May 19, 2013



In contrast to last week’s Kristin Wiig-fest, tonight’s season finale of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE didn’t give victory laps to all the franchise characters Bill Hader and Fred Armisen have contributed to the show over their 8 and 11 seasons.  (And, praise God, it didn’t give them both a last “The Californians” sketch.)  Instead, each had a showcase moment–very different ones–and that allowed them to leave in a very classy, focused way.  It all completely overshadowed Ben Affleck’s 5th stint as SNL host, and that wasn’t a bad thing either.

The comic highlight of the night, if not the emotional one, was WEEKEND UPDATE.  First, Amy Poehler returned for a round of “Really???  With Seth and Amy” that served as a reminder not just of how great Poehler is, but how well the two-anchor format works for Update.  But with the announcement that this would be Hader’s last episode (until he inevitably comes back as a host), there was no question about which character everyone wanted to see, and the crowd exploded in cheers as soon as Seth Meyers began the introduction to what became SNL’s epic farewell to Hader’s (and writer John Mullaney’s) greatest creation, city correspondent Stefon.  A brief regular club report (this one was located “on that fake street from Seinfeld“) led to a grand rom-com parody, as Stefon announced that he was marrying another, and Seth realized what he had to do (Amy:  “Follow your heart!”), segueing into a pre-tape of Seth running through the streets of New York to interrupt Stefon’s wedding… to Anderson Cooper.  Bonus #1 was the pews filled with characters from all the clubs Stefon had described over the years; bonus #2 was back in the studio, when Seth and Stefon returned to toasts from a gaggle of recurring Update characters.  It was just about perfect.

Armisen’s valedictory was musical.  He returned as Ian Rubbish of the punk band The Bizarros (with Hader in support) to sing “It’s A Lovely Day,” gradually joined by an all-star group that included Steve Jones, Kim Gordon and Aimee Mann, for a sentimental but not mawkish send-off.

Really, nothing could top those moments–and really, nothing came close.  Affleck performed his hosting duties perfectly well, but the opening monologue gag that after Justin Timberlake’s guest-star cavalcade to celebrate his entry into the Five-Timers Club, all that was left for Affleck was Bobby Moynihan with a “5” t-shirt, did sort of signify the sketches Affleck was given for the night.  Also, was it really that big a deal that Affleck said “Marriage is work” when he won his Argo Oscar?  Enough that 3 months later, half the monologue had to be devoted to Jennifer Garner making a guest appearance to assure everyone that their marriage was fine?  Whatever; glad that’s working out for them.

The funniest of the sketches was another return of the former porn stars played by Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong who are trying to get into commercials, this time selling “Herman” handbags (or, as Affleck preferred it, “Herpes”).  In case you were wondering, that thing you put your money into to carry it around is a “jar.”  And among the girls’ on-the-job mishaps this time was being banged through a glass ceiling (“I changed everything for women!”).

There was an OK Argo bit with Armisen’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad playing Affleck and Affleck himself as a sound guy (he took the part because he’d always wanted to make a worse movie than Gigli).  The gag of Armisen having to say “Park your car in Harvard Yard” before every line to master the Boston accent got old fast.  A 1930s movie parody had Affleck (doing Jimmy Stewart?  Or was that just his generic 1930s voice?) finding out that Hader wasn’t a virtuous father of a little girl down on his luck, but a deadbeat with a hooker.  (Kate McKinnon’s “I”m 40!” got the only laugh.)

There were three entries in the “single joke repeated over and over until it’s cold and dead” category.  One had Affleck as counselor at a camp that “cured” teens out of being gay, except that really he wasn’t so cured after all.  Another was the funeral for Affleck’s much-hated deceased, with multiple cast members getting up to say how awful he was, while Affleck, as the dead guy’s “uncle from Mexico,” ran to the podium after each one to defend him, until finally admitting he’d faked his own death.  Worst of all was an endless bit where every cop relative of a newly-engaged girl showed his inability to express emotion by choking up.

The cold open was yet another “political” sketch that had no politics, as what was supposed to be a piece about the IRS investigation of tea-party groups (dealt with better during Update‘s “Really???” segment) was really a string of Al Sharpton malapropism jokes.  Aside from the second half of the Stefon sketch, the only pre-tape was a commercial for Gay Summer Wedding Xanax (you have to take it because their weddings are so damn perfect), which was very well done.

So here we are, the 38th season of Saturday Night Live in the books.  Apart perhaps from the Justin Timberlake episode, not a memorable season, but after so many years, it’s hard to get excited about them one way or the other.  Next season at least offers some definite change, as not only will Hader and Armisen be gone, but Seth Meyers exits midseason to take over Jimmy Fallon’s 12:30AM talk show.  (And eventually the rumors that Jason Sudeikis is leaving have to come true.)  New talent will mean new notes in the show’s music, but let’s face it:  after 38 years, we all know SNL‘s song, and neither NBC nor Lorne Michaels has any incentive to change it much.  Meet the new show, same as the old show…  and happy summer to all.


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."