Saturday Night Live frequently recruits a former cast member (or a veteran host) to close out the season finale. It makes for a nice treat for longtime SNL fans — and it probably makes the exhausted cast’s jobs a little easier when the host is an old pro. Season 41’s finale was no exception, as longtime cast member Fred Armisen — seriously, he was on the show for 11 seasons — made his return to Studio 8H. Over the course of his run, Armisen was a versatile cast member, and although he could fit right in to your standard political cold opens or game show sketches, he was also the guy who was just a little bit… offbeat. As SNL host, he was no different — and it made for a solid, slightly eccentric end to season 41.
Armisen let us know what we were in for immediately, replacing the traditional monologue with a performance of his own one-man show: “Love from New York, I Did Saturday’s [sic] Right: Fun Fame & Fred On the 17th Floor.” Over the course of the seven-minute bit — lengthy, for an SNL monologue! — Armisen traced his path from Long Island nobody to SNL star, recreating his audition and harassing a poor audience members with his repeated queries of “Is this a dream?”
It was a refreshing change of pace after a season of musical openings or monologues packed with cameos — the cameos would come later — and it set the stage for one of the most delightful and bizarre SNL episodes of the season.
Hillary and Bernie’s last dance
Our first cameo of the night came in the cold open, which found Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton celebrating her inevitable victory alone in a bar, only to be interrupted by the return of Larry David’s Bernie Sanders. David’s impression of Sanders has been one of the highlights of season 41 — he’s basically a cast member at this point — and it’s always fun to watch him trade barbs with McKinnon. The pair bonded over drinks and shared secrets about the campaign trail, culminating in an elaborate dance number that took them through Studio 8H and let Hillary push Bernie straight into an open elevator and out of her life.
It’s always a thrill to see that black title card promising “An SNL Digital Short” because it means The Lonely Island is back — and the trio definitely delivered. Andy Samberg showed up as Conner4Real, the rapper/singer from The Lonely Island’s upcoming movie Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, and the music video for “Finest Girl” was The Lonely Island at its best: a catchy and profane pop song with a twist: Conner meets the girl of his dreams, who has an Osama Bin Laden kink. Armisen even showed up as Bin Laden himself, making the whole thing feel like the spiritual sequel to the classic digital short “Iran So Far.”
The return of Regine
Armisen didn’t spend too much time reprising his classic SNL characters. (Although I was a little surprised that we didn’t get a Californians, a performance by Garth and Kat, or an appearance by a dictator’s best friends from growing up.) Instead, we got Armisen’s self-important Regine, appearing as the girlfriend of an adoring Jason Sudeikis. Both Sudeikis and Armisen went all in, whether it was Armisen twitching and flailing across the couch or Sudeikis nonchalantly eating guacamole off of Regine’s shoe. No wonder Vanessa Bayer and Aidy Bryant were struggling to keep a straight face.
Farewell, Mr. Bunting
O captain, my captain, indeed. This pre-taped parody of Dead Poets Society was, hands down, the best sketch of the night — if not the entire season. If you haven’t watched it yet, I wont spoil the ending, but the total commitment from Beck Bennett and Pete Davidson as the students of a disgraced poetry teacher (Armisen) made the payoff all the more hilarious — and horrifying.
After a shaky season, anchors Michael Che and Colin Jost cemented just how far they’ve come, delivering a final Weekend Update with a bit of a bite. The duo went in hard on Donald Trump (although some of the jokes lose their edge when you remember that this is the season where he actually hosted an episode). “It makes sense that the NRA would endorse Trump because Trump himself is kind of like a gun,” Jost said. “We think he’s going to make us feel safe and strong, but he might end up accidentally killing us.”
Kenan Thompson also stopped by the Update desk as the ever optimistic Willie, but SNL alum Maya Rudolph also made a surprise appearance as impeached Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, spouting nonsense while toting a cigar, a fruity drink, and a hairstyle stolen from Rue McClanahan. But even though she’s been kicked out of office, Rousseff is optimistic about the things Brazil has left to do before hosting the Rio Olympics: “Take one million poo-poos out of the river and build all the buildings.”
Between the Lonely Island’s “Finest Girl” and a later appearance by the Harkin Brothers, the entire episode had a musical slant, but Courtney Barnett stole the show as the official musical guest, rocking out to two songs off her first album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. The Aussie singer/songwriter made her SNL debut with “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party” and “Pedestrian at Best,” bringing a little bit of rock ‘n roll to Studio 8H.
The Harkin Brothers
The cast closed out the episode — and the season — with a musical moment of their own, donning denim and long wigs for a performance by The Harkin Brothers, an enormous Southern rock band from Arkansas. Samberg, David, Rudolph, Sudeikis, and frequent Armisen collaborator Carrie Brownstein all packed the stage to perform “Summertime in Fayetteville,” and it was both a cute callback to Armisen’s last show, when he gave one last performance as Ian Rubbish, and a fitting way to end the season. Happy summer, Saturday Night Live.