June 14th, 1998, Salt Lake City, Utah. With 5.2 seconds left in Game 6 of the NBA Finals between Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz, Jordan coolly nailed a 20-foot jumper to put his team up by one point, and earned the Bulls their sixth championship behind Jordan’s heroics. The 43 other points he scored that night, plus his crossover to set him up for the game-winner, plus the picturesque form and release after the shot put a perfect bow on a tremendous Finals and an otherworldly career.
Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player to ever play the sport, retired after that game; there was no better possible way to send him off.
Kristen Wiig had her Game 6 moment less than one year ago, when in her final sketch as a Saturday Night Live player, she was serenaded by Mick Jagger, shared meaningful, personalized dances with each and every cast member (as well as SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels), and shed tears of joy. It was exactly the right tone for someone of her quality and character, and it seemed that everyone – cast and audience alike – sent Wiig out of Studio 8H proudly.
So what would become of Wiig as she returned to host SNL last night, with musical guest Vampire Weekend? Where would she fall on the scale, between “curtain call” and “Michael Jordan on the Washington Wizards?”
After a promising monologue, where Kristen sung-narrated a tour around the SNL hallways, visiting with old castmates, as well as Michaels, Jonah Hill and Maya Rudolph, all to the tune of the Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited,” it seemed like the show was gearing up to be a Best-Of Kristen Wiig special.
And in a way it was – with an appearance by Gillie, a Californians sketch, Garth and Kat on a strangely low-key Weekend Update, and “The Lawrence Welk Show,” where Wiig brought back the developmentally-challenged, baby-handed, giant-foreheaded singing Maharelle Sister, Dooneese.
Where each of those sketches and bits had succeeded in the past, last night’s versions felt old and slow, much like Michael Jordan’s Wizards days. And no sketch signified that more than Target Lady, which insultingly replayed the same formula it’s been doing for more than half a decade. There was no new territory explored, which was not only a disappointment, but seemingly a waste of Wiig’s talents and time. The craziest thing to happen in this sketch is that Bobby Moynihan’s character called Wiig’s Target Lady “Target Lady.”
Luckily, the basketball did bounce the other way too, with solid sketches like a Mother’s Day 1-800-FLOWERS commercial, which featured Kate McKinnon as Wiig’s well-meaning, but truly trying mother. There’s no one better at simultaneously showing the process of swallowing pride and putting a game-face on than Kristen Wiig’s characters, and this piece was a great fit.
Another quality idea was a new Disney Channel show starring Bobby Moynihan and Cecily Strong as elementary school-age siblings who have to deal with their mother who’s not only embarrassing . . . but also a ghost, in “Aw Nuts! Mom’s a Ghost.”
But the best sketch of the night – by far – took place in an acupuncture office, where Jason Sudeikis was being attended to by Wiig and Aidy Bryant. As they talk Sudeikis through the process of placing the needles into his skin, and what he can expect to feel, things go absolutely haywire. Saying that blood exits the body doesn’t even come close to describing what happens. Equal parts gross and hilarious, this sketch was written and performed at the highest levels – and props to the props department, who created an amazingly effective system to share the wealth, as it were. It was twitchingly and uproariously funny.
So again, why would Kristin rewrite her storybook ending? Maybe because that fire still burns inside. Maybe because she just can’t leave. Maybe because she is Michael Jordan, where her off-days are better than most people’s everydays. Maybe because on any night she could go for 51 points. Maybe it’s because she makes it all right to watch an hour’s worth of cuts and scratches just to get a sketch where everyone leaves smiling, covered in blood.
Last Week’s Recap: Zach Galifianakis on ‘SNL’ Cautions, ‘Don’t Get Your Hopes Up’