May 12, 2013

THE SKED REVIEW: SNL With Kristen Wiig


Watching the parade of Kristen Wiig’s Greatest Hits that marked her return to SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE as tonight’s host, you could be forgiven for wishing you missed her more.  For all her great talent, Wiig had become, by the time she left a year ago, a symbol of everything franchise-heavy and headpoundingly overdone on SNL and tonight’s show was a reminder of both the good and the bad of her reign.

Let’s start with the good.  Oddly enough, much of it came in the night’s pre-taped pieces.  A Mothers Day commercial for 1-800-Flowers that paired her with Kate McKinnon as her passive-aggressive mom (on the flowers:  “Maybe you should keep them, because your apartment is so sad”) had just the right touch, enough to make it clear that her mother was driving her crazy without being too cartoonishly nasty about it.  Later, a Disney Channel parody that was basically The Ring for kids may not have been topical (The Ring came out in 2002, and even Hollywood isn’t ripping it off anymore), but it was very well executed, with some good gags of Wiig, as water ghost mom, crawling out of the family TV and hunched under the covers.

There was also an acupuncture sketch that hearkened back to the very beginnings of Saturday Night Live, Dan Aykroyd as a Julia Child who stayed ebullient even as she couldn’t stop bleeding.  Here it was Wiig and Aidy Bryant as careless acupuncturists who had client Jason Sudeikis bleeding like a stuck pig, and while it was a one-note gag, the beats of the joke were nicely structured, especially the idea that Sudeikis had no idea what was going on (“Hey, I’m feeling a little light-headed!”).

That was about it for what worked.  The rest of the night was mostly retreads and worse, starting with a monologue that seemed designed to be as generic as an SNL monologue could possibly be, complete with musical number, backstage visit, Lorne Michaels cameo and celebrity appearances (Maya Rudolph and Jonah Hill).  The one mercy was that when Wiig turned up as Gilly, it meant there wouldn’t be a full-fledged Gilly sketch later on.

But oh, there would be The Californians, that miracle of physics that somehow transforms 7 minutes of screen time into an entire leap year of suffering.  As usual, Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Wiig and the rest seemed far more amused by their funny voices than they had any right to be.  And Wiig’s Target salesclerk, who’d never seen a lesbian or a tampon before.  And whatever the name of her deformed character is from The Lawrence Welk Show.  And on Weekend Update, her pairing with Armisen as Garth and Kat, unprepared songwriters extraordinaire.  (The rest of Update was another Greatest Hit, with Bobby Moynihan as Anthony Crispino, who never gets the news stories right.)  All of them are bits that could do with permanent retirement.

The non-franchise material was no better.  The short cold open seemed to have an idea in mind–the Republicans were so desperate for media attention for their Benghazi vendetta against Obama and Hillary Clinton that they had Jodi Arias testify– but it never came into focus, and didn’t work as political or media satire.  The two late-show sketches had Wiig as one of a pair out on a date with two 6th-graders (Bobby Moynihan and Tim Robinson), which wasn’t funny enough to justify the queasy premise, and then the show ended with a promo for a Real Housewives-type album where the Housewives all sang in extreme Auto-Tune and otherwise did the same Housewives parody that people have been doing for years now.

It was far from a triumphant return for Wiig.  But SNL still has one more week to redeem itself:  the season finale, with host Ben Affleck (the luckiest Best Director non-nominee in Oscar history) and musical guest Kanye West.


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."