Andy Samberg left Saturday Night Live in 2012 and immediately stumbled on the way out. In what must have seemed at first like a dream come true, he co-headlined That's My Boy with his hero, Adam Sandler, and it was an unequivocal flop best remembered for a fun supporting turn by … Vanilla Ice. It is impossible to imagine how disappointing this experience must have been. Pretty soon, however, Samberg was well on his way to launching the Golden Globe-winning cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine, arguably 2013's funniest new TV series. Considering how much better the average episode of that show plays compared with a trailer for the upcoming Sandler contrivance Blended, it appears we may be in better hands with A.S. the Younger as host than we might have been with his former idol. Just not without a little help from some friends (amazingly, friends who aren't named "Justin Timberlake.")
If there's one thing we know about Andy Samberg, it's that he's rock solid in pre-taped bits. Samberg and his Lonely Island cohorts kicked off the digital era at SNL with "Lazy Sunday" and never looked back. The show had a long history with short films going back to those of Albert Brooks and of course Mr. Bill, but The Lonely Island was a different beast — an in-house production team featuring a cast member, and capable of integrating guest hosts into any iteration. Samberg's involvement with the digital front, and subsequent joke-rap side career, meant he hardly ever did the heavy lifting on live sketches. Putting him front and center during the season finale, however, gives the show a perfectly good excuse to trot out former cast members to help Samberg carry the weight.
There are SNL episodes with a lot of cameos, and then there's last night's episode, which boasted more of them than Comic Relief or its modern telethon equivalent. In addition to marquee musicians like Pharrell, Lil Jon, and 2 Chainz, the show was a hit parade of retired cast members that started with Maya Rudolph as Beyoncé in the cold open and kept on going with Kristen Wiig in the very last sketch. If this sounds like a complaint, though, it's not. SNL may have a tendency to lean on its past during season-enders, but that's only because its past is incredible. And with sketches anchored by the likes of Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, and Vanessa Bayer, this episode is a reminder that it's present ain't too shabby either.
Feud Resolution of the Week
I was on vacation this past week, and I spent much of it digitally unplugged. However, the one current event that squeaked into my temporarily Costa Rican purview in multiple forms was the notorious video of Solange Knowles whaling on brother-in-law Jay Z in an elevator. After gaining momentum through multiple news updates as the days passed, this story was going to have to be addressed on SNL, and the team most certainly came through.
The night's opening sketch let Jay Pharoah do his impeccable Jay Z impersonation, while Sasheer Zamata took Solange out for an inaugural spin. Here, the two continue their week of dizzying non-stop spin by positing that Solange was just simply helping kill a spider on Jay Z's person. Meanwhile, Kenan Thompson plays Jay's fiercely competent bodyguard on high alert, mostly with a pair of disbelieving eyebrows. In a nice touch, this sketch also has the famous siblings-in-law turn the tables on the Standard Hotel employee who leaked the elevator tape, by unveiling security videos of him (played with gusto by Bobby Moynihan) embarrassing himself in a number of ways. And even though Queen Bey herself is supposedly "off making another sexually aggressive music video about a monogamous relationship," Maya Rudolph brings her old character back, with hair magically flowing in a non-existent breeze. Rudolph mimics Beyoncé's severe delivery and random over-pronunciation of words, and all is right with the world.
Impression-Off of the Week
Andy Samberg and Bill Hader have a lot of history together, famously having auditioned for SNL on the same day. The saga continues as Samberg attempts to break Bill Hader's supposed record for doing impressions, which he's behind by 23. Another familiar face, Seth Meyers, lends a hand by dispensing a series of names for Samberg to mimic. Although the joke is that none of these are particularly nuanced impressions, Samberg's Beetlejuice is totally on point, and it's funny to see him reduce Liam Neeson's whole latter-day action hero persona to four essential words of dialogue from Taken:"particular set of skills." After Bill Hader himself returns to snatch back what is rightfully his, Martin Short does a walk-on to make it official: This is going to be a night of 1,000 comedy stars, and it's going to be awesome.
Summer Camp Summary of the Week
What makes this summer camp–set talk show work are the authentic camp-kid details like Aidy Bryant's paint-handprint shirt and ball-barrettes, Kyle Mooney's stage fright, and everyone's palpable excitement about even the tamest forms of misbehavior. Samberg scores as a more seasoned camper, operating on a naughtiness level that Bryant and Kate McKinnon are in awe of, even though they don't understand it — with shenanigans like the placement of his lone pube on a tetherball. The inclusion of a moment to remember the campers who had to leave early is a perfect way to end the sketch, by grounding a fake talk-show segment in something that might be too real for some former campers to remember.
EDM Evisceration of the Week
DJ culture is a frequent subject of parody, but perhaps not frequent enough. In the night's first of two Digital Shorts, Samberg plays the Prince Valient-haircutted DJ Davvincii, whose name is clearly inspired by this guy. During an apparently scorching set, Davvincii scampers about the booth, playing an intense game of Jenga and painting a self portrait while threatening to press a giant red button that says "Bass." Members of the cast are scattered around the audience, offering effusive endorsements of the event, while men in suits deposit enormous bags of money at Davvincii's feet. I won't go into detail about what happens when the DJ finally does push the button, but let's just say that at least one person commits Seppuku and there is a glorious Raiders of the Lost Ark reference. This sketch may not be saying anything new, but it says all it needs to.
