What did you think of SNL‘s 39th season?
Maybe, instead, we should begin with a different question: What did SNL itself think of its 39th season?
The answer: Not much, if Saturday’s finale was any indication. Any time a former cast member hosts the show, we’re guaranteed to see a barrage of cameos from fellow alumni. But the sheer volume of ex-repertory players that showed up last night — and stuck around, taking up more attention and screen time than some new featured players have gotten all season — made the finale feel more like an unearned victory lap than a standalone episode. We already know that Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are funny — but if SNL is going to survive into its fifth decade, which begins next fall, the show needs to consider its future as well as its past. You’ve got to feel for John Milhiser, Brooks Wheelan, Beck Bennett, Noël Wells, and Mike O’Brien, who might as well have stayed home Saturday night. (Sasheer Zamata, Kyle Mooney, and, of course, Colin Jost, who’s the show’s head writer as well as Weekend Update anchor: Breathe easy. You guys are safe for next season.)
Speaking of SNL‘s past: Host Andy Samberg was fine, if not a dynamo like fellow alumni hosts Maya Rudolph and Jimmy Fallon. His live sketch work had highs (Nicolas Cage!!) and lows (that 2 Chainz thing, which… what?); the same went for his two (count ’em: two!) Digital Shorts, which were amusing if not at the level of the Lonely Island’s best work. We can, however, credit Samberg with catalyzing the night’s…
When the Vogelchecks were a part of SNL‘s recurring stable, the sketch always made me roll my eyes; it seemed more like a game for its performers (“how badly can I freak out my friend with my tongue?”) than a bit designed to entertain its audience. But! All the SNL graduates who turned up to maul each other’s faces last night were clearly having a blast, and the whole Michael Sam reaction thing (the family is grossly over-affectionate, but thinks Sam kissing his boyfriend after being drafted into the NFL is a little much) gave the sketch a welcome topical twist. Bonus: The usually stoic Fred Armisen, breaking hard like his name was Fallon. Also, the fact that Taran Killam and Kate McKinnon were the only current cast members who made it into this sketch speaks volumes about their place in SNL‘s current pecking order.
Samberg — in a suit! My, how times have changed — knows that he was never exactly a standout in SNL‘s live sketches. He addressed this head-on in his opening monologue, before launching into a series of rapid-fire impressions — all in an attempt to beat the number of famous people impersonated by his pal Bill Hader. (Samberg said he had done 23 fewer impressions than Hader during his time on SNL; this incredibly comprehensive database puts the disparity at 28. Either way, neither can hold a candle to undisputed impressions master Darrell Hammond.) The bit poked fun at Samberg’s shortcomings, and also paved the way for cameos from Hader (of course), Seth Meyers (not a surprise), and Martin Short, who was also in the studio for some reason. I’m not complaining.
That would be “Blizzard Man,” an uninspired entry in the “white guys rapping?!?!?” genre. (Update: Samberg’s done it before; that doesn’t make it funny.) At least 2 Chainz seemed to be having a good time.
How much time do you have? (Actually, scratch that: Samberg managed to thank all of the night’s 500 surprise guests in about 10 seconds during the farewells, which may have been his most impressive performance of all.) Meyers, Hader, Short, Armisen, 2 Chainz, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Paul Rudd, Tatiana Maslany, Jorma Taccone, Pharrell Williams, Lil Jon — all were present and accounted for, either in live sketches or Digital Shorts. Hell, even Justin Timberlake made his presence known, even though he’s currently on tour in Russia:
So, out of this august group, whose cameo had the most impact? I’ll go with the first one of the evening: Rudolph, whose Beyoncé instantly elevated an only-okay cold open about ElevatorGate — even though she pretty much just stood there and looked awesome. Take notes, new cast — this is how it’s done. Nice stealth promotion for the premiere of tomorrow’s Maya Rudolph Variety Show, too.
Mulaney may not be the reason we’ve seen so little of Nasim Pedrad this season — but given that upcoming sitcom’s bright future at Fox, it’s almost certain that Pedrad won’t stick around in the fall. She’s been a cast member since 2009, giving her the third-longest tenure of everyone on SNL‘s current roster. (Which really says more about how young this cast is than it does about anything else.) Given that, you’d think there would be a little fanfare about Pedrad’s exit. Instead, all we got was one last edition of “Waking Up with Kimye.” I’ll always have a soft spot for this sketch — I love that its premise is basically just “Kanye loves Kim so much!” — but it’s still disappointing to see Pedrad’s departure as an afterthought, especially since she’s been sidelined for much of the year.
Best Musical Moment
Both Digital Shorts were musically-based, but here I’ll go with St. Vincent, both because a) we should probably mention the night’s musical guest at some point and b) the band’s synchronized arm movements were one of the night’s hidden gems. Also, her second song is called “Birth in Reverse,” which is kind of fascinatingly terrifying.
Bonus Dick Joke
Presenting “Testicules,” yet another pretaped short — although this one was cut from the show. Think that move was justified? It’s certainly better than “Blizzard Man.”
It’s tough to dole this one out on a night that made SNL‘s current cast feel like an afterthought. I’m tempted to cite Nasim, though she didn’t really have much of a presence in the episode. I’m also tempted to default to Kate McKinnon, who may as well have Cast MVP tattooed on her forehead. But there’s another cast member who deserves some recognition: Kyle Mooney, who had a small featured role in that only kinda-funny summer camp sketch and also brought back his Armisenian bad stand-up character for the year’s last Weekend Update. (Symmetry alert — he debuted Bruce Chandling in the year’s very first Update as well.) Those, plus the Sprint commercial that played in between segments, meant we saw more of Mooney last night than we have of John Milhiser all year.
I’m not that into Mooney’s absurdist anti-comedy “Good Neighbor” shorts; I don’t feel particularly strongly about Chandling, either. But there’s no denying that SNL itself is betting on Mooney; at this point, he’s one of the only new cast members with even a little bit of name recognition. It’ll be interesting to see how his presence grows after the SNL bloodletting that’ll certainly happen this summer.
– The show’s perfectly logical explanation for Solange attacking Jay-Z: There was a spider on him!
– “Confident Hunchback” was paper thin, but it did have a few memorable lines: “Oh, you’re bad.” “…At breathing, because of my mangled skeleton! Call me.”
– Single funniest line of the show: “I’m gonna T-bag the Magna Carta.”
– Things we learned tonight: Jay Pharoah cannot pronounce “Givenchy” to save his life.
– Legolas: “A red sun rises. Blood has been spilt this night.” Taco Bell employee: “That’s just sauce.”
– So this is the twilight of the Saboski Crystals girls sketch: Every other word is now gibberish. Maybe it’s time to take a break from this one?
– Hader and Meyers were both in the house — and yet we didn’t get an Update update about Seth and Stefon’s married life? For shame, SNL. For shame.