Kristen Wiig Delivers a Standout SNL, With a Little Help From Her Friends

The only problem with having Kristen Wiig return to Saturday Night Live as host is she won’t be back for the next show.

Not only was this week’s edition the funniest overall of the current season, it looked like the most fun many of the participants have had all year. And that included a seemingly endless conga line of special guests, which may have set an official SNL record for cameos.

That could be researched, but who cares? It was a lot:

Matt Damon, Jon Hamm, Paul Rudd, Will Forte, Fred Armisen, Martin Short, Ryan Gosling, Paula Pell.  Normally, when former cast members or hosts turn up on SNL unbilled, it brings on suggestions from the “SNL is having a weak season” crowd that Lorne Michaels felt like he needed to call in some favors.

In this case, it honestly looked more like all these people just wanted to be in a show with Kristen Wiig because they knew it would involve some wild fun.

They had reason to expect a lot of that thanks to Wiig’s gift for physical comedy. Certainly this episode featured a high dose of bits based in physical gags and stunt falls, especially one featuring Wiig joining Heidi Gardner’s secretary “Trudy” character (yes, a recurring character, one of several last night) as an equally insane on-the-ball but out-of-her-mind secretary “Tootie.” This one featured both performers crashing through the furniture and walls and ending up in their underwear.

Hamm, who took over for Pete Davidson as the boss, and Bowen Yang, who returned as the visiting client, barely held off breaking after Wiig’s breakaway desk failed to do so.

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Hamm turning up in a sketch role also signaled that the cameos this time were going to be more than mere walk-ons. In addition to him, Damon, Rudd, Armisen, and Forte all played parts in the sketches. They clearly wanted in.

The obvious reason to include them was Wiig’s monologue, which of course centered on her being added to the list of five-time hosts. That celebration always comes with the ritual awarding of the “Five-Timer” bathrobe—I mean jacket. (Whatever it is, it’s cooler than that green jacket some guy will win next weekend.)

Usually a few five-timers turn up to welcome the host to the club, but in this case only Rudd had earned an official membership card. The rest were part of the premise gag that Lorne has begun handing out the jackets to just about anyone. Damon acknowledged he had only hosted twice, but said he was told they were so good they added up to five—in quality.

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The monologue was basically when the show started, because the cold open—a takeoff on the Turner Sports commentator round table—was just so-so, though remarkable for being timely, with the result of the just-concluded game part of the jokes. The main joke—that the women’s tournament is far more worthy of attention this season—was certainly on point. And it featured an impersonation that some fans had been clamoring for: LSU coach Kim Mulkey. (Gardner, fresh off her 500th sketch last week, took the honors.)

Wiig wasn’t in that sketch, of course, because hosts rarely are in the opens. But the rest of the show, including “Weekend Update,” was dominated by her presence.

She was Nina, the bizarre date of a member of a group of friends attending a dinner party, who threw it into chaos by her irrational fear of board games—because of the movie Jumanji.

She was the dominatrix-like head trainer at a Pilates class, fashioned as a horror movie. She was one of a lineup of people offering inappropriate tributes at a retirement party, and her oxygen-tank toting weirdo was among the best of those. Damon, Rudd, Armisen and Forte (playing his old recurring character, Hamilton) all elbowed their way into that sketch and got laughs, especially Damon playing “Hollywood actor Matt Damon, from The Legend of Bagger Vance.”

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At some points, this episode looked less like a regular edition of SNL, than it did an all-star game.

Given her rare talent for creating bonkers characters, it was inevitable that Wiig would get a spot at the desk during “Update.” This was the only time she reached back into her packed toy box of creations from her tenure as an SNL cast member (though both Gilly and The Target Lady were in the lyrics of the song the guys in five-time jackets serenaded her with).

Wiig revived the ever-exasperated, self-appointed film critic Aunt Linda, who answered Colin Jost’s observation of “long time, no see” by calling him Seth, who had gotten “some work done.” (That’s Seth as in Meyers, of course, who was the “Update” anchor in the Wiig era. Aunt Linda later called him “Tina and Amy.”)

Linda predictably could make no sense of Barbie or Oppenheimer. And she was flummoxed by the TV show The Bear. She gave the lot of them a raft of “Whattts Going Ons?”

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Wiig finished the night by stealing a typical wee-hours off-the-wall sketch about “La Maison du Bang,” a French television show in the 1970’s (that it would have been a contemporary of the early “SNL” went unmentioned). The sketch was totally delivered in pigeon French. Wiig played “Tipi Tornade,” and wore a tied-dyed body suit while twisting her body and flapping her arms to the music, singing “Je danse!”

Tres simple, mais amusant.

Wiig has made some movies and is currently starring in the Apple TV+ series Palm Royale. But only a show like SNL can provide the kind of broad playing field where a spectacularly talented sketch artist like Wiig can become a breakout star. The show is never better than when it can rely on a performer with the range of a Wiig.

Next week also looks promising: Ryan Gosling will host with Chris Stapleton as music guest. Gosling apparently got to town early.

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