Saturday Night Live Season-Finale Recap: Tina Fey Returns to 30 Rock (and Sarah Palin)

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Tina Fey. Photo: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live

Tina Fey Season 43 Episode 21
Editor's Rating 3 stars

Let them eat sheet cake — and yes, yes, also fight fascism in the streets— as former head writer, Weekend Update host, and all-around badass Tina Fey returns for the season finale of SNL. While the show does find use for Fey’s most memorable recurring character, Sarah Palin, she also proffered some sketch suggestions during a visit to The Tonight Show: an all-robot reboot of Jersey Shore, a breast pump that rates the user’s boobs, and a character called “Mitt Promney.” Eh, none of these other bits made the cut, but Fey surely had some input at least in regard to the political satire (and a commercial parody about Chicago improv).

Donald Trump Robert Mueller Cold Open

Donald Trump (Alec Baldwin) arrives at Holsten’s Restaurant in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and immediately plays Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”— à la the series finale of The Sopranos. While the song plays, Rudy Giuliani (Kate McKinnon), Michael Cohen (Ben Stiller) and Donald Trump Jr. (Mikey Day) show up to reminisce about Giuliani’s TV appearances (“I told them you were colluding but I ended with ‘So what?’ ”) and Cohen’s rough week (in which he was “mostly just preparing to go to jail and stuff”). Then Robert Mueller (Robert De Niro) comes in, and Trump seems to be the only person who sees the special counsel. The sketch ends just as The Sopranos did, an ambiguous blackout. Lots of drop-in roles, sure, but it’s a real scene with a nice arc to it. And while Baldwin may be sick of playing Trump, McKinnon’s mad, bug-eyed Giuliani is entirely gratifying.

Tina Fey Opening Monologue

Because Fey has been working at SNL for so long, she says the producers let her do anything she wants to do for the monologue. So she takes questions from random audience members. The first one is Jerry Seinfeld. Does Fey wonder if there are just too many celebrity cameos these days? Benedict Cumberbatch is there, too, and wants to know if SNL ever considered replacing Kenan Thompson with someone more well-known. (This was Chris Rock’s question, too.) De Niro wonders if people knew he was playing Mueller, and Anne Hathaway is just excited De Niro is there. Fred Armisen is loath to take up airtime that newer cast members might need, but Fey should hear about his new juice guy. Donald Glover and Tracy Morgan finish things off. It’s a smorgasbord of a monologue, and a memorable one.

Royal Wedding

It’s 2 a.m. at the reception for the royal wedding, and Prince Harry (Day) guides viewers around the room of drunken revelers. He checks in with Kate Middleton (Cecily Strong), Prince Charles (Beck Bennett), Prince William (Alex Moffat), his “Aunt Creepy” (Fey), Elton John (Aidy Bryant), Russell Brand (Pete Davidson) and Queen Elizabeth (McKinnon) talking to Meghan Markle’s great-uncle (Thompson). If that feels like a lot of names, it is. The sketch doesn’t have much of shape to it, it’s just quick bits tied together in a nod to the royal wedding frenzy. The best duo, Elizabeth and Markle’s great-uncle, highlights the gulf between the royals and their new American family. Beyond that, it’s just broad stuff like Sir Elton swapping words in his songs so they’re wedding-appropriate.

Morning Joe

For this edition of Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski (McKinnon) and Joe Scarborough (Moffat) make kissy faces at one another while considering headlines including one of the Trump team’s ugly comments about John McCain and new questions about Trump’s potential collusion with Russia. For the former, they invite Megan McCain (Bryant) on and only end up talking over the top of her. For the latter, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya (Fey) defends her meeting with the Trump team, saying things such as, “Very easy meeting, very fun, no one was poisoned.” Even if the sketch leans heavily on the cutesy aspects of the Mika-Joe relationship, the two news items are tackled in clever ways.