Pick-up Artist of the Week
Confident Hunchback is a throwback to old-school Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer-style sketches, where unlikely sitcom characters get an expository intro and a credits sequence. It's a Samberg showcase, in which the host plays Notre Dame's most famous resident as a Mystery-like lothario. "I got a hunch I'm gonna be making you breakfast tomorrow," he says to one of his lady-targets while crooking a thumb toward his defining trait. There's a nice turn at the end too, when Cecily Strong shows up as Esmeralda, putting this sketch firmly back into context.
Caged Fury of the Week
Humor based on intentionally bad humor is tricky to pull off, and Kyle Mooney doesn't quite manage it as veteran NY stand-up Bruce Chandling on Weekend Update. Chandling is all hand gestures, mugging, and intense enunciation as he tells fourth-rate dad jokes. Mooney knows the character is unfunny and so do we, but it doesn't quite go so unfunny as to break through to the other side and become legitimately funny — not even when Chandling has a sad moment of self-awareness.
Luckily, Samberg's presence inspires a return of the beloved WU segment Get in the Cage. Samberg's Nicolas Cage sounds not much different than his Keanu Reeves, but these segments have always been written sharply and executed with aplomb. This time, Cage spars with Paul Rudd, whom he addresses by many names, including Rudd-ney Dangerfield and Rudd-yard Kipling. Cage's forehead is now higher than ever before, and he describes the hair on top as "a ferret carcass stapled to a classroom skeleton." I'm sure there are plenty of people who are more excited to see this Nicolas Cage than they have been for any movie the actual actor has done lately.
Incestuous All-Stars of the Week
The blast from the past continues as Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Maya Rudolph return to play members of the way-too familiar Vogelcheck family. You know how this sketch goes. Samberg and Taran Killam are a couple who've come home to see Samberg's very affectionate family, and all incestuous hell breaks loose. Highlights include Hader giving a very sensuous wet willy and Fred Armisen breaking for like 30 seconds straight. Perhaps inspired by a kiss from the Andrew Garfield/Emma Stone sketch a couple weeks ago, this one ends with an air transfer for the ages.
Wedding Prep of the Week
It's not only old sketches that are returning in this episode; there are also some recent ones as well. With Nasim Pedrad perhaps set to depart after this season, it makes sense to include her Kim Kardashian impression one last time, and this edition of Waking Up With Kimye might be the best one of all. Jay Pharoah's Kanye is still patiently frustrated with Kim's inability to know the stuff that a person should know, and Taran Killam still plays Bruce Jenner with his face pulled into a freaky Joker smile, but the writing here is particularly strong. Samberg has a low-key role as a wedding planner, no doubt accurately describing the impending nuptials as "expensive and scary and fun and unnecessary and fun."
Upper Body Clench of the Week
The Lonely Island is in the building. Hooray! But they're doing "The Hug Song." Oh, okay. The joke-rap royalty's ode to a mostly non-sexual form of embrace is pretty fun, but nowhere near the best candidate on recent record The Wack Album for the Digital Short treatment. Call it a missed opportunity for something more memorable.
Does What It Says on the Tin of the Week
In this sketch entitled "And Now Legolas from The Hobbit tries to order at Taco Bell," Legolas from The Hobbit tries to order at Taco Bell. The brief clip, belonging to a tradition of incongruous characters obtaining food, features Samberg's elven archer speaking eloquently about his hunger in a place most people only go to when they're drunken and have given up. Bonus points for Bobby Moynihan as Gimli.
Really Wrong Rapping of the Week
The Blizzard Man is a Samberg character who first appeared back in 2006. Despite his frosted tips modeled after the aforementioned Vanilla Ice, this is a musician who no less an authority than 2 Chainz describes as having "the swagger of A$AP Rocky and the street cred of Katherine Heigl." Samberg shakes his pointer fingers like someone impersonating an orchestra conductor and spouts out geeky nonsense that displeases nearly everyone involved. Unlike the Confident Hunchback sketch, though, where the joke is apparent right away, but improved upon, once you get the joke of this sketch, it doesn't have anywhere to go. This was probably the night's least welcome blast from the past.
Shady Shills of the Week
The night ends with yet another returning champion. Those ex-porn stars who now sell luxury items are back. This time, Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong are mispronouncing Bvlgari watches as "Bivvle-goggy," and this is a well that still has water from which to draw. It's a fitting way to end the night, and the season — with a reminder that the current cast has dependable stock in its repertoire.
It was an uneven season, but of course it was. It was always going to be uneven — not only because that's just what comes with high turnover, but also because, um, that's pretty much every season of SNL. There are always ups and downs. Considering the sheer breadth of departing talent last season, though, it is nothing short of miraculous that any dip in quality was practically negligible. This cast, brimming with newcomers, rose to the challenge, creating way more hits than misses Look for them to be even stronger next year.