With the last Saturday Night Live season to air during a US presidential election (season 34) being one of its best ever, season 38 had a lot to live up to. Yet it began the season in dire straights. Gone from the cast were the show’s leading lady (Kristen Wiig) and the man who pretty much created the current style of Saturday Night Live by trying to get the biggest “Youtube” moments possible (Andy Samburg). Yet the show handled these exits quite well in the early going. A solid first half gave hope that this season could be something special. It wasn’t until the show came back from the holiday break that it began to go downhill. And downhill it went.
In season 38 of Saturday Night Live the show finally made the right decision and gave Jay Pharoah (who was also upped to regular status along with Vanessa Bayer and Taran Killam) the role of Barack Obama while Jason Sudeikis portrayed Mitt Romney. New featured members of the cast included Aidy Bryant, Tim Robinson, Cecily Strong and scene-stealer Kate McKinnon. Seth Meyers returned as the show’s head writer.
The start of the season started off strong with a solid season premiere hosted by Seth MacFarlane and some big names in Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Daniel Craig, Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Renner hosting later in the fall. However, it wasn’t until Martin Short’s Christmas episode that the season finally showed a memorable episode. With numerous guest appearances (including Samuel L. Jackson dropping a few f-bombs in a “What Up with That?” skit) and a lot of energy on the part of Short it was a home run. While Seth Meyers and company’s lazy writing was still a problem for the first half of the season, the hosts were normally able to overcome it.
That would not be the case with the second half. Problem signs emerged immediately with the winter premiere. Jennifer Lawrence is a talented actress and would seemingly make for a great comedic actress. Yet the show consistently put her in the worst roles possible for her winter premiere episode. The now infamous dog skit was an example of everything that was wrong with not only this episode but also the entire season. Miscasting and poor writing quickly sank this season, and it didn’t help that the show at one point had two musicians host the show in back-to-back episodes (Adam Levine showing how you can’t survive on this show by just looking good and Justin Bieber in a show that was too tightly produced and managed to allow the episode to breathe).
Sure there were some highlights in the back half of the season (Christoph Waltz nailed his episode and “Jesus Uncrossed” will be a highlight for years to come while Justin Timberlake is always great) but even a strong finale (hosted by Ben Affleck and including a grand farewell to Bill Hader and his greatest creation, Stefon) couldn’t save this season. Season 38 of Saturday Night Live will be remembered as one of its worst seasons to date and yet it did provide us with a few new skits that work effectively (“the two porn stars trying to sell a product” skit comes quickly to mind) and a very effective farewell to an all-time great cast member in Bill Hader.