In case you were wondering why Ben Affleck was randomly tapped to host the season finale of Saturday Night Live despite the post-Oscar glow of his Argo victory having long since worn off, the almost immediate disappearance of his Terrence Malick adventure To the Wonder from theaters and the absence of any new projects in his career pipeline, the answer lies in the fact that this episode marked the departure of Bill Hader and his popular Stefon alter ego from Studio 8H. (Also Fred Armisen, but c'mon... he shoulda left three seasons ago.)
For those with a vague memory of their SNL history, before he became Seth Meyers's favorite sparring partner (and secret lover) on Weekend Update, Stefon was introduced as as Stefon Zoelesky, brother of actor David Zoelesky, played by Affleck. The writers reference that particular bit of continuity at the end of Stefon's extended farewell as the crazy club kid runs off into the sunset with his anchorman boyfriend and future host of NBC's Late Night franchise, while his "sibling" cheers him on. Bringing Affleck back to host Hader's farewell was a long way to go for that particular callback and considering the Oscar winner's distracted, almost sullen performance throughout much of the telecast, perhaps they should have limited his involvement to his pre-taped cameo. Affleck was off his game from the opening monologue, which started off moderately amusing with him getting shafted on the lavish reception greeted past members of the Five-Timers Club like Justin Timberlake, but then got real awkward, real quick, when he dragged his wife Jennifer Garner onstage to spoof his offhand Oscar acceptance speech comment about marriage being "work." (Gotta give it up to J.Gar -- she almost made the strained bit work. Someone put her in another comedy, pronto... more like 13 Going on 30 and less like Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.)
Things kept going downhill from there, as Affleck's blatant cue card-reading and thinly veiled disinterest for the material he was obligated to play stifled what little comedy there was in a mostly anemic batch of sketches. Fortunately, Hader and Armisen both managed to score two solid final sketches apiece -- one an overt farewell and the other just a funny bit -- amidst the tedium. Adios and happy trails, fellas. And after the Kristen Wiig debacle last week, make sure to let at least two years elapse before you come back to guest host.
Hader's Best Farewell Sketch: Depression Scene
Okay, so this isn't an especially great sketch, dragged down as it is by Affleck's belabored Jimmy Stewart impersonation. But Hader (and his sidekick Kate McKinnon, easily the most talented of the new crop of cast members) is pretty darn funny in it, playing a version of Ryan O'Neal's Depression-era schemer from Paper Moon, which makes McKinnon his Tatum. Far more than any non-Stefon sketch he was featured in during the show, this one proved how Hader could wring big laughs out of the most underwritten material.
Armisen's Best Farewell Sketch: Iranian Film
An Argo sketch was a given considering who the host was. Fortunately, the writers found a clever way to approach it, tapping Armisen to play Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is so incensed about Argo's Oscar triumph that he makes a counter-film, Bengo Fuck Yourself, in which he plays Ben Affleck fooling Hollywood into funding his propaganda piece. (Affleck appears as himself playing a sound guy in the movie, a potentially funny bit that loses points for going back to the Gigli well once again. Is this 2013 or 2003, people? Also, for the record, Affleck has made a worse film than Gigli and it's called Surviving Christmas.) The way Armisen-as-Ahmadinejad quickly uttered "Park the cah in Hah-vahd yahd" before each line to get the Bah-stahn accent right was a great running gag.
Hader's Actual Farewell: Stefon's Getting Married
Let's be honest: this is what everyone was waiting for the whole night anyway. And the writers didn't disappoint, giving Stefon the chance to tell us about one more crazy club, before launching into a full-fledged Graduate spoof with an inspired cameo (Anderson Cooper) and callbacks galore to all the strange places and people the character has described to date. The fact that it ended with Seth and Stefon happily in each other's arms was icing on the (wedding) cake. Hey writers? Please don't spoil this happy ending by bringing them back a year from now.
Armisen's Acutal Farewell: Ian Rubbish and the Blizzards
Armisen has never been one of our favorite SNL performers, but kudos to him for crafting such a graceful, fitting farewell. Slipping into the skin of his British rocker character Ian Rubbish, he launches into a rousing rendition of "It's a Lovely Day," flanked by the also-departing Hader, the maybe-departing Sudeikis and the non-departing (we assume) Taran Killam. In a nice touch, during the course of the song, the fake band is joined by a bunch of real musicians including Armisen's Portlandia co-hort Carrie Brownstein, as well as Aimee Mann and Kim Gordon. Kristen Wiig may have had Mick Jagger sing her into her post-SNL life, but we actually like this farewell more.
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