SNL Recap: Josh Brolin and the Beginning of the End

Could we be approaching the end of an era?

After recent rumors of Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, and Andy Samberg leaving SNL at the end of this season, fans began to speculate about what the show would do without its three biggest stars, and which cast members would step up to fill their shoes. Last weekend’s episode seemed to reflect, perhaps subconsciously, this blend of nostalgia and looking forward: a musical cold open celebrating the end of a long and windy GOP primary season, the return of long-running sketches Laser Cats and Garth & Kat, and uncharacteristically frequent appearances by Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah.

With perhaps three new episodes left this season, I predict SNL will continue this trend and bring back a number of old Wiig, Sudeikis, and Samberg sketches in the coming weeks. This season has seen revivals of Wiig’s Target Lady, Sue, Mindy Alyce Grayson, Gilly, and Kat, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we also saw Penelope, Judy Grimes, Dooneese Merrill, Suze Orman, Nancy Pelosi, and Aunt Linda, not to mention Sudeikis’ Devil and Joe Biden, and Samberg’s Nicolas Cage, Mark Walberg, Lil’ Ronnie, and “Dick in a Box” duo guy, once more as well. And with any luck, maybe we’ll get to see Two A-holes and the Song Memories sketch one last time.

Then again, if you consider the number of appearances made by Jimmy Fallon, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Will Forte even after they technically “left” the show, I sincerely doubt this will be the last we see of these three, even if they don’t return as regular cast members in Season 38.

What Hit:

GOP Green Day Cold Open. This wasn’t a good episode to watch on Hulu – four memorable sketches weren’t posted online due to licensing fees (the cold open, Game of Thrones, Empire State of Mind Parody contest, and Slow Motion Hallway). Add them to the list of great sketches we’ll never see online. Now that the GOP nomination is pretty much in the bag for Romney, SNL carted out all the former contenders, singing a version of Green Day’s “Time of Your Life” in a bar and getting in their last candidate jokes. I found most of the political cold opens from the past year to be a little routine and predictable, but I enjoyed this fun, memorable tribute to a primary season that was anything but.

Game of Thrones. Anyone who watches the hit HBO series based on George R. R. Martin’s books would enjoy this sketch that explains the origin the show’s gratuitous nude scenes (an element that doesn’t really come into play in the books): a horny 13-year-old showrunner (Samberg), who “makes sure there are lots of boobs in the show.” A simple and timely premise, the character was a perfect justification for the show’s sexuality. Watch the video here.

The Californians. In the same vein as You Can Do Anything and Bein’ QuirkySNL (following Fred Armisen’s lead, apparently) lashed out against another American subculture: the surfer-haired narcissists of Southern California, whose lives revolve around driving, parking, and gazing into mirrors, and who struggle with pronouncing the ends of words. It ran a beat too long, but for those of us on the west coast, this SoCal soap rang hilariously true. On the other hand, I wonder if the New Yorker studio audience would have enjoyed it as much had Hader and Wiig not broken character.

Digital Short: Laser Cats. In what could be the final installment of Samberg and Hader’s silly, poor-quality digital short series, the two teamed up with Steven Spielberg to produce an homage to E.T. and several of the director’s other films. And to think, just six years ago, these guys were making videos to post online and for Channel 101, and now they’re working with the greatest living director. Next time a new medium is invented, remember to be the first to make comedy for it. Although it wasn’t the funniest of the series, the film nods were a nice touch, and it was a good celebration of the series as a whole.

Weekend Update. In addition to a number of animal jokes – delinquent German cows, heartbroken roosters, masturbating baboons – Seth Meyers did a segment called “What Are You Doing?” in which he chastised North Korea for their failed rocket launch. Wiig and Armisen reprised their Garth & Kat segment, whose desperate musical improvisations are always a delight.

Slow Motion Hallway. This concept sketch featured a high school hallway in which everything moves in slow motion (I think the school in Glee has a few time warps of its own). Although it may have faltered in its execution – there are a finite number of things to show in slow motion – I have to give the writers credit for this clever premise. The music was a little loud – a problem that may have also hurt the Californians sketch a few times. Watch the video here.

Digital Short: Gotye Backstage. In what could be construed as a possible passing of the digital short torch, Samberg and Taran Killam crashed Gotye’s dressing room, re-enacting his music video, body paint and all. Gotye’s not much of a straight man, but Samberg and Killam were a joy to watch.

Principal Frye Prom. Jay Pharoah reprised his only original, non-impersonation character to make it on the show — Principal Frye — the no-nonsense admin at Booker T. Washington High School. For once, I wish Pharoah’s character were given more of a central focus in this sketch, rather than the most featured of the featured characters. That said, Kenan’s gym coach, who made the familiar gesture of taking the mic to shut everyone up, as well as Josh Brolin’s drunk, pedophile teacher (I forgot, he was in this show!) were also good sources for jokes.

What Missed:

Monologue. Josh Brolin was a reliable host and seemed to be game with whatever the writers threw at him, but he never had any stand-out moments this episode. His monologue wandered from topic to topic before settling on an anticlimactic reenactment of a scene from Men in Black with Pharoah as Will Smith.

Empire State of Mind Parody Contest. In another sketch you’ll never see online, SNL commented on the Internet trend of “Empire State of Mind” parodies with a reality competition show hosted by Weird Al (Samberg). The songs were well performed, but the sketch felt a little formulaic and lacked jokes.

Piers Morgan Tonight. This sketch was about as successful as when it first ran a few months ago, thanks largely to Killam’s impersonation skills and some fun appearances by Pedrad and Pharoah as Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, as well as Samberg’s return as the dancing tightrope guy from the Super Bowl halftime show. But once again, I couldn’t get behind a sketch with such a vague, unfocused premise — in general it felt like an uninspired attempt at making some comments about the Trayvon Martin case while shoehorning in irrelevant celebrity cameos. Then again, I suppose that’s precisely what Piers Morgan’s show does.

Overall, I enjoyed this episode. Unfortunately, it will leave little legacy: Josh Brolin was a fine host but didn’t do anything memorable, the most original sketches of the night will never be seen online, and the rest of the run order were old recurring sketches. If anything, this episode gave us a glimpse of the end game for season 37: let the outgoing seniors run a few victory laps while warming up the rookies for varsity.

What did you think? Do you think Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, and Andy Samberg will leave at the end of the season, and if so, which of their sketches would you like (or NOT like) to see one last time? Who would you most like to see step up as the star(s) of the show? How did this episode’s GOP cold open and Laser Cats rank against the others in their respective series?

I’ll see you May 5, when Eli Manning will host with musical guest Rihanna.

Erik Voss is a writer and performer living in Los Angeles. He performs with his improv team The Cartel at the iO West Theater.

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