Regardless of any given night’s successful sketch rate on Saturday Night Live, the last 60 seconds or so are always a chance for everyone on stage to acknowledge the completion of a thrilling seven days. Not only are new bits pitched and written and re-written and designed and rehearsed and scrapped and picked apart and celebrated and performed for a live audience and broadcast across the country and the greater world on television, but it’s done from scratch each week. The simultaneous exultation and exclamation at the end of the night is a wonderful tribute to making it through the week together – cast, crew, musical guest, and host.
But while those waving-goodbyes may have become routine over thirty-eight seasons, what SNL has gotten really good at over the past decade is saying farewell to their own. Last night’s episode, helmed by the superstars Ben Affleck and Kanye West, let the spotlight shine on Fred Armisen and Bill Hader in some really terrific salutations to the departing veterans. (Armisen has not yet officially announced his departure, as Hader has, but the word is out.)
In eight years on SNL, Hader has unquestionably left his mark. His impressions of Al Pacino, Vincent Price, Alan Alda, James Carville and many more, were spot-on; his original characters like TV reporter Herb Welch, Italian talk show host Vinny Vedecci, and countless game show hosts, are unforgettable. But no performance of Hader’s has elicited as big an audience reaction over the years as his portrayal of the New York City correspondent for Weekend Update, Stefon. And it was only right that the writers gave Stefon a proper NYC send-off, filled with just about everyone he’s talked of at the desk over the years.
Interestingly enough, the Stefon segment almost felt like a goodbye for Weekend Update anchor (and SNL head writer) Seth Meyers, too. Meyers, it was announced earlier in the week, will be taking over as host of the Late Night franchise in February, when Jimmy Fallon moves into the big chair at The Tonight Show. Seth has said that he’d stay on SNL through the Fall, since one week’s notice for leaving didn’t feel right.
Armisen too is long-toothed at SNL, with last night marking the end of his eleventh season. Known for his amazing impersonations of everyone from President Obama to Prince to Joy Behar to Saddam Hussein to Ice-T, it must have been a happy coincidence with Ben Affleck hosting, that Fred would be able to pull out one of his most-beloved costumes, that of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Affeck, of course, starred and acted in the Oscar winning film about the rescue of the American hostages in Iran in 1979. And in this sketch, Ahmadinejad got to turn the tables on Affleck. Simply put: Armisen as Ahmadinejad as Affleck is absolutely amazing.
Affleck, who with this hosting gig became a member of SNL’s Five Timer’s Club, had a solid episode, even if he did take a backseat throughout the night. Before the first musical performance, he introduced Kanye as "the man you came here to see." He also played the director of a camp that purports to turn gay kids straight, and he even brought out his wife Jennifer Gardner to uncomfortably dissect his Oscar-winning speech, during his monologue.
Two of the best sketches of the night, though, showcased the future leaders of SNL. The first was the cold open sketch, which was perfectly written and performed, based around Al Sharpton (Kenan Thompson) and his well-intentioned, but sloppy digging into the I.R.S. scandal on his MSNBC show, Politics Nation. Kenan can do no wrong.
Also phenomenal was the return of Cecily Strong and Vanessa Bayer as former porn stars-turned-spokesmodels, this time pushing Hermes handbags, which they hilariously kept mispronouncing as "Herman’s handbags." Their deadpan delivery and recaps of their wild sexual histories were uproarious as always; it’ll be wonderful to see these ladies take even larger roles next season.
And so another SNL chapter is in the books, marked by the hugs at the end of the night. But most important were the cameras capturing the end of another era through the tears in the eyes of a cast that so clearly loved the time shared both backstage and onstage with Bill Hader and Fred Armisen.
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