Alec Baldwin may be an “SNL” veteran, but I don”t envy him the gig this week, even if it is the season finale. On the heels of Betty White”s spectacular performance, even a full-on reprise of classic Baldwin skits like Schweddy Balls would be hard pressed to match one of the most entertaining (and well-written) episodes in, honestly, recent years. Though Baldwin could probably go toe-to-toe with White performance-wise, unfortunately he won”t be bolstered by last week”s other big score, which was a return of former castmates like Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Molly Shannon, Rachel Dratch and Amy Poehler whom, I suspect, weren”t shy about editing out bonehead material and penciling in their own. And God knows, this season there”s been plenty of bonehead material screaming out for a smart edit. But, fingers crossed that Baldwin will bring the funny against unfortunate odds.
[Full recap of the May 15 “Saturday Night Live” finale after the break…]
Opening Oil Skit: Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen pose as oil executives desperately groping for a way to sop up the oil spill off the Louisiana coast. It”s a simple premise, mildly funny (blame the French? Eh) and gives me a sinking feeling that, if this was their strongest stuff, it”s going to be a long night. [Grade: C]
Monologue: Baldwin shares a snippet of his monologue with Steve Martin, who”s also hosted the show fifteen times, but the real laughs come in his “SNL” commencement sketch. He not only takes pot shots at his brothers, always a favorite topic, but seemingly bags on how his own career has slid from big screen to small while he”s recovered from a messy divorce to a “complicated but beautiful” star – except he”s talking about Charlie Sheen. Nice one. It”s not the strongest monologue ever, but it”s Baldwin in fine form, and that”s good enough. [Grade: B+]
Cokehead Digital Short: This was a clever skit… in the 80s. Andy Samberg reached back into the vault for this material, and though it”s occasionally winning (when his drugged-out executive has moments of crazy paranoia and thinks he”s in “The Matrix”), it”s hardly “D-k in A Box.” [Grade: B-]
Arizona Evenings: Why are so many of Kristen Wiig”s characters so friggin” annoying? Wiig may be one of the most talented performers on the show, but for some reason her characters mostly blow, in that they bug the audience just as much as they bug the other characters in the sketch. Tonight, her sub script supervisor can”t stop herself from wandering into a shot, and I can barely stop myself from throwing my remote at the television. Seriously, fake teeth do not funny make. [Grade: D]
Hudson Valley Swim Team: Alec Baldwin as the meanest swim coach ever. While Baldwin works toward a full-blown spew of viciousness and his “students” look appropriately horrified, this skit mostly pulls the punches. On the bright side, Baldwin works the blond mullet and, like most of the skits this evening, it doesn”t drag on. It”s a nice trend to see on “SNL,” usually the home of Skits That Can”t Find An Ending, but I”d be happier if the skits were just funnier at any length. [Grade: B-]
Birthday Cookout: Nasim Pedrad is a teenager creepily attached to her dad at a cookout. On the spectrum of creepy to funny, this sits somewhere in between, but at least it”s character driven material that has the potential to go somewhere (Kristen Wiig, are you paying attention?). [Grade: B]
Sally Field Commercial: Abby Elliott gives a pretty good Sally Field, and the concept, that those stupid Boniva ads just play upon the idea that women should see themselves as weak and fragile, has some promise. But it would have worked better as a riff in a stand-up routine, not a complete commercial. Good try, but a little short of the mark. [Grade: B]
Grady Wilson Love DVD: Okay, Kenan Thompson acting out ridiculous sex positions in his boxers, kinda funny. Alec Baldwin acting out ridiculous sex positions while dressed as a curly-haired Greek guy? All kinds of funny. The two of them together acting out the Panini? Priceless. Dumb, yes, but given how blah this episode has been, hey, dumb funny”s fine with me. [Grade: B+]
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: I have nothing but admiration for Tom Petty. That said, I don”t really like his music that much. I mean, this song is catchy and all that, but not my thing. Weirdly, I don”t think I”d ever noticed before tonight that his voice occasionally sounds spookily like Bob Dylan”s. [Grade: B]
Weekend Update with Seth Meyers: Boy, I so miss Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who came back razor sharp for last week”s Update. I”m not quite sure why Meyers has gone solo on Update for so long, but given the segment”s reliance on mostly feeble “guests” and a general sense Meyers is best when he has someone to bounce off of (remember “Really with Seth and Amy”?), it”s long past time to pull in a castmate to share the desk. Anyway, Seth kicks things off with some pretty tepid oil spill humor, then we bring out Snooki, as played by Bobby Moynihan. Snooki has a bad fake tan. She”s mistaken for an orange. And a pumpkin. Sailors want to make out with her to stave off scurvy. Oh, and she”s slutty. How this is actually funnier than the real Snooki, I”m not so sure. Bill Hader”s guide to NYC as Stefon starts a little slow, but his meth addict club kid routine won me over with DJ Baby Bok Choy and his little ravioli hands. Gotta give this one points for pure surrealist fun. Unfortunately, Update doesn”t end on that high note. Garth and Kat, the two cheesy singers who make up their songs on the spot, has never been funny, but at least Kristen Wiig and Fred Armisen cracked themselves up, so I guess that”s something. [Grade: C]
Gram Lapton Timecrowave: This was a sorta funny premise, but it needed to be taken even further than it was. However, I did love it when the effed up future turned out to be swastika flags on every house, a giant cat, hellfire and goat horns and, of course, Planet of the Apes. [Grade: B]
Turner Classic Movies: Alec Baldwin can do no wrong. Even though you knew exactly where his too-good-to-be-true john character was headed, he still delivered the one sickly little punchline with conviction. And while Jenny Slate is no Kristen Wiig when it comes to imitating retro movie speak, she definitely works the outfit. [Grade: B]
Scout Sniper School: Basically, an excuse for Alec Baldwin to roll around on the ground and scream. Which isn”t such a bad thing, really, though it”s a one note sketch that probably should have been cut in rehearsal. [Grade: C-]
So, this season”s “SNL” goes out with more of a whimper than a bang, but there”s reason to be hopeful for next season. There definitely seems to be a directive to keep skits short and sweet, and I”m betting the Betty White episode will spur Lorne Michaels to consider putting some former cast members on speed dial, too (we know Tina Fey”s super busy these days, but she”s gotta have a spare week in there somewhere, right?). Of course, that might mean squeezing out some of the so-so talent on the roster, but honestly, that”s never a bad thing.
What did you think of Alec Baldwin? What do you think the show should change next season? And which cast members do you think should stay (or go)?