Saturday Night Live recap: Tina Fey returns for star-studded season 43 finale
SNL alum Tina Fey returns as host for the sixth time since leaving the cast in 2006
Another season of Saturday Night Live has come to an end. Former cast member and head writer Tina Fey returned as host for the sixth time since leaving the cast to help close out the illustrious sketch show’s 43rd season. Fey gave it her all in an episode so full of celebrity cameos that it might be easier to list who wasn’t there (Amy Poehler, sadly), but the star power outnumbered the laughs in a ho-hum finale.
Here are the highlights from the celeb-packed show:
Cold Open: Don’t stop believin’ in political sketches
After politics took a back seat to moms in last week’s SNL, this week’s cold open was a return to form with Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump making his comeback in a sendup of the infamous Sopranos series finale. Baldwin’s Trump meets with Kate McKinnon’s Rudy Giuliani in a diner in Bloomfield, New Jersey, while Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” plays on the table jukebox. First sons Don Jr. and Eric Trump (Mikey Day and Alex Moffat) also make an appearance, as do Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro in their return as Michael Cohen and Robert Mueller, respectively. As the rest of the team tries to figure out how to protect the president (faking his own death, Giuliani suggests), Trump is haunted by a lurking Mueller before the screen goes black in a familiar ambiguous ending. The sketch mostly felt like a way to showcase the group and bring Baldwin on for a Fey-hosted show, but aside from the visual of Eric Trump parallel-parking a Big Wheel, it was short on laughs.
Monologue: Celeb cameo crisis
Fey’s monologue was the standard audience Q&A format, but this audience was filled to the brim with famous faces who had some queries, including:
Jerry Seinfeld, who wondered if the show “has too many celebrity cameos these days.”
Benedict Cumberbatch, who wanted to make sure Kenan Thompson would be on the show this week.
Chris Rock, who was going to ask the same question.
Robert De Niro, who asked if it was easy to tell he was the one playing Mueller in the cold open.
Fred Armisen, who was curious if Fey thought it was weird so many former cast members were still hanging around the show all the time.
Anne Hathaway, who just wanted to point out “that was Robert De Niro.”
Donald Glover, who was just there to look for a hat he left in a dressing room when he hosted a couple weeks ago.
And finally, Tracy Morgan, who wanted to wish his former SNL and 30 Rock costar a happy birthday, even if he was a day late.
It was nice that the monologue got meta to address the fact that although it’s fun when famous faces pop up, a parade of celebrities can be at the cast members’ expense. Every time a role is filled with stunt casting, we lose the opportunity to find out just what Luke Null has to offer.
Best turn-around time: Royal wedding after-party
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding took place just hours before SNL’s dress rehearsal, but the show still managed to work it in, complete with some spot-on costume recreations. Day’s Harry Windsor, “a.k.a. Ron Sleazely,” offered a peek inside the raucous royal wedding reception where Markle’s family members and a fellow Deal or No Deal model who brought her briefcase with her (“That’s not sad at all!”) mingled with the likes of Queen Elizabeth (McKinnon), Prince William (Moffat) and Elton John (Aidy Bryant). The real highlight was seeing Day and Moffat reprise their impressions of the royal bros ribbing each other. More on the magical chemistry of this pair later.
Best revival: The ghost of Sarah Palin
Fey revived her beloved Sarah Palin impression to offer a message to everyone in the Trump White House: “Take it from me, politics is a wild ride; one minute you’re on top, and then you’re gone in the blink of a Scaramucci.”
The sketch offered what was hopefully a last appearance from the likes of Fred Armisen’s Michael Wolf, Leslie Jones’ Omarosa, John Goodman’s Rex Tillerson, and Cecily Strong’s Stormy Daniels. Aidy Bryant’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kate McKinnon with an amazing aerial entrance as Kellyanne Conway also appeared in the medley of current and former Trump associates joining Palin for a rendition of “What I Did for Love” from A Chorus Line, changed to “What I Did for Trump,” or with him in Daniels’ case.
Although it was fun to see Fey back in character as Palin and McKinnon always shines as Conway, the sketch felt crowded and like it should have been the cold open.
Comedy nerd sketch of the night: ‘Chicago Improv’
For anyone who’s taken an improv class, watched an improv show, or listened to pretty much any comedy podcast, this sketch is pure gold. A hilarious addition to the ever-expanding Chicago-based TV franchise, “Dick Wolf’s Chicago Improv” follows a group of plaid-clad improvisers trying to keep their Harold team from falling apart in a new series that even Improv Magazine says has “too much improv.” The cast members here are pitch-perfect in their earnest portrayal of people trying to become stars in the Chicago improv scene, probably because most of them — and the majority of SNL alumni — got their start with prominent improv theater companies, such as the Groundlings, Second City, iO, and UCB.
Best ‘Weekend Update’ bits
It was another fairly lackluster week for “Weekend Update,” although Michael Che and Colin Jost had a fun segment resurrecting past jokes deemed too offensive to include on air previously. The segment allowed the anchors to interact with each other a bit more than usual, which always leads to extra laughs. The real highlight of the segment was another outstanding visit from Moffat and Day’s Trump brothers. And no, this is still not the last you’ve heard of my praise for these two in this recap.
Musical moment: Nicki Minaj
For her first song, Nicki Minaj performed “Chun-Li” with costumes and set design inspired by the first female combatant in the Street Fighter video game series. The performance had Twitter debating whether the rapper had crossed the line of cultural appropriation. Minaj also performed “Poke It Out” with Playboi Carti.
Final cameo count: a full dozen!
Cast MVPs: Mikey Day and Alex Moffat
Featured players have been stealing the show all season. Heidi Gardener has been a consistent standout, and Chris Redd has left me wanting more. But nobody has worked harder than the dynamic duo of Day and Moffat, and I’m still astounded they weren’t promoted to repertory players at the end of last season. Day and Moffat have appeared in a majority of sketches all season, often in leading roles. Both are fully capable of doing solo heavy lifting, but their teamwork as Trump brothers Donald and Eric and royal Princes Harry and William has been truly outstanding, and I can’t wait to see what else they do. Judging by our current crop of featured players, the future of SNL is in great hands.
Now we wait. There’s been no word yet whether we’ll get a primetime Weekend Update: Summer Edition, as we did last year, but with Jost and Che tapped to host the Emmys in September, the anchors certainly seem to have the confidence of NBC. If not, it’s going to be an even longer summer of waiting to find out when the show will return for its 44th season, which cast members will be returning, and which didn’t get the chance to say a proper goodbye.