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SNL Recap: Welcome Home, Ben Who-Fleck

It was probably a good thing that Ben Affleck didn't have anything specific to promote this week as host of SNL, because his fifth time hosting the show — so celebrated a couple months ago when Justin Timberlake reached that milestone (as referenced/goofed on in Affleck's monologue — was overshadowed somewhat by the final performances of cast members Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, and maybe/unofficially Jason Sudeikis. This is both a blessing and a curse for Affleck. Sure, no celebrity wants to host SNL and get no tangible bump from it, but the dimmed spotlight on Affleck allowed this season finale to be a hugely successful episode despite the fact that its host wasn't very good. Cue-card fumblings and visible nerves should not be a problem with a five-time host, and while he definitely had some bright spots as the show went on, it's becoming clearer and clearer that acting is not the guy's strong suit. One day, he'll be our Ron Howard, and we'll wonder how we ever thought of him as an actor in the first place. Sorry, Ben. You'll always have "BEN WHO-FLECK?!"

As for the departing Hader and Armisen, they went out strong, with specific bows for Stefon (as expected) and Ian Rotten. Perhaps if Sudeikis had properly announced, we'd have gotten him running-man-ing out into the sunset on one last "What Up With That?" Regardless, I was more transfixed than ever watching the goodbyes, with Hader tearing up and Amy Poehler welcoming Armisen into the Great Beyond (as she did for Kristen Wiig last year). Plus, the bonus comedy of seeing Kanye West trying to behave while people are having honest human emotions that have nothing to do with him.

Most Improved of the Week
After a couple weeks' worth of truly dismal cold opens, this week righted the ship with Kenan Thompson as MSNBC's own Al Sharpton, talking about the IRS scandal. Thompson has a lot of fun with Sharpton's passion, his inattention to detail, but also that kind of "c'mon, man" boiling-it-down thing he does. The running gag of him mispronouncing simple words hits his peak when pronouncing "bar graph" as "bar grap-hah," and he brought special attention to the work of Senator Matthew McConnell and his new film Mud.

Added Value of the Week
I should point out that my dad will be so disappointed that Ben Affleck shaved off his Argo beard, as he will no longer be able to compare it to my own. (Like Ben, I will not shave mine off until I have won an Academy Award.) It's funny, but a shaved Ben looks less and less like himself and more like Casey Affleck's Brother. Anyway, after some "five-timers sloppy seconds" material, Ben brought out his lovely and underutilized wife Jennifer Garner for the first of two comedy bits based off of his "marriage is work" line from his Oscar speech. It's kind of unfair, because Garner's presence makes this segment criticism-proof, at least from my standpoint. She really just increases his worth so much. And I admit, I really want to know what he whispered to her at the end.


Gigli Joke of the Week
I very much enjoyed the Argo sketch, even though it underlined just how much Affleck doesn't have a current project to promote. (Stop it. They're not going to talk about To the Wonder on SNL.)  And even though Affleck's constant breaking whenever he was the butt of a joke came across as self-satisfied, "look at me, laughing at myself!" aggrandizement. Yes, yes, we all remember how bad Gigli was for you. Back to the sketch. Otherwise, I loved Armisen doing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doing Affleck ("I'm gonna do the next scene shirtless because I love my body"), as well as any sketch that can get a good Elders of Zion joke in there.


Comedic Truth of the Week
The Xanax ad for people feeling anxiety about not being fab enough to attend their schedule of Gay Summer Weddings was a super solid commercial parody, not the least of which because GURL, I FEEL YOU. For a second, I thought that was Taran Killam as both grooms, which, honestly, would have been perfect. Having him and Sudeikis merely look like they COULD be the same person is good enough. One day, I'll get that grant and begin my study on gay couples who look alike. I could not be more fascinated.


Secret Hooker of the Week
On a lesser episode, the Annie knockoff with Hader and Kate McKinnon trying to reap the kindness of wealthy businessman Affleck would have been a decent highlight, but with so many better options this week, it turns out to be pretty forgettable, aside from Affleck's mealy mouthed attempt at a weird Jimmy Stewart/Edward G. Robinson accent. Still, it was worth it just for the "hinge-maker ain't exactly the password for poontang!" line.


