Poehler stuck around to deliver some headlines and the smile hasn't left my face since.
And then this happened. We all knew it was coming: the Stefon swan song. What started as a simple dispute about midgets turned into Stefon leaving Seth Meyers for someone else. He left to get married to Anderson Cooper in a church full of Stefon references, but Meyers interrupts Graduate style. Meyers and Stefon return to the Weekend Update set and a recurring cast of Weekend Update characters throw rice on them. A very teary Meyers and Hader embrace one last time. If this sequence doesn't bring a lil' tear to your eye then you probably aren't human.
The next two sketches were duds. Ben Affleck's best sketch of the night was wasted on a weak fake funeral sketch. Some people really enjoy the Hermes Handbags sketches but this reviewer is not one of them. Affleck's Girth Brooks was an excellent addition, though.
West returned to perform "New Slaves" at this point. This song is even more amazing live than it was projected onto a museum or a Prada store. He also let some curse words slip during the live performance. Hey there, censors!
The second to last sketch was about a bunch of Massachusetts cops who can't show emotion at one guy's daughter's engagement barbecue. It was remarkable only for Taran Killam getting the prime slot consistently tonight next to Hader and Sudeikis and Moynihan. If that's not a sign of what's to come next season, I don't know what it. He's going to be a star.
And the last sketch of the night was Fred Armisen's goodbye sketch, reprising his Ian Rubbish character, who brought along guests Steve Jones, Aimee Mann J Mascis and Kim Gordon. "It’s been all right," he sang. "I’ve had a lovely night with you." The New York Times' Dave Itzkoff noticed Armisen had "TY LM I <3 U" written on the guitar strap. The obvious translation there is, "Thank you, Lorne Michaels. I love you." And that was that: Saturday Night Live's weirdest and greatest utility performer took his final bow.
The loss of Armisen and Hader cannot be overstated. Meyers is on his way out in the middle of next season, departing for bigger and better things in the Lorne Michaels late night universe. That makes Jason Sudeikis the last remaining big star on the show. This was also the second year it was rumored he would be leaving, too, only to have the season finale come and go without a send-off. We suspect he's signed a deal for a few more years to help guide the relatively young and inexperienced cast through what will likely be a rough patch. As rough around the edges they are, the remaining cast members are all very strong and have shown flashes of brilliance at one time or another. But have you noticed how little the show's done with Jay Pharaoh since the election ended? If Sudeikis and Meyers leave, Kenan Thompson would be the most senior performer. That's a problem when the two breakout stars are very obviously going to be Kate MacKinnon and Taran Killam. So the show has to learn to grow into its new identity and Sudeikis will likely be the rudder that keeps them, and us, on the straight and narrow while they go through growing pains in Studio 8H. Or, who knows, maybe he'll just make a quiet exit stage left.