Saturday Night Live S41, E21: Fred Armisen, Stellar Guest Stars Close Out The Season With A Bang

My friends, the time has come. Once again, Saturday Night Live will put on its final episode of the season. Studio 8H will no longer be home to live episodes until September. Never fear! My reviews will only temporarily end. Next week, you can see my thoughts on the season as a whole; I will detail what, in my personal opinion, constitutes the best and the worst of the season. (Spoilers: The Tracy Morgan episode is going to be high on the list.) 

Be that as it may, now is not the time to discuss Mr. Morgan. We dedicate tonight to Fred Armisen, alumnus of the show, and one of the original cast members from when I began my obsession with it. He is a master impressionist, solid musical performer, co-star of Portlandia, and an all-around swell guy. To my delight, he is the host of the season finale. Will there be guest stars, possibly other former cast members? Most likely! After all, that’s a tradition for episodes where old cast members return. Will he reprise an old role? Could be!

Will Maya Rudolph show up to promote her upcoming variety show with Martin Short, another former cast member? Perhaps. Is it likely that Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy will appear for a Ghostbusters sketch? I definitely hope so. (SNL, get Paul Feig to host the show next season, with special appearances from Kristen and Melissa!) Whatever happens, I can’t wait to see it. See you on the other side! Live, from New York, it’s Saturday night!

Cold Opening: In a rare moment of continuity, SNL ends the season directly as it starts, albeit not in a cold opening. Hilary Clinton (Kate McKinnon) and Bernie Sanders (Larry David) spend some time together in the bar, along with some not-so-friendly sniping and using alcohol as metaphors for the election. It’s rather sweet, seeing them take a break from their Spy Vs. Spy-like duel to share a dance. Dancing off the set and across the studio makes it into an act of whimsy. The ending joke with Clinton resuming their competition by shoving Bernie into an elevator and then banding together with the entire cast to deliver the signature opening makes it even more charming. I am of the opinion that this is the happiest cold opening all year. It really shows how much of a family they really are.

Monologue: The monologue extends the sweetness by having Fred Armisen show off his impressive vocal range by performing a scene from his fictitious one-man-show based on his SNL audition. We need more creative monologues like this, instead of the more typical ones. It helps to mix things up and not let the material get stale. We even get a dash of interaction with an audience member. For the record, I would absolutely see Fred’s entire one-man show, regardless of how long it is.

Classroom Performance Of Lewis And Clark: Is it me, or does it seem like Pete Davidson’s character is always dressed up like Steve from Blue’s Clues? In this sketch, a group of performers visits a classroom to put on a play based on Sacagawea, Lewis, and Clark. Said play turns out to be horribly offensive, with the in-universe actor for Sacagawea being very offensive in her portrayal of her and both Lewis and Clark being creepily attracted to Sacagawea. The teacher doesn’t seem to realize that any of it is wrong. Normally, I wouldn’t like the sketch, but the reaction of the students and the goofy way Fred Armisen and Kyle Mooney acted sold it for me.

SNL Digital Short: Conor4real- F*ck Osama FRAK YEAH! In case you didn’t realize it, Andy Samberg and the rest of the Lonely Island crew made a mockumentary movie called Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping, parodying musician-mockumentaries like the Katy Perry movie and the Justin Bieber movie. In this case, the song featured in the sketch is reportedly going to be in the movie in some capacity. It features Conor4real’s take of dating a woman who wanted to be treated as if she was Osama Bin Laden, complete with a fake beard. I honestly can’t explain it. It’s so weird, you just have to experience it for yourself. It’s phenomenal to see another Lonely Island creation on the small screen, just like old times.

Regine Returns: YES, another cameo! Jason Sudeikis returns with his date,  Fred Armisen’s old character of Regine. To be completely honest, I’ve never liked that character (finding the sketches to be fairly boring) but I actually really liked this one. Regine’s weird body movements whenever she’s touched by her boyfriend reminds me of the way my dog will roll around on the floor whenever I give him a tummy rub. This makes it a good sketch in my mind, along with the way the rest of the cast has to struggle to avoid completely breaking character. We need more physical comedy on SNL. Jason and Fred’s antics remind me of Seinfeld’s Kramer in the best way possible.

Farewell, Mr. Bunting: What have I done to earn such a glorious treat? We get the return of Andy Samberg with a classic Digital Short and a prerecorded film from, I assume, Kyle Mooney. Whoever made it, I applaud them. The sketch is a parody of the climactic scene from Dead Poets Society, only it turns very, very bloody in an unexpected twist. This is gory shock humor done correctly.