Vanessa Bayer Quiet Dignity of the Week
Ultimately, the Aversion-Therapy Summer Camp for Gays sketch doesn't go anywhere, and even VB's QD only lasts for like half a beat, but A) everything Bobby Moynihan does in his cutaways is fantastic, and B) not to be unseemly, but that thing where open-mouthed Taran Killam gets as close as humanly possible to Affleck before pulling away at the last possible second is a talent that could probably be monetized in some other medium.


Crowd-Pleaser of the Week
Oh, I was so happy for that unexpected (by me, at least) "Really!?! with Seth and Amy" on Update. Good time for it, too, with the IRS scandal and all. Amy's "Really?!" warmups were fantastic and felt off-the-cuff, while the "Obambo" joke (among many others) killed. I was psyched that Amy stuck around for the rest of Update, and apparently I wasn't the only one, as that one extra-husky voice from the audience who shouted "YEAH!" knows what I'm talking about. We were both rewarded with an A+ bacon/cop joke, as well as a floating high-five after the David Beckham "bending it" punchline. If I ever don't love a floating high-five bit, check my pulse.


Callback of the Forever
So, we all knew the Last Stefon Ever (Until Bill Hader Comes Back to Host, or Maybe Just Cameo or Whatever) was going to be a big deal, but I certainly didn't expect it to be as expansive as it was. After a standard Stefon club description ("the table from Charlie Rose!"), he gets fed up with Seth's snarkiness and storms out, at which point things get bananas. The Stefon/Seth unrequited-love aspect of these sketches has become increasingly prominent over the years, so I guess this would be the way to end it. Mostly, it was an excuse for like 8 billion sight gags as Seth enters the church for Stefon's wedding (to Anderson Cooper, who will probably end up hosting the Today show soon, so it's good that he starts his NBC cameos early). I am not the man to catalog every Stefon-referenced attendee at the wedding (though I'm sure some kind internet soul will), but I will say that the presence of DJ Baby Bok Choy made me happier than anything on any finale of any show this season. And then to see Seth and Stefon reunited at the Update desk, feted by Amy, The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation With, Ariana Huffington, Ann Romney, Bar Mitzvah Boy Jacob, Drunk Uncle, and Satan — it all felt appropriately epic.


Wide-Penis Joke of the Week
Greg's Memorial Service was dumb but funny in a way that I like, with characters just piling on horrible things about the not-so-deceased, while Greg stands around in a terrible disguise, pretending to be Mexican. If this was a next-level burn on Affleck for playing a character of Latino descent in Argo, I tip my cap.


Strong Finish of the Week
When Cecily Strong and Vanessa Bayer reprised the Saboski Crystals girls in the Timberlake episode, I was nervous about it getting run into the ground so quickly. As last week's episode reminded us, nothing ruins a pristine Dooneese sketch like nine more Dooneese sketches. But if ex-porn stars Brook-e and I Don't Know are going to burn out anyway, better to just go for it, and this particular testimonial for Herman's Handbags went for it. I imagine I'll watch this a good 8-10 more times before I feel like I've gotten all the best stuff, from spinning on a golden wiener to getting banged through a glass ceiling for feminism. Bayer allllmost breaks on "my eye almost got sucked out by a butt," but she recovers. That girl has a constitution that cannot be fucked with. Meanwhile, this was easily Affleck's strongest sketch of the night. He was hot. Hot like a herpes handbag. If nothing else (and it's everything else), this sketch is a good end-of-season reminder of how Bayer and Strong (along with McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, and — when the show bothers to use her — Nasim Pedrad) really stepped up in the wake of Kristen Wiig's departure. The men will have to do the same next year with Hader/Armisen/MaybeSudeikis gone, but with Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan, the young core of the show is strong.


High Emotions of the Week
Rather than shed any genuine tears, the weepiest moment of the show came during the Engagement Party sketch, with Hader, Affleck, Armisen, Sudeikis, Killam, and Moynihan each playing a cop who turns to blubber when it comes time to speechify. Many, many bonus points for Killam's hiccupping sobs/borderline seizure.


Classy Sendoff of the Season
With Hader getting his Stefon-style curtain call earlier, Armisen got a bow of his own as Ian Rubbish and the Bizarros performed with an all-star cast of rockers (Aimee Mann! Kim Gordon! J. Mascis!), including his Portlandia pal Carrie Brownstein. It felt very Conan, with excessive sentiment filtered not through tears but through rock-star aspirations being indulged. If given the choice, I'd still probably opt for Kristen Wiig dancing to "She's a Rainbow," but this was a sweet and classy way to send off one of the show's most talented performers.