May 18, 2014

THE SKED Review: “Saturday Night Live” with Andy Samberg


It was inevitable that with Andy Samberg returning to SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE as host, tonight’s season finale would have the feel of an SNL class reunion.  The cameo guests were indeed plentiful:  Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Seth Meyers, Martin Short, and Maya Rudolph all showed up, and that’s not even to mention non-SNL celebs Paul Rudd, 2 Chainz and (in a pre-tape) Pharrell and Tatiana Maslany.  (Although not Justin Timberlake, who was performing in Russia and able to contribute only a photo.)  Add to that the requisite SNL Digital Shorts and the returns of some of Samberg’s live franchise sketches, and you might wonder if there’d be much room for the show’s current cast members, especially the relatively anonymous crowd that joined this season and are still trying to make an impression–and you’d be right.

Samberg himself, although as he admitted in his monologue never in the league of some of those other alumni as a sketch performer, held up his end quite well.  The monologue had him (with the help of Meyers) trying to break Hader’s SNL celebrity impressions record with two dozen rapid-fire bits imitating everyone from Paul Giamatti to Alan Arkin to Ryan Reynolds to Jim Carrey (the latter two oddly the same) and doing a pretty fair job with most of them.  (Of course, Hader then turned up to reclaim his record by imitating Samberg.)  Later on Weekend Update, he brought back his nutty “Get In the Cage” Nicolas Cage desk piece, this time partnered with Rudd.  His Blizzard Man, godawful rapper, has been gone for just long enough that the one-joke sketch felt funny again–although Samberg practically had the skit stolen out from under him by 2 Chainz, whose enthusiasm for Blizzard Man’s prowess was boundless.

The real Old Home Week sketch was the return of The Vogelchecks, the family that believes in the most intimate kind of public affection.  Having them react negatively to Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend as he was picked for the NFL Draft felt like it was reaching for social commentary in the wrong place, but it was still fun to watch Hader and Samberg make Armisen lose it in the middle of the sketch.

Samberg also appeared in some of the franchise sketches that weren’t part of his regular repertoire.  He was the wedding planner in the episode’s installment of Waking Up With Kimye, and a porn star (with Wiig) in one of the Vanessa Bayer/Cecily Strong mock-commercials for luxury items, this one for Bulgari Watches, which they pronounced as something like “Bevelgagge”.  Neither rendition added much to the previous versions of those franchises, although I’ll always have a weakness for the ex-porn star skits.  (Samberg and Wiig played twins once conjoined at the penis, and Strong’s list of places the watch could come in handy included “Jumping out of a cake naked but you got trapped,” and “Being a character witness for Donald Sterling”.)   There was also a quick return to the bit where an unlikely famous figure orders fast food, in this case Samberg as Lord of the Ring‘s Legolas.

Strangely, the weaker of the SNL Digital Shorts was the one showcased during the first half-hour, an elaborate bit with Samberg as a DJ who did absolutely everything (Jenga, video games) while the crowd waited breathlessly for him to let the bass drop–and then when he did, it turned into Scanners.  The Digital Short in the last half-hour was a more vintage Samberg bit, the rap number Hugs with Pharrell contributing a chunk of the vocals.

There were hardly any original sketches in the entire 90 minutes.  The cold open was a reminder of how SNL hasn’t come to terms with the changes in its universe.  It used to be “topical” for SNL to do a sketch about something that had happened during the previous week, because except for the late-night talk show monologues, no one else had had the chance to cover them.  Now SNL is the last comedy on the block to get there, so if it’s going to parody a widely-reported incident, like the elevator dust-up between Jay Z and Solange Knowles, it had better have an original take.  (Which it didn’t, although the sketch briefly came to life when Rudolph walked on as Beyonce.)  A summer camp piece with Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon as 10-year olds doing a talk show from summer camp (Samberg was Bryant’s 14-year old cousin, whose sexual references went over their heads) was cute, but went on forever.  A sketch called “Confident Hunchback” with Samberg as its title character was exactly that joke and no more.

The only new cast member to get any chance to shine was Kyle Mooney, who did the other desk piece on Update, but it didn’t go well.  It was one of those conceptual bits where the character is himself a comic and the joke is how terrible his jokes are–they’re hard to pull off, and Mooney didn’t manage it, which made the bit’s sudden decision to go dark (he was dying) just, well, die.  As little as Lorne Michaels likes to change things unless absolutely forced, he may also need to rethink the pairing of Cecily Strong and Colin Jost behind the Update desk, which has gone nowhere, a particular disappointment because Strong had a good rhythm going with Seth Meyers before his departure.

So, an appropriate end to Saturday Night Live‘s 39th season, uneven and not quite satisfying.  For those of us who’ve been around for SNL‘s entire tenure, it no longer makes sense to get angry about the show’s shortcomings, since just about every year seems like a disappointment while it’s happening.  Next year will be the gala 40th season–NBC, naturally, has already announced a primetime 3-hour extravaganza–and there will be plenty to find lacking there too.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."