When your show has become a cultural icon, I imagine it’s difficult to just be a “good comedy show.” SNL season finales carry a special burden — they must feature an appropriately iconic host (Steve Carell in 2008, Will Ferrell in 2009, Alec Baldwin in 2010, Justin Timberlake in 2011, and now Mick Jagger in 2012), end the season on a memorable note to keep people buzzing over the summer, and provide a proper send-off to any cast members that might be leaving the show. That’s all on top of being strong, stand-alone episode… a feat in and of itself.
This year’s finale seemed to prioritize two objectives — specifically two people — over everything else: Mick Jagger and Kristen Wiig. As early as March, we began to see Wiig cashing in some of her long-running characters (Gilly, Target Lady, Garth and Kat), and when last week’s episode gave big roles to Andy Samberg and Jason Sudeikis (also rumored to be leaving the show), I predicted that the season finale would be very Wiig-centric. Lorne and Seth didn’t disappoint, giving Wiig one last hurrah as the undercooked Dooneese Merrill and Broadway has-been Mindy Alyce Grayson, as well as a heart-wrenching farewell at the end of the night.
Although the “have a knock-out hilarious show” goal took the backseat at times, I was impressed by Mick Jagger’s comedic chops. Less the charismatic chameleon that we saw from Justin Timberlake or Alec Baldwin and more the over-confident grandpa of Christopher Walken or Steve Martin, Jagger’s natural swagger and spry giddiness made each of his lines such a treat.
With three extended musical numbers in the lineup (including an unnecessary Jagger blues number about Mitt Romney), most sketches seemed to run a beat or two shorter than usual, while others (Catchphrase Comedy Tour Vol. 3 and Jay Pharoah’s Stephen A Smith segment during Weekend Update) got cut entirely. That said, the show certainly didn’t feel “light on comedy,” and the night moved along at a rather lively pace. You’d think they had some awesome after party to get to.
Cold Open: Lawrence Welk. It wouldn’t be a true farewell to Kristen Wiig without a visit from her deformed Merrill sister Dooneese (a sketch that originated in the 2008 Anne Hathaway episode and has since been reprised with Will Ferrell, Betty White, and Melissa McCarthy earlier this season), with Jon Hamm playing an Italian lothario. As one of Wiig’s shock value characters (along with Gilly and Shanna), the Dooneese bit suffered a steep drop-off after its first appearance. Still, it has remained popular nonetheless, thanks to the mileage Wiig has been able to get out of those baby arms and forehead the size of a helicopter windshield.
Monologue. Mick Jagger introduced the show by cheekily answering some FAQs, revealing whether or not he’s finally gotten satisfaction and his soft spot for the FreeCreditReport.com band. There wasn’t much to work with here except for Jagger’s endearing charisma, which successfully drew us into the show.
Secret Word. Wiig revisited another one of her regulars in one of the best Secret Word sketches of recent memory — likely because it was one of the shortest. Jagger debuted his acting skills as a flamboyant, closeted movie star known for his tough guy characters. The jokes were all there: Grayson’s failed career, Hader’s host’s sexism and goofy laugh, Jagger’s sexual puns, and the unique ways everyone manages to screw up the game. It was nice to see this sketch’s swan song go well.
Karaoke. How generous was it of Jagger to clear the rights to some of his Rolling Stones hits (the rights to which are notoriously expensive) to do this fun sketch? Jagger and others played insurance salesmen at a conference singing Stones songs on karaoke, doing ridiculously poor Mick Jagger impersonations, while a stage fright-frozen Jagger watched on helplessly. Now that Adam Levine has made it popular to dance around in garish mockeries of the rock star, this premise was a delightfully relevant way to incorporate the host into the night.
Digital Short: Lazy Sunday 2. Several commenters pointed out last week that the 100th Digital Short mentioned every major video except Lazy Sunday, and it appears that Samberg had a sequel in the works all along. This version may have lacked the novelty that made the first video such a hit, but it touched on our nostalgia for YouTube’s first viral video, had some genuinely clever wordplay, and gave Chris Parnell some more well-earned fleeting glory. I have to hand it to Andy Samberg for bookending his successful run on the show with a look back at how it all began.
Weekend Update. After an extra-long lineup of jokes, Seth Meyers handed the mic over to (“you guessed it”) Stefon, who giggled his way through descriptions of furtlenecks, draggers, and “Jacked Beth,” which is either a Scottish play performed by the blindfolded Shakespeare in the Dark or Stefon’s prom date. So long as these Stefon pieces are so richly written, I really don’t see any end in sight for SNL’s most popular character.
She’s a Rainbow. The night’s 10-to-1 piece began as a graduation sketch but quickly dissolved into a touching tribute to Kristen Wiig, in which Arcade Fire played “She’s a Rainbow” while Wiig tearfully shared a dance with each castmember, Seth Meyers, and Lorne Michaels, then joined everyone (including Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Will Forte, Chris Parnell, and Chris Kattan) in singing out the Stones’ “Goodbye Ruby Tuesday.” It was truly heartbreaking to see each person say their own little goodbye to the show’s shining star (Bobby Moynihan and Jason Sudeikis seemed to be taking it especially hard). Kristen Wiig is one of the best performers the show has ever seen, and I love that SNL ended the season on such an emotional note.
Politics Nation. This piece was certainly an improvement from the last time it ran, with Kenan’s confused Al Sharpton bumbling his way through a political talk show. I enjoyed his wordplay, but the premise – Al Sharpton is clumsy with words – still wasn’t enough to merit an entire sketch.
Outdoor Music Festival. In this reality competition show, grimy dancers from an outdoor music festival sway and stagger around to be judged by Carlos Santana (Armisen), Jewel (Abby Elliott), and Steven Tyler (Jagger). The impersonations were mostly there, and I love anytime Bobby Moynihan plays a drunk guy, but the intended target (outdoor music festival culture?) was a little unclear, with various characters and types shoehorned in.
The Californians. I was disappointed to see one of my favorite sketches from this season return so immediately (only three episodes since it first appeared in the Josh Brolin episode), well before audiences could get some distance from it. As a result, the sketch’s premise — people from California talk weird and obsess over driving routes — got old fast, without any breaking to save it this time. The payoff of the Steve Martin cameo wasn’t worth running a beat too long.
Thanks to somewhat low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by this season finale. Mick Jagger was a playful host, none of the sketches bombed or ran much longer than they needed to, and it was satisfying to see fitting ends to Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg’s years on the show. I was also surprised this episode was so quiet for Jason Sudeikis (who had no memorable roles during the night), leading me to believe that he will either A) be returning as a fulltime cast member next season or B) at least return to play Mitt Romney through the election. Furthermore, I doubt Sudeikis will be the only one of the three to return to the show — with recent “graduates” Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Jimmy Fallon, Will Forte, and Tina Fey making cameos several times a season in recent years, it seems like we never say “goodbye” to anyone on SNL anymore — just “Next time we see you we’re going to scream really loud!”
What did you think? Did this season finale live up to your expectations? Were there any Wiig, Sudeikis, or Samberg characters you were hoping to see one last time? Were the three musical numbers (Jagger and Arcade Fire, Jagger and Foo Fighters, Jagger and Jeff Beck) worth the reduced written material? Did you cry during the goodbye to Kristen Wiig all six times you watched it like I did?
It’s been a pleasure recapping SNL episodes this season for Splitsider, as well as chatting with many of you in the comment section each week. But while the SNL season has ended, the discussion lives on! Make sure to check out my two-part post season review, in which I’ll list my Season 37 highlights and break down each cast member’s contribution in greater detail. Let’s do this!
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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