Monday, May 21st, 2012

'SNL' Recap: Mick Jagger and a Night of Farewells

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.

What Hit:

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.

What Missed:

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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  • JoshUng

    Mick Jagger did a lot better than I had expected.  I agree that the show wasn't the funniest episode, but it went well, and the host performed well.

    The Wiig farewell was done great.  The only thing that took anything away from it, was the other people who were at least rumored to leave (Samberg & Sudekis) were pretty important castmembers too.  Granted, Lazy Sunday 2 could be a sendoff for Samberg, and Sudekis could very well be back next season, but it seemed a bit odd.  It wasn't as though Wiig was leaving along with a minor character who has only been there for 3 years.

    • http://twitter.com/eavoss Erik Voss

      I have to wonder if Andy and Jason opted to give Wiig her own personal farewell. With Jason coming back as Romney and Andy satisfied with his Lazy Sunday sequel, that seems like a possibility.

  • Slutface

    This was my favorite episode of the season and the only time I've ever laughed at the Lawrence Welke and Secret Word skits.  I didn't think Stefon was funny at all during Update, but oh well, it didn't take anything away from a great finale. So sad to see Wiig go.

    • http://twitter.com/eavoss Erik Voss

      Agreed — Lawrence Welk and Secret Word were far better than par, whereas Stefon felt a little weaker than normal (though I still enjoyed it).

  • RyanK

    One thing I noticed as being more under-the-radar than I thought it would: Chris Kattan sent out a tweet prior to the show along the lines of "Going to SNL for the finale. Au revoir Wiig and Hader." This was the first I had seen or heard of Hader (possibly) leaving. I had always thought it was a possibility after this season but did't let myself worry about it as it was never mentioned elsewhere. After seeing Stefon make an appearance I found myself wondering if that was his swan song, as well.

    • http://twitter.com/eavoss Erik Voss

      Interesting… Hadn't heard anything about Hader either. Though I have to wonder how reliable a source Chris Kattan is.

    • Itsonreserve

       He later recanted on twitter saying he was "confused" and Hader wasn't leaving.  Considering my own confusion about why he was there wishing farewell to people he never worked with, I'm assuming he switched Hader and Samberg in his mind or something.

    • http://twitter.com/elyndiscupcake Elle

      Bill Hader was on The BS Report with Bill Simmons recently and he mentioned that his contract is up in 2013.

    • RyanK

      Thanks for clearing that up Reserve & Elle. I was hoping I wasn't crazy. I couldn't believe Hader leaving would have so little buzz. (And I'm ecstatic we get another year with him)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=67600030 Betsy Hobbs

    I agree with @JoshUng.  Even if Samberg got his own farewell, I think they should have at least included he and Sudeikis in the farewell.  And yes, of course I cried. Mostly because of her hugs with Bill & Sudeikis.

  • http://twitter.com/megh_wright Megh Wright

    Spliff Sanders!!! That is all. (And great recaps this season Erik!)

    • http://twitter.com/eavoss Erik Voss

      What… what will I do with myself now?

  • https://twitter.com/#!/AngelaBlanken AngieBlanken

    I thought the episode was solid, and enjoyed Jagger as a host more than I thought I would. That's always a good thing. 

    A note on the Politics Nation sketch – it was entirely recycled from the 5/12 Ferrell Dress Rehearsal show. With the addition of Jagger/JP Morgan bit; it was otherwise verbatim from the week before, (though Bloomberg had more lines last week – including even more ridiculous jobs to be had in NYC).  I  found it interesting that they "saved it" from last week. 

    I found the end very touching, despite not being a huge Wiig fan. (I feel like a traitor to my sex, saying that!).  I like her well enough, but was not terribly sad to see her go. It feels like it is her time to move on. (I'll be much more upset if that was indeed Jason's farewell). I'm looking forward to seeing MORE of Bobby, Taran and Vanessa in the next season. Hader is always tops for me, and I'm certainly hoping he isn't going anywhere over the summer, either. And yes, Bobby seemed to be tearing up before even hitting the stage to twirl with Wiig. Awww. Ruby Tuesday!

    • http://twitter.com/eavoss Erik Voss

      Angie Blanken scores again with the dress rehearsal dish! From what I understand, sketches cut from dress often find a second life in later shows. In this case, I'd prefer the sketch not be reincarnated, but oh well.

      • https://twitter.com/#!/AngelaBlanken AngieBlanken

        Ha. That concludes my dress rehearsal dish, I'm certain. Til the comedy gods give me another shot to attend the show, that is. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/dennis.hinkamp Dennis Hinkamp

     Loved the show, watched twice. What a thrill for Arcade Fire and the Foo Fighters to play with Jagger and even if it was a little too political, I loved seeing Jeff Beck and Jagger play off each other for the blues number. So, yeah for me the extra music was worth it. I follow SNL like my home baseball team; though I hate to see the greats leave or retire, I look forward to what the new players might bring.

