‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: “Ben Affleck”
Politics Nation with Al Sharpton
Kenan Thompson is Al Sharpton discussing the IRS scandal with Dana Milbank of the Washington Post (Jason Sudeikis) and a Tea Party representative played by Bill Hader. As far as cold opens go, it’s not the greatest, but Thompson provides plenty of laughs as an aloof and confused Sharpton, constantly messing up names and words, and refusing to call Dana by his name, insisting on calling him “Dan A.” instead. The best gag is definitely when Sharpton confuses Matthew McConaughey with senate majority leader Mitch O’Connell and plays a clip from McConaughey on Jimmy Fallon’s show.
It’s the final show for both Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, two ‘SNL’ MVPs that have provided us with years of memorable characters and wonderful laughs, and while I’m sad to see them go, I’m looking forward to whatever they do next with all this extra time on their schedules. And lord help them if there’s no Stefon tonight.
Ben Affleck has one hell of a show to host tonight, and having rewatched some of his previous hosting gigs earlier today (thanks VH1 for mini-marathons!), I’m feeling pretty confident. His opening monologue starts off great as he laments how Justin Timberlake was inducted into the five-timers club with the assistance of stars like Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, and Paul Simon. Instead of getting a star-studded welcome wagon, Affleck gets Bobby Moynihan in a white t-shirt with the number five on it. Affleck’s wife, Jennifer Garner, drops by to explain her husband’s Oscar speech comment about how their marriage is work — naturally, the two end up bickering comically, and Affleck shows he’s still got that same old charisma. Let’s hope he gives us a great finale.
Bengo F— Yourself
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes his own version of ‘Argo’ in which he plays Ben Affleck and tries to prove that ‘Argo’ is fake. Armisen as Ahmadinejad doing a Boston accent is sublime, especially playing against Hader as a Hollywood film executive. Affleck stars as Affleck playing a sound guy, asserting that he took the role because he wanted to be in something worse than ‘Gigli.’ I love that he’s still making jokes about this. And Armisen’s repetition of “Park the car in Harvard yard!” never loses luster.
Xanax for Gay Summer Weddings
The cast gives us a fake commercial for a new type of Xanax to help ease the anxiety of attending the summer weddings of your gay friends — because gay couples have impossibly perfect weddings. It plays with stereotype well without pushing the boundaries too far and becoming offensive, and as with most pre-recorded bits, it’s pretty great.
Hader plays a down on his luck type in the 1930s (or 40s?), panhandling on the street with a young lady named Primadonna (Kate McKinnon). Affleck is a businessman who offers him a job, but surprise — Hader doesn’t want it if it involves waking up early or doing, you know, actual work. It’s a neat play on the entitlement of some downtrodden, opportunistic types, and the McKinnon really works it with her mimicking mannerisms and a great gag at the end. Affleck fumbles a bit as he gets hung up on his Jimmy Stewart imitation, but you know what? I wasn’t paying much attention. As far as I’m concerned, this show belongs to Armisen and Hader, and those two are great tonight.
Affleck is the camp counselor for New Beginnings, a gay reform camp in Flagstaff, Arizona, who says things like “Hetero is better, yo.” Among the camp attendees are the delightfully flamboyant Moynihan, Thompson, Tim Robinson, and Aidy Bryant. That group gets little to do in the face of Affleck’s formerly gay camp director and his super gay arts director, played by Taran Killam with feathery fans. Affleck knocks it out of the park with his line delivery and his reactions to everything from the evening’s movie being ‘The Outsiders’ (“Ralph Macchio’s pillow lips”) to a hot dog contest dinner.
Holy crap, guys. Amy Poehler returns for this very special finale for an installment of “Really?!? With Seth and Amy” blasting the IRS. It has been far too long, and seeing these two crank it out is a treat. Hopefully she’ll find time to stop by again in the fall before Seth Meyers departs ‘SNL’ officially. Bonus: Amy sticks around to finish Weekend Update, making our lives complete. But where’s Stefon?
