The Academy Awards came and went without a win for her screenplay, but there’s no question that Kristen Wiig is a hot commodity. The sink-pooping hilarity of Bridesmaids, which she co-wrote over a number of years, has only fueled her rising star as a Saturday Night Live featured player. And there are reports floating that she’s planning on leaving SNL at the end of the season.
If so we’ll really miss the myriad characters, original and impersonated, that she parades around SNL like someone proud to wear toilet paper on her shoe. To wit, here are some of the biggest hits and misses of Wiig’s SNL career:
The Target Lady
Jazzed by the love of her employer and off her ADHD meds, The Target Lady is a hyper-enthused employee always fleeing her checkout station to score deals she’s found from customers. As a good vehicle for guest stars like Justin Timberlake’s equally nutty Peg, Wiig sports a bowl cut (“bangs that go all around her head”) and an indiscernible Midwestern-Alaska twang that I’m still trying to get out of my head. Wiig says the inspiration came from a checkout gal at a Target in Burbank, Calif., so we should probably find that lady and thank her. Grade: A
How many times can you reprimand a nerdy troublemaker in an Afro and a pink bow and have it be funny? “Gilly…” was the familiar refrain from then-fellow cast member Will Forte, which was mildly funny at first but got stale quickly. Wiig told Time magazine’s Joel Klein that she was hanging up this character along with Penelope (see below), and we’re glad she did. Grade: D+
The same could be said for this character, initially created during the show starring Anne Hathaway, Wiig says. The malformed, fang-toothed member of the sister act wasn’t ever funny or watchable, and it has become an exhausting chore. One recent caveat, though, was Melissa McCarthy’s balls-to-the-wall hosting performance in which she played Junice’s buck-toothed, muscle-bound sister. Grade: C+
If you thought one-upsmanship was just a GOP primary, you’d be wrong – it also was an SNL skit. You know the type: the bragging party girl who is not satisfied just being the center of attention, but the most successful at all costs, too. Penelope pops in at parties and even the ocassional group-therapy session. Her one redeeming quality is that she scored a cameo by Liza Minnelli. The hair-pulling outlandishness was funny at first, but like Gilly, Penelope played herself out. Grade: C
Comedians like Wiig are often the best life observers. Such is the case with her creation of the perfectly irascible Aunt Linda, who was inspired by a plane ride during which Wiig sat next to a confused woman commenting loudly on a movie. This character formed the perfect foil for Seth Meyer’s straight man during “Weekend Update,” and stays current and fresh by spoofing the latest movies. Grade: B+
Perhaps Wiig’s most enduring, demanding character of all, Judy Grimes is a travel writer who is so deeply self-conscious that she spews rapid-fire, “just kidding” non-sequiturs like a machine gun. This was an early look at the brilliance and quickness of Wiig, who must be able to speed-read cue cards better than any SNL player in history. As a travel writer, I approve. Grade: A-
Garth & Kat
This always-late but never dull duo is one of the only fully improvised sketches on SNL. Like Judy Grimes, they are guests on “Update,” but unlike the Grimes travel writer they’ve gone past their sell-date. Although I give props to the pair for the unscripted vibe, a bit’s thin novelty cannot sustain it for more than a few iterations. The success of Garth & Kat, though, should prove to Lorne Michaels that we could use more skits built around improv. That is, after all, the heart of the comedy game. Grade: C+
The password-divulging chanteuse is definitely one of my favorites, and, like Target Lady, is a solid vehicle for guest hosts. “Secret Word,” hosted by Bill Heder – worthy of his own memorable-character mash-up – shows Wiig in her element, playing Grayson with the unflappable drama of an actress permanently banished to always-in-preview community theater. “I have a new agent, and he says we’re going to play The Waiting Game.” Good stuff. Grade: B+
This sketch has devolved from a bizarre sex romp to a lame excuse to tell fart jokes. Intended as a juxtaposition of a hot-lady bombshell doing disgusting things, Shanna has moved into freshman-league, opportunistic joke-land, and it’s time to put her to bed for good. Grade: F
The Savannah accent could use some work, say some snarky blogs, but Wiig’s take on the Type II diabetes sufferer is just a lot of “butter is your friend, y’all” fun. She most recently appeared on “Weekend Update” holding a chicken leg and using a stick of butter as lip-gloss. Grade: B
Kathy Lee Gifford
Admittedly, Kathy Lee is a walking parody of herself, but Wiig takes it 10 steps further by hurling insult after insult at her co-host, Hoda Kotb, whom she has called “Osama bin Lonely.” Wiig amplifies her impersonation of the Coconut Zinfandel-sipping host with nimble deprecation. “I often go uninvited to hospitals, burst into a random room, push past any family or doctors, and sing ballads to children who have no idea who I am.” Anyone who gets the snot kicked out of them by the Black Eyed Peas deserves kudos. Grade: A
In the way that impersonations can become more of the people they parody – the obvious choice is Tina Fey’s now-iconic Sarah Palin – Wiig strikes just the right notes in spoofing Oprah’s frosty Lesbian financial guru. The sexual tension with recent SNL guest host Jane Lynch was priceless as they reminisced about their days at Amelia EarhartCommunity College. The lesbian innuendos and double entendres never get old. Grade: A-
Honorable mention for Wiig goes to her political characters, including Michele Bachmann, Christine O’Donnell and Nancy Pelosi, whom she skewered during an SNL cold open just after Pelosi assumed the speakership in 2006.
Wiig recently did a desperately needed spoof of Lana Del Rey’s “performance” on SNL, and who else in the current SNL cast could have nailed that impersonation so perfectly. Wiig’s work is a mainstay of the show, and if she really does leave after this season as some are speculating, it would be a big loss.
Maybe now isn’t the best time for her to exit. Some of Wiig’s great characters still have legs, not to mention doll hands.
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Will Pollock is an Atlanta-based freelance culture and entertainment writer, photographer, musician and artist. He is founder and director of ARTvision Atlanta and is also working on a number of books, including “Instinct in the Round: Gourmet Pizza for Good.” He blogs about politics, pop-culture and other nonsense, and you can follow him on Twitter.
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