Weekend Update: I called it, everyone. Maya Rudolph made a cameo in Weekend Update! And even if you took out her glorious appearance, it would still be an outstanding edition. Colin and Michael continue to make fun of each other during the jokes, and they tell some of the rejected jokes from the season. After all, it’s the end of the season. As Michael says, “What are they going to do, fire Colin?” Topping it all off, Kenan Thompson’s character of Willie returns, delivering more horrifying tales of his depressing life, all with a gleeful smile and a non-sequitur.

Heroic Sacrifice In Outer Space: This sketch takes the old plot of a doomed spaceship with only one astronaut able to survive and turns in on its ear. Fred Armisen’s character draws the lot of being the only one able to fit in the escape pod. He says his tearful farewells to his comrades, straps into the seat… and the computer system asks him questions more akin to a futuristic spa. While his crewmates disgustedly look on, he chooses a meal, a massage chair, and an in-flight movie. As it turns out, his portion of the ship is doomed while the other astronauts are saved, so they leave him to fly into the sun and die. The delivery of Fred’s apologetic remarks getting cut off by choosing in-flight luxuries is hilarious. The sketch isn’t laugh-out-loud like some others in the episode, but it is pretty good.

Student Theatre Showcase: Holy moly, another edition of the “Student Theater Showcase” sketch. There really isn’t much to say about this sketch. It just consists of a social-justice themed play by students, while the parents complain in the audience. The play itself is delivered in a series of short bursts, making the punchlines funnier, and while the students are well-meaning, it comes off as being pretentious rather than inclusive. That’s why the parents complain. Wow, I’ve just ruined the joke by explaining it. Either way, I recommend that you watch the sketches, as they are great.

Community Theater Band: I’m happy to see Sasheer Zamata in another sketch, even if it’s just for a short amount of time. I’m worried that she might not return to the show next season, because she doesn’t have as many recurring characters. To be fair, this isn’t an actual comedy sketch. It’s really just all of the main cast and the guest stars on stage singing, but it’s sweet. Too short, but adequate, nonetheless. It’s a good note to end the season on, continuing this episode’s trend of togetherness and joy—though if Kenan Thompson really is leaving the show after this season, it’s not really an adequate sendoff.

Musical Performance: Maybe it’s because the quality of the show has made me so giddy, but I found myself dancing along to the music. But, I’m not very good at judging music. What do you think? Let me know in the comments section!

Overall Thoughts: This is the best episode of Saturday Night Live’s forty-first season by far, even with stiff competition from Tracy Morgan in the third episode and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler cohosting the Christmas special. To me, this episode truly exemplified what makes me happy in a comedy program. Just like the very best of 30 Rock and Parks And Recreation, it combines humor with heart. At its core, SNL is a gigantic family. Everyone stays up all night and works together to make the best comedy show possible. And if something goes wrong? It’s live, that just makes it more fun!

The fortieth anniversary spectacular has been on my mind today and maybe that’s why this particular episode reminds me so much of it. Jason Sudeikis, Andy Samberg, Maya Rudolph, Darrell Hammond, Larry David, and even Fred’s Portlandia co-star Carrie Brownstein all appear. Sure, Larry and Carrie were never official cast members, but it still feels right to see all of them on stage together. It’s a mashup of different generations of Saturday Night Live, with old cast members mingling with new members. A bit of old magic, a sprinkling of the best recent material, and it all combines to create  an exhilarating experience. Adding to the heartfelt sentiment, this also serves as a better time at 30 Rock for Larry David. No matter what happens in this year’s election, I think most of us can agree that he was the perfect casting choice for Bernie Sanders in terms of comedy. He didn’t leave on the best terms back in the day, but if this is his final appearance on the show, then he left in the best way possible, with an acclaimed comedy impression, some stellar sketches, and a superb hosting gig.

My friends, I would like to thank you again for caring about what some random guy on the Internet thinks about a sketch comedy program. Even if you haven’t been commenting or if you just skimmed the article, thank you for reading. I would also like to thank Megan McKay (find her here) and the Deep Thoughts SNL podcast (found here and here) for putting up with my obnoxious questions and gushing about how truly awesome the show is. Finally, thank you to my fellow contributors here at Critical Writ for putting up with my increasingly weird obsession with comedy. I can’t wait for the next season so I can continue sharing my thoughts. See you next week for my personal favorite moments of the season!

Oh, and as a bonus, I have a comedy recommendation. If you want a similar comedy show with heart, then I recommend The Chris Gethard Show, currently on Fusion. You can find all of the public access episodes on YouTube; other episodes are also made available on there after they air on Fusion. The taping of the episodes also stream on Facebook, but they aren’t saved after the fact. I recommend it if you want your comedy shows with a heaping dollop of feminism, all-inclusivity, wacky characters, and honesty.

Zachary Krishef is an evil genius. Do not question his knowledge of Saturday Night Live trivia or the Harry Potter books.