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Fond Farewells, or a Decade of Writing Dangerously
A Review by "HelloStuart," Amateur Critic and Canadian Refugee
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Ten years ago, Kristen Wiig had landed her first major TV gig on the erstaz reality program "The Joe Schmo Ten years ago, Bill Hader was still a notable name on the Los Angeles improv scene, a bit player on "Punk'd" and not yet discovered by Megan Mullally. Ten years ago, Seth Meyers was a second-year featured player on SNL, a decent sketch player not yet meeting his full potential, his role in the show still undetermined. Ten years ago, Dean Edwards and Jeff Richards were also featured players, little realizing that their respective careers would never rise beyond Studio 8H. (A fourth featured player, Fred Armisen, had a pretty decent rookie Ten years ago, Kenan Thompson was still a fledging ex-child actor, seemingly doomed to obscurity like most of his "All That" castmates. Ten years ago, Jason Sudeikis was an understudy in the . stage revue at the hallowed Second City theater in Chicago. Ten years ago, Kate McKinnon was a closeted college freshman. Ten years ago, I began writing about SNL.
What a difference a decade makes. I wrote my first SNL review on the old TV Tome (precursor to in May 2003, a week or so after the Dan Aykroyd/Beyonce show first aired. Where the big question back then was what direction the SNL would take after Will Ferrell's departure, the question now is a future without Kristen Wiig (to say the least of Hader, Meyers, and Army). In one short decade Wiig went from virtual unknown to the most dominant female presence in the show's nearly four-decade history to Academy Award nominee, and as of last week the 29th SNL alum to host. After tonight, Hader and Armisen will leave their long, successful runs on the show for greener pastures, one potentially in film (Hader) and one already thriving on cable (Army). I stopped writing meticulous, sketch-by-sketch episode reviews on a regular basis almost four years ago, but my status as TV de facto in-house SNL expert remains. (I'm so, so
Tonight's season finale is not without milestone, either. In a rare feat, both the host and musical guest join the hallowed Five-Timers' Club. Ben Affleck, the multiple Oscar winner who first hosted in January 2000, enters hallowed ground with Kanye West, who first performed on SNL in September 2005. Where Affleck may not have left his mark or exuded the charisma of fellow Five-Timer Justin Timberlake, he has been steadily efficient in his hosting prowess. Yeezy, on the other hand made some thinly-veiled criticisms of the show in his most recent stint 2 1/2 years ago and comes into the show feeling contrite yet ready to raise the bar even further.
And now, the sketch-by-sketch analysis:
COLD OPENING: Tonight on "Politics Nation," the under-prepared and assumptive Rev. Al Sharpton (KT) takes on the IRS scandal and its lingering conspiracy theories. In an honest parody of the show itself, Sharpton's personality trumps the story; he addresses financial wonk Dana Milbank (JS) as "Dan and ridicules a Tea Partier (BH) for wearing colonial garb.
MONOLOGUE: Tonight's opening words are two-pronged: in acknowledging his newly minted Five-Timer status, Affleck's induction doesn't compare to the legion of legends that came out for Justin Timberlake two months ago. Than Affleck defends his misinterpreted Oscar speech from February, which provokes a Jennifer Garner cameo and a brief, cutesy debate over whether marriage is work, a gift, or somewhere in between.
"Bengo F*** Yourself": Still reeling from the success of "Argo," Mahmoud Ahmidinejad (FA) writes, directs, and stars in his own interpretation of how that movie was made. The pitch scene with the "evil Jew" Hollywood bigwig was great in the craziest sense, but the rest of the sketch was a bunch of lazy babble. In short, this felt more like an obligatory parody than the insightful satire it aspired to be.
"Xanax": The infamous sedative can now protect your inferiority complex from big, fabulous gay summer weddings. I can't describe it much further without ruining the treasure trove of sight gags and general flamboyance that abounds in this ad parody.
