In 2012, it's no secret who Fred Armisen is – though ex-wife Elisabeth Moss may disagree.
Armisen, the elder statesman at Saturday Night Live, has over the years played dynamic original characters like the obnoxious and hard-of-hearing TV producer Roger Brush, Garth (of the musical duo Garth & Kat), as well as outstanding impressions of Prince, Joy Behar, former New York Gov. David Patterson and of course, a measured and effective Barack Obama.
But what Fred Armisen represents, especially to the current cast of SNL, is a team player – again, Moss may disagree. And his value was on display up front and in the background on last night's 30-minute weekday version of theshow, SNL Weekend Update Thursday.
Last night, just like each of the previous three Saturday Night Live shows this season (two Saturdays, two Thursdays), opened with a President Obama sketch. This time the bit was centered around the slow economy, with the president looking for the tiniest of positives about people's job prospects. The sketch by itself may have been an old go-to – Obama as the lesser of two evils – but Armisen, who used to portray Obama, buoyed it by taking the role of a Bank of America executive-turned-Burger King employee instead. Since Armisen graciously passed the Obama torch to Jay Pharoah last month, scenes like this one have benefited greatly from Pharoah's stellar facial tics and posture, and eerily accurate Obama voice.
Armisen too shined at the Weekend Update desk, playing Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in town for the United Nations General Assembly. In beard and caring-if-crazy eyes, he spoke in soft Persian. He was joined by Nasim Pedrad, who played his translator. Pedrad's character could only take so much of Ahmadinejad's rose-colored recaps before she went rogue and began a full-on English-language gush with Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers about the absurd Ahmadinejad. A very funny idea, made absolutely hilarious by Armisen's brilliant commitment to his character, the language barrier and the smallest of moments, like when he, as Ahmadinejad, did an impression of the Austin Powers character Dr. Evil.
At the end of the night, Armisen played a third role, as one of the bumbling football officials in a teaser for Replacement Refs, purported to be on the NBC schedule this fall. Easy decisions go wrong for a jury comprising replacement refs! A simple diagnosis for an earache isn't so simple for replacement refs! Keenan Thompson, BobbyMoynihan, Tim Robinson and Fred Armisen fumble every decision! Once again, Armisen boosted a great idea, simultaneously expressing surprise, doubt and confusion in a small non-speaking role.
Other Update desk highlights included Keenan Thompson as Cornel West, marking the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Thompson, always awkwardly pleasant and confident at the Update desk, recited Naughty By Nature lyrics and kept a journal for each and every time he used the word "mendacity."
"The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation with at a Party," played by new SNL cast member, Cecily Strong, was flat-out genius. From checking her phone in the middle of a totally generic conversation to trying to act smarter than Seth, to casually asking if she can "use the N-word real quick," we've all met this girl. Seth's attempt to leave because he has "an early day tomorrow" was just as brilliant.
Strong and Thompson, like Armisen, played their roles on this team perfectly, filling half an hour on a night you wish had lasted 60 minutes longer.