May 19--Before Saturday's season finale of "Saturday Night Live," it was announced that the episode marked the farewell performance as a regular by invaluable ensemble player Bill Hader. Then more reports surfaced about it also being Fred Armisen's last show -- and maybe Jason Sudeikis', as well.
That qualified the show, hosted by Ben Affleck, as must-see viewing. And though much of the running time was given over to garden-variety, not-great "SNL" sketches, the episode included a stirring farewell sketch for Hader's Stefon character, and a touching song performed (in character as English punk rocker "Ian Rubbish") by Armisen.
Stefon, the over-the-top expert on outre New York nightspots on so many "Weekend Update" segments, was sent off with help from a clever filmed sketch. Beginning in his usual spot at the "Weekend Update" desk -- where Seth Meyers was joined by the returning Amy Poehler -- Stefon left in a comically abrupt huff, wounded by Meyers' lack of attention. Poehler urged Meyers to go after Stefon, which led to a "Graduate"-like (talk about staying power; that 1967 movie keeps influencing pop culture) chase through nighttime in midtown, and Meyers stopping Stefon's wedding to Anderson Cooper. The church was filled with the nutty characters referenced in previous Stefon bits, plus Affleck.
After busting up the wedding -- Cooper's 360 move was no match for Meyers' mighty fists -- Meyers swept Stefon back to the "Weekend Update" set, where cast members, in costume as other regular "Update" characters, joined them.
More low-key, but more affecting because of it, was the bit at the end of the show where Armisen, as Ian Rubbish, and his band, the Bizzaros (Hader, Sudeikis and Taran Killam) came on to do a song. As Rubbish, Armisen, with a thick Cockney accent, introduced the song, an optimistic tune about having a lovely day and a lovely night, guests came onstage to join in. Carrie Brownstein, Armisen's "Portlandia" partner, was there, and others included musicians who have made cameo appearances on "Portlandia," such as J Mascis, Steve Jones, and Aimee Mann, as well as Michael Penn and Kim Gordon.
Armisen isn't one to reach for sentiment, but it was sweet when he sang the last lines, "It's been all right, I've had a lovely night, with you."
(And it appears we'll be seeing more of Ian Rubbish and the Bizzaros, who turned up recently opening for Vampire Weekend and have some tunes you can download here.)
The traditional everyone-stand-around-and-try-to-look-cool ending, as Affleck thanked the night's guests (including a grim-faced musical guest Kanye West and Affleck's wife, Jennifer Garner), was as emotional as you'd expect, with Hader looking teary and choked-up.
While the episode made it clear that Hader and Armisen are out of there as regulars, it was less clear where Sudeikis stands. This might mean that he, like Meyers, may return for some episodes in the fall (Meyers will be leaving to take over NBC's "Late Show," once Jimmy Fallon replaces Jay Leno on the "Tonight Show"). I'd hate to see Sudeikis go without getting one more chance to enjoy his Joe Biden, or even his insanely energetic dancing-guy-in-red-track-suit during the "What's Up With That?" bits.
For now, thanks for the "SNL" memories, Bill Hader. And see you in "Portlandia," Fred Armisen.
-- Kristi Turnquist
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