THERE HE IS! I’m not going to lie to you guys — I had to pause the episode and compose myself when I realized Hader was coming out as Stefon for the last time. And you can see the joy in Seth’s eyes as he gleefully takes just a couple seconds longer to bring Hader out. It’s one of Hader’s best and most enduring characters, made all the better by excellent writing from John Mulaney (my pick for next Weekend Update host). And tonight finally brings an end to the long-simmering will they/won’t they romance between Stefon and Seth. Poehler acts as audience proxy (and pretty much the voice of Tumblr users everywhere, as I’m sure we’ll see highlighted on that site in the next few hours), telling Seth, “Go to him.” And then the show does something incredible, transitioning from live to a pre-taped bit where Seth tracks Stefon down at a wedding chapel. There, we see all of the nightclub characters Stefon has referenced over the years, including Alf, Urkel, Menorah the Explorer (YES!) and all those human traffic cones.
What’s amazing to me is how much I could write right now about this one silly character, but you needn’t look further than this bit to see and feel the impact Stefon (and Hader) have had on this show. This one goofy, gimmicky character brought tears to my eyes tonight, and not just from laughing. The combo of Mulaney’s writing and Bill Hader’s immense talent call to mind Kristen Wiig’s exit, and how seeing all those characters one last time brought tears to our eyes then because, even though they were silly, one-dimensional characters, there’s so much more to them than that. Stefon, like Gilly or Penelope or the Target Lady, represents not just an actor or a character we’ve spent years with, but that moment when those perfect ingredients blend together just right to make something special. This character doesn’t just belong to Hader or to ‘SNL’; he belongs to all of us. These characters are gifts — and what is a gift, anyway? It’s something you give to someone through some personal cost to give them great joy. It’s something you do to put a smile on their face because you care about them. And this Stefon bit is the greatest gift Hader could give us tonight.
I do apologize for that wordy detour. Who knew Stefon could inspire so many feelings?
Greg Pulino’s Funeral
Oof, this sketch has the unfortunate task of following that amazing Stefon farewell. Affleck plays Greg, a guy who faked his own death to get people to show how much they care about him. Sudeikis plays the flustered funeral director, and Affleck plays Greg’s “uncle” (Greg with a mustache and accent), who tries to defend himself to his friends, including Robinson, McKinnon, Killam, Nasim Pedrad, and Cecily Strong. It’s a pretty tame sketch that succeeds thanks to the talent really getting into it.
The Swarovski crystals girls (Strong and Bayer) return to sell Hermes handbags and remind us that they’re not porn stars anymore. Affleck joins as a cowboy type with a porny mustache named Girth Brooks to assist in awkwardly and incorrectly pronouncing words with all the energy of someone who’s had a Valium champagne lunch. God, I love these girls. We may have lost Stefon, but at least we still have these two.
“One time I thought I banged E.T., but it was just an old Chinese man on a bike.” How can you not love it? It’s so hilarious, it even makes Affleck crack a bit.
Shauna and Jake’s Engagement Party
McKinnon and Hader are the parents of a daughter that’s gotten engaged. Hader, Affleck, Killam, and Armisen’s characters are gruff cops with mustaches who constantly have to choke back their emotions. It’s such a funny, classic conceit and it’s awesome to see it stretched out into a sketch, especially for the finale when all of these guys are trying to hold back their own emotions. Also, it once again makes me sad that Hader has never done a Michael Shannon impression.
Ian Rubbish and the Bizarros
Though he only made his debut this season, Armisen’s vintage punk character Ian Rubbish takes the stage to perform with Bill Hader as a bandmate. Joining them on stage are musical friends of Hader’s, including his Portlandia co-creator and co-star (and former Sleater-Kinney member) Carrie Brownstein, and Aimee Mann and her husband, Michael Penn, Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis, Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones, and former Sonic Youth leading lady Kim Gordon on a delightful tambourine.
The group sing an original song called “It’s a Lovely Day,” giving us a beautifully optimistic and incredibly moving farewell as they end the song with the refrain, “It’s been all right, I’ve had a lovely night with you.”