I can’t say this for sure, but I cannot recall any other Saturday Night Live cast member getting quite the send off Kristen Wiig got last weekend, dancing with Mick Jagger and being serenaded by The Arcade Fire and the rest of the cast with She’s a Rainbow and Ruby Tuesday.
Wiig has definitely been one of the brightest stars on SNL in recent seasons, and she is the last of a trio of brilliant women who have graced the stage of Studio 8H in the early 21st Century, along with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Early on, it was clear she was a unique talent, and her star rose over seven seasons, even if it did not always burn brightly. (As the Secret Word skit was foisted on us one last time Saturday night, a Facebook friend who is reliably up for SNL and I were grousing online about the skit we don’t even love to hate. We just hate it, as do many others judging by web chatter.)
But Wiig has hit more than she missed with her quirky persona, and an Oscar nomination of all things for Bridesmaids made it seem fairly certain this season was the last dance — Donna Summer reference, acknowledged — for her. But was she the only one leaving after Saturday?
Two other cast members are widely reported to be on their way out: Andy Samberg and Jason Sudekis, who both stood in the background Saturday night/Sunday morning as Wiig was celebrated.
I’ve heard some contend that Lazy Sunday 2, the final SNL Digital Short was Samberg’s send-off, but that would be like saying Secret Word was Wiig’s farewell. Final performance? Yes. But dance with Jagger? No.
And it is fair to argue Samberg has been as vital to sustained interest in Saturday Night Live as anyone in the cast the last couple years. The Digital Shorts — including I’m on a Boat, Laser Cats and some classics we cannot name on a family newspaper blog — started with Lazy Sunday, a rap by Samberg and Chris Parnell about going to see The Chronicles of Narnia, which became a viral video sensation before we really understood what viral videos were. They made classic use of guest celebrities, whether they were the show host or not, like Justin Timberlake and Michael Bolton. My favorite was Natalie Portman’s gangsta rap.
Many nights, slogging through lame skit after lame skit, the Digital Short was the only thing worth staying up for. But recently, if it was really good, your friends would have it up on Facebook in the morning, if you missed it.
Sudekis maybe hasn’t had quite the signature of Wiig or Samberg, but he has been a reliable player and is building a film and TV career with a few successes like Horrible Bosses under his belt. One argument I heard as to why he wasn’t as heralded as others was that owning the Mitt Romney and Joe Biden impressions, he may stick around through the election. No departures have been formally announced, though both Wiig and Samberg’s seemed to be sealed Saturday — Lazy Sunday 2 ended with Samberg declaring, “That’s how I’ma finish it!” It was poetic, really.
If all three are gone, executive producer Lorne Michaels has a bigger recruiting job than John Calipari building a new cast for the fall. SNL’s bench is mighty shallow.
Wiig’s farewell was a sweet and tasteful way to end the season, and maybe she got it because she was the class valedictorian. But if that’s so, it was only by a few points.