  • Joel Williams

    I read Sudeikis' reaction to the Wiig farewell different than you @twitter-22700853:disqus. To me, it looked more like Sudeikis was upset at all the attention being heaped upon Wiig while Samberg and he were just an afterthought. 

    Granted, at the time I saw it I was under the impression that Sudeikis was OFFICIALLY leaving and not just possibly leaving. But given that he had almost nothing to do in the show, I still get the vibe that he probably felt snubbed. 

    • http://twitter.com/eavoss Erik Voss

      You know, I wondered the same thing, especially when I looked back over the sketches and realized Sudeikis wasn't really present. His emotions do seem a bit ambiguous.

      But the more I thought about it, he and Wiig go way back on the show. He would want Wiig to have this moment. And even in the scenario that he might be upset about being an afterthought, I doubt he would so visibly protest the farewell, rather than force a smile through the end of the night.

      • Joel Williams

        His facial expression really could have gone either way. Upset over Wiig leaving or upset over not getting his own farewell moment. Hard to say. But I do think you make a good point about their friendship being the chief motivator for his extremely distraught appearance.

        I also wonder if this particular farewell moment is setting a bad precedent for the show. Other SNL stars have said goodbye on-air (Jimmy Fallon comes to mind), but I can't remember anything as big (read: over the top) as this. 

  • Stryker Spurlock

    I thought it was a funny enough episode, but the best part was the end. What a way to go out: dance with all of your cast mates and Mick Jagger while Arcade Fire plays. I hope Kristen Wiig, and whoever else might be leaving, goes on to bigger and better things. As for Kristen, a seven year run on SNL is impressive enough, and even more impressive to me is that I thought she was consistently good. Some of her characters wore thin, sure, but her energy and enthusiasm for playing them never seemed to go away. 

    (Also, stupid question time. During the goodbyes, when Seth Meyers got up to hug Kristen, I thought, "Who's that? Oh! That's Seth." It was almost like for a second I'd forgot he was a cast member, because he's hardly in sketches anymore. Why is it he only does Weekend Update? Is it so he has more time to do head writer things, or what?) 

  • http://twitter.com/eavoss Erik Voss

    I think you got it — typically the head writer appears in fewer sketches and sticks mostly to Weekend Update, save for an occasional cameo in moments like these, a full-cast cold open, or a random sketch here or there (he appeared twice in the Catchphrase Comedy Tour sketch that was cut from dress this episode). I imagine he's too busy overseeing rewrites and trying to piece together the lineup each week.

  • graybull

    I agree that this episode was more enjoyable than I thought it would be. Partly because of Jagger's comedic abilities exceeding expectations, but mostly because of the incredible energy in studio 8H on saturday night. It felt as if everyone in the audience knew the were part of something special. Thanks to that positivity the only sketch I really didn't enjoy was the Al Sharpton one, and I can't believe they cut the 'comedy tour' sketch (a bit wierd innit?).
    As for the final sketch/send-off, definately one of the most touching moments in the history of the show. I thought it was appropriate to dedicate it to Wiig and not include Samberg/Sudeikis. First it's an honor reserved for MVP's of the show; Hartman, Ferrell, Fallon, and to a lesser extent Poehler, all had personal farewells on their final shows (though if she had left at the end of the season I imagine Amy would have gotten a bigger send off). Secondly I think 'Lazy Sunday 2' was a perfect way for Andy to say goodbye. The digital shorts were almost like his own little show within a show, and this one was a perfect way to end it.
    Finally, if this was Jason's last show I would have liked to have seen more of him, but he had such a good show last week that maybe he decided to let Kristen have the spotlight. I also think that even if he wanted/was supposed to be front and center during the good nights, he was such an emotional wreck that he couldn't handle it. Look at his face as soon as they cut to the 'graduates', he's about to break down before the sketch even starts. If he does return next season I think it will be as a guest to do his political characters (a la Tina Fey).
    One thing about the future of SNL is certain: I'll be tuning in!

  • Willverine

    I'm sad to see Kristen go, but I'm confident in the cast. Bill Hader is already a pretty big star and Taran is not far behind. However, the real question is who will be the female star. 

    Some say Abby but i can't think of any characters she has and she only does a few good impressions. Others say Vanessa, but she is often the straight woman, leaving the weird-character gap. Kate is too new to know, but so far her impressions fall flat and seems to be trying to be Kristen. 
    This leaves Nasim who has recently become one of my favorites on the show. She's showed her writing/performing skills with Bedelia, My Brother Knows Everything, and the Smash Mouth sketch and her impression skills with Kim Kardashian, Arianna Huffington, Barbara Walters, and Nikki Minaj. It all depends on what she gets written into though.

  • gentlemanstimes

    Am I the only one who thinks Jagger is kind of mildly doing an Andy Warhol impression in the Secret Word sketch?