Season Finale Review: Saturday Night Live Season 38

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StefonHere we are folks. Almost exactly eight months to the day since my review of the season premiere Saturday Night Live Season 38 has drawn to a close. And with all the transitions going on, there’s plenty for SNL geeks to talk about.

First things first. Though I stand by my argument that that New York Post feature was wrong in its analysis of SNL‘s long term prospects, NY Post reporter Kate Storey was obviously accurate in her reporting that Fred Armisen was leaving the show along with Bill Hader. With the departure of Hader, (cast member since 2005) Armisen, (since 2002) and Seth Meyers (since 2001) this was a season finale filled with sentimental goodbyes to key veteran cast members.

In particular, SNL really pulled out all the stops to give Hader’s almost universally beloved Stefon character a proper send-off. And since a lot of the success of those Stefon bits stemmed from the interplay between Hader as Stefon and Meyers as straight (in more ways than one)man the extremely ambitious, high production value tribute to Stefon functioned as an emotional goodbye to Meyers as well. What I’m saying is that this skit had everything: a wedding, Anderson Cooper, an emotional Seth Meyers, Black George Washington, Hobocops, (homeless Robocops) infamous gay running back Blowjay Simpson, Gizblow the coked up Gremlin, Furkels, (fat Urkels)Germfs, (German Smurfs) Jewish Dracula Sidney Applebaum, Hanukkah cartoon character Menorah the Explorer, and on and on and on.

It was somehow actually moving to see all of these insane characters brought to life in such loving detail, like some sort of proof that they were “real” all along and not just the products of Stefon’s drug addled imagination. When DJ Baby Bok-Choi (“He’s a giant 300-pound Chinese baby who wears tinted aviator glasses and he spins records with his little ravioli hands”) showed up in the flesh to save the day, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. An exhaustive catalog of everyone who was in the wedding scene can be found at this Splitsider post.

While SNL said goodbye to Bill Hader with an ambitious and expensive pre-taped outside of the studio bit, the farewell to Fred Armisen was much more low key, perhaps befitting his much less flashy contributions to the show over the years. Armisen sang a wistful goodbye song in the guise of his Ian Rubbish character and was eventually joined in the performance by Kim Gordon, Aimee Mann, Steve Jones, J. Mascis, and of course Carrie Brownstein.

Though the song was lovely and got me choked up, particularly when Brownstein was standing next to him and singing along, it was sort of a strange way of paying tribute to Amrisen’s 11 years of work on SNL. With the presence of all of the indie and punk rock figures it seemed more like a tribute to Armisen’s career as a musician than as a sketch comedy actor. (But then why wasn’t he the one playing drums?) As David Sims wrote in his recap of the episode for AV Club, “Armisen’s goodbye, where he was joined onstage by Carrie Brownstein, J. Mascis, Kim Gordon, Aimee Mann and Steve Jones, was less of a nod to his enduring presence on the show (11 years, longer than everyone except Franken, Meyers and Hammond) and more to his overall persona and work on Portlandia.”

But this was an actual episode of Saturday Night Live remember, and not just a bunch of tributes to departing cast members. And it was a pretty good one, one of the better ones of Season 38. With all the planning for the extravagant goodbyes to Hader and Armisen, there apparently wasn’t time to prepare anything for host Ben Affleck as he joined the elite Five Timer’s Club. The contrast between the over-the-top spectacle of the way they handled Justin Timberlake joining the Five Timer’s Club earlier this season and lack of any special planning for Affleck joining the made up institution made for a pretty funny opening monologue. Bobby Moynahan’s pathetic white t-shirt with a “5” written on it in black marker, which he couldn’t even present to Affleck as a gift because it was the only one they made, was a particularly nice touch.

I also enjoyed that Affleck and his wife Jennifer Garner were willing to appear together and respond to the ridiculous kerfuffle about Affleck describing their marriage as “work” in his Oscar acceptance speech. They had the natural chemistry one would hope for from a married couple and were good sports about making fun of themselves and Affleck’s speech.

Continuing the theme of 2013 Oscars references was the “Bengo fuck yourself” sketch. This had a solid premise, and I always enjoy Armisen’s take on Ahmadinejad, but I felt like it could’ve been executed better. I thought  Ahmadinejad having to say “pahk the cah in Hahvad yahd” before each line of dialogue in order to get into character was little on the nose, but most reviewers seem to have enjoyed it.

I thought the sketch where Hader played a Great Depression era homeless man who turned out to be a sleazy scumbag and not a hard-working salt of the earth type was hilarious, but I’m always a sucker for the way Hader plays those sorts of old timey characters. Kate McKinnon was great in that one too, if underutilized.

The sketch where Affleck played a counselor at a camp meant to turn gay teens straight who’s very obviously closeted himself was too straightforward and obvious in its premise. It was enlivened by the bit where Tarran Killam and Affleck held their mouths as close together as humanly possible without kissing. I don’t care what anybody says, Killam is an absolute genius with that type of physical comedy and it’s never not funny when he does something like that. But the skit needed something more to make it really memorable.

After all the emotions stirred up by Stefon’s/Hader’s/Meyers’ big sendoff during Weekend Update, the first skit after Update, in which Affleck played a dirtbag who had very obviously faked his own death and was at his own funeral, was a pretty big letdown. I actually enjoyed the next to last sketch, about a family of manly cops who make crazy noises because they can’t properly express their emotions, if only because it was a final time to see Hader play one of the many types of characters he’s great at playing.

For last skit of the night it was time again for this year’s surprise breakout star recurring characters: Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong as two spacey ex-porn stars who now make surreal commercials for various luxury brands, in this case Hermes handbags. This is somehow still funny every time.

The end of SNL‘s Season 38 seems to now mark the huge transition which many predicted would happen with the departure of Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg at the end of Season 37. While as I’ve said before I’m more sanguine than most about SNL‘s ability to weather such a significant exodus of talent, it will certainly be a different show next year with the only remaining cast members with a significant number of seasons under their belt who seem certain to come back being Bobby Moynahan and Keenan Thompson.

Notice I haven’t yet mentioned Jason Sudeikis. He received no special tribute Saturday night, though there are rumors, just as there were around this time last year, that he is in fact leaving the show. Further complicating matters, Jay Pharoah sent out a tweet this morning saying Sudeikis is leaving along with Hader and Armisen, but then quickly deleted it.



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