This has been a season unlike many others in recent memory for Saturday Night Live. Most of the cast members considered the show's "stars" have left in the last few seasons, and the show went scrambling to discover its next set of leaders. As always, the season finale is a star-studded event, and this time it seemed like most of the stars were the ones that created this season of newbies. You start with first-time host Andy Samberg, whose digital shorts introduced a new generation to SNL during his time as a cast member. Added to the mix were recent departures Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, and Fred Armisen among several other surprises. They obviously decided to make this season finale a sort of family reunion. It led to a funny episode at times, and in a strange way, showed that the show's new cast is handling this landmark American franchise well.
As always, the cold opening addresses a recent bit of current events. This time around we have a recent bit of security footage released of Jay-Z getting in a little spat with sister-in-law Solange Knowles. Any excuse for Jay Pharaoh to give one of his signature impressions makes the sketch worth it, but it also once again showed off a bright spot of the second half of the season in Sasheer Zamata. Just when you thought the sketch had run its course, in comes the first surprise of the night in the woman whose shoes Zamata is trying to fill, Maya Rudolph as Beyonce. This took the sketch to a whole new level as Rudolph shows once again why she is one of the greatest cast members of all time.
My question coming into this episode is how Andy Samberg would do being the focal point for an episode. As a cast member, he shined in little bit parts and his digital shorts. He rarely was ever featured in a live sketch. How would he do? Well, apparently this was Andy Samberg's concern as well as he made light of that fact during his monologue. How will he carry the show? We truly start to understand that the answer to this question will be ... with a little help from his friends. Cameo #2 came from Seth Meyers, who moved on earlier in the season but just moved down the hall to his Late Night set. He comes on to help Samberg try to break a record for impressions currently held by his buddy Bill Hader. He needs 23 impressions to set the record so in a lightning speed round, he rattles off enough to eclipse the record. Well you knew Bill Hader would have something to say about that, which he did as he made his first appearance on the show since leaving last season. This sure set the stage for the finale and also informed us of one piece of depressing news. Justin Timberlake was on tour in Russia and wouldn't be showing up. Sad, but he did leave Andy a message of encouragement.
For some reason, seeing Colin and Cecily wrap up the season at the Weekend Update desk validated their roles as anchors. They had arrived and officially etched their place in the show's history. For this final episode, there were two repeat guests coming to the Update desk, one was an obvious choice and one was an odd one. Both worked perfectly though. The first guest was one that showed up for the first time in the first episode of the season: Kyle Mooney's New York comic Bruce Chandling. The crux of the sketch is Chandling is a failed comedian for a reason: he's not funny. The first time around, nobody got it. The audience didn't know how to take it, and I didn't know how to take it either. An entire season has passed since that first failed bit, and more importantly we have had a season to get to know Kyle's different style of humor. I believe this was the main thing that changed this time around. Everything that didn't work the first time was hilarious this time. This character is just ridiculously awkward, and now that we get that this is the point of most of Mooney's comedy, this sketch was very well received.
The second guest was an obvious choice. With Samberg hosting, we had to go "In the Cage" as Andy busts out his iconic Nicolas Cage impression. His guest was yet another cameo, this time from Paul Rudd. These sketches are almost all the same as they mock Cage's bizarre mannerisms, choice of films, and just different way of going about life. Samberg is silly enough to highlight these quirks perfectly which makes them work every time.
The sketches on the whole were fairly average, but there were two that really shined above the rest. First came a sketch about summer camp that featured Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant as kid troublemakers at Camp Wicawabe. Samberg plays an older camper that wreaks havoc on the camp at a level that the girls don't even understand. Then comes Kyle Mooney as their 6 year old assistant with a xylophone and a great spot on little kid speech impediment. Maybe it's being a teacher, but there was something about this sketch that just made me laugh.
The second sketch was one of the more anticipated sketches of the season. What kind of digital short (or shorts) would Andy Samberg and the Lonely Island crew bring to his debut hosting gig? He brought two shorts, the first of which was the better of the two. Samberg plays a world famous DJ leading a concert by hitting buttons on his panel. The suspense builds as the song asks the question, "When will the bass drop?" No one quite expected the craziness that commenced when it finally did drop. This wasn't the best the Lonely Island crew has produced, but it was a welcome return.
Like I said, one of the questions coming into the episode was how well will Andy Samberg carry the average sketches on his own. The answer was, when he wasn't helped by his buddies, not well. This is the perfect example. Here he plays a confident hunchback as he wanders the bars hitting on women. That's really all there is to it. Doesn't sound that funny? There's a reason, it wasn't.
Dark Horse Sketch
Some of the best dark horse sketches of the season came from classic dark horse sketches coming back from past seasons with former cast members returning. This is a perfect example as we got to see the return of the Vogelchecks. All the former cast members on set popped out with Taran Killam, the closest thing to a star left on the cast, to display the over-affectionate family that loves to kiss each other. It's a classic sketch of waiting for the cast members to break. The out-of-practice cast alums broke a lot which added to the hilarity.
What was needed to make Andy Samberg a successful host made this a great season finale. The cameos are a welcome sight, but seeing this many former cast members show up add the nostalgia that make for a great final episode of the year. (It seemed like the only non-star was the musical guest who I had never heard of before.) However, also seeing the former cast members mingle with the current cast members really validated, in my mind, everything the current cast has accomplished this season. Many people have criticized this season as not being as funny as the past seasons or the so-called "glory days" of SNL. I think people confuse different for funny. This cast, 8 of which made their debuts this season, has some great potential moving forward. This wasn't the best episode of the season, but it was a fitting finish.