"New York, 1933": A enterprising mogul (Ben) fancies himself a savior to a milquetoast dreamer (BH) and his "daughter" (KM) but things aren't what they seem. This skewing of Horatio Alger-style mythology against a Great Depression backdrop never does more than hover off the ground. Kate only has one line in the sketch, and it's easily the funniest one.
"New Beginners": Somewhere near Flagstaff, AZ a "straight camp" counselor (Ben) in mid-introduction is undermined not only temptation but by his own denial. The result was predictable though the journey to that end was not; the sketch was a feast of physicality, both subtle and nuanced (Aidy's smirk, Jay channeling Lafayette from "True Blood") and glaring (Ben and vBay's awkward kiss, Taran's flamboyant arts and crafts director).
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: If you haven't heard anything of Yeezy's sixth album, prepare to be astonished. "Black Skinhead (Live in the Moment)" is more intense and furious than what you might expect from Kanye's recent work. Grainy footage of the hounds of hell flickers alternately with price tags and Kanye's eyes as the man himself raps about racial inequality and defends Lebron James. If you think modern hip-hop is lacking a conscience and a nerve, here's your answer.
WEEKEND UPDATE: Tonight's jokes are okay, but to judge WU on that alone is missing the forest for the trees. To much ovation, Amy Poehler pops in for another great "Really?!" commentary, sarcastically skewing the IRS/right-wing targeting scandal. Without much trepidation, and to the sheer delight of the audience, she even tag-teams with Seth on a few two-liners for old times' sake. This is all par for the course for an appearance by Stefon, in a half-commentary, half-filmed piece that not gives his "relationship" with Seth some closure but also provides a level of pathos and emotional resonance we haven't seen in Meyers in quite some time. (In short, it's a
"Greg Pulino's Wake": A deadbeat loser (Ben) fakes his death and impersonates a mourner as his transparent plan unravels. The sketch works on the shoulders of Affleck's performance, which starts off rather corny but grows into an absurdist character study. Relegated to the sidelines as usual, Jay again makes the most of his three seconds of screen time.
"Hermes Handbags": Those two scheming, airheaded ex-porn actresses (VB, CS) are at it again, this time using their "modeling" experience to snag some free imported purses. This gives way to a soliloquy of sorts from their ex-co-star Girth Brooks (Ben), a fully fleshed-out character --pun intended-- that adds a new tragicomic wrinkle to the girls' avocation.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: In a nutshell, leadoff single "New Slaves" is even angrier and more political than the first song. The implication that African-Americans are still second-class citizens weighs heavily on Yeezy's mind, and that drugs and poverty are issues without solutions. Incidentally, Kanye uttered the N-word about 12 times in three minutes on network TV and nobody censored him. I think anyone had the courage to do so.
"Engagement Party": In honor of Rick (TR) and their beloved Shauna (AB), a family of stoic police officers and other public servants force themselves to supress their feelings. Her dad (BH) makes a bunch of mouth noises, than nearly everyone else follows suit until Grandpa (BM) completely loses it. This was amusing for the first minute or so, but it dragged on to an unsatisfying conclusion.
"Ian Rubbish & The Bizarros": In an encore of sorts from a filmed piece from last month, a stalwart British punk band performs "Lovely There's not much to the sketch or musical performance other than it would be Bill and Army's last sketch as cast members, and the "band" (with Suds on drums and Taran on bass) mushrooms to include Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols, Carrie Brownstein, J. Mascis and several other alt-rockers. This song wasn't meant to be funny but rather sincere, though the Rubbish alter ego created a guise that was marginally silly.
After some lingering questions about originality and workload in last week's Wiig-fest, SNL's 38th season went out with an unforgettable bang. For a competent host Ben Affleck was eclipsed by a temporarily reinvigorated cast, especially by the outgoing Mr. Hader. Both men, however were nearly overshadowed by hip-hop's most polarizing star, in a performance that wasn't as elaborate as years past but just as mesmerizing.
What Gets Cut From The 60-Minute Edit: one half of Ben's monologue (not sure which), "New York, 1933," "New Slaves," "Engagement Party," and "Lovely
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