Mean Girls

In this taped segment, Fey tells everyone that her friends —including SNL cast members Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong — want her to appear in her Mean Girls musical on Broadway. In fact, they’re all a little concerned about her interest in doing so. Even the show’s director Casey Nicholaw and songwriter Jeff Richmond (who is also Fey’s husband) don’t seem thrilled about bringing Fey on board. Still, they get her in the rehearsal room and try to get her dancing and singing. It doesn’t go well, and though she has a bone to pick with Lin-Manuel Miranda, she does come to terms with her hubris. It’s not brilliant but it feels as though there had to be some kind of Mean Girls commercial in here somewhere.

Weekend Update

First, the Update hosts focus on the one-year anniversary of Robert Mueller’s investigation and other Trump-related events. There’s a fun play on the whole Yanny/Laurel debate, in which Jost posits that everyone hears what they want to hear about the Russia probe based on their opinions about Trump. In an interview clip, a robotic voiceover intones, “There was no collusion, it’s a witch hunt,” followed by the same clip with this v.o.: “I’m getting away with it, bitches.” Michael Che says it’s rare to root for the FBI as a black man, but that the probe feels like “watching Rachel Dolezal get kicked out of a Starbucks.” Eric and Donald Trump Jr. (Alex Moffat and Mikey Day) return to talk about the latest collusion news. The bit’s formula is clear. Infantile Eric blurts out things like “I have a pornographic memory,” and the slick flim-flammer Don Jr. tries to occupy Eric’s time with a new toy — here, it’s a Play-Doh factory. As there are no surprises, there are diminishing returns.

In the second half, Che talks about the news that confirmed most marijuana arrests in New York are of blacks and Latinos. He says police need to search more white dudes with cargo shorts; if they did, jail would “look like a Dave Matthews concert.” Later, Kenan Thompson comes on as Chicago bishop Michael Curry, who married Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. With so many white people around, he wonders if Darius Rucker feels the same way, and likens his appearance to “a chicken-and-waffles kiosk in a Pottery Barn.” At the conclusion, Che and Jost try out some of the material they deemed too offensive to deliver at previous times. Yeah, they’re in poor taste, but completely worth it.

Pervert Hunters

For this Dateline show, host Dana Milbrook (Fey) wants to stop human trafficking by catching those who hire prostitutes online. When one perv (Bennett) arrives to meet who he thinks is a prostitute called Svetla, Milbrook emerges from the shadows to shame him. This is TV, though, so when she flubs a line, she and the show’s director (Day) ask the perv if he can re-enter the house and try the scene again. After some pleading and more takes in which he is crying, the perv gets on board and starts having fun, too. He’s even trying some of his lines in a British accent. All the fun doesn’t stop law enforcement officers from tackling the guy when the shoot is finally done. It’s an enjoyable showbiz what-if, and surely criminals become seduced by their 15 minutes of fame in reality from time to time.

Sarah Palin Advice

“I’m still alive, but you had to think about it, didn’t ya?” Thus marks the return of Sarah Palin (Fey), as she bemoans the ups and downs of politics. She reminds the audience she was once a vice-presidential candidate that now “gets paid to tweet for Bass Pro Shops.” She is soon joined by Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Bryant), Kellyanne Conway (McKinnon), journalist Michael Wolff (Armisen), Omarosa (Leslie Jones), and Rex Tillerson (John Goodman). As a group, they sing a version of A Chorus Line’s “What I Did for Love,” which turns into a lament about the things they “did for Trump.” Each party has a different connection to Trump, so it’s a nice, silly tapestry of perspectives.

Talent Show

During this high school talent show, a mother-and-daughter team of Roberta and Susan (Fey and Melissa Villaseñor) get onstage to sing a duet of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” The only hitch is that the morose, black-clad Susan is a little too hardcore to bop around and look cute with her mom. Susan swaps some of the original song lyrics with some subversive ideas about really living her life right — Bill Gates not going to college and Mom refusing to drive her to the protest. Meanwhile, the emcee (Thompson) allows it all to go on because he and Roberta are having sex. “The booty is worth it,” he sighs at one point. Susan eventually gets the DJ to play System of a Down’s “Chop Suey,” and both the mom and the crowd get into it. It’s slight, but winning.

Chicago Improv

This Dick Wolf show, an ostensible spinoff of Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D., exposes the “cutthroat world of the improv comedy scene” in the Windy City. The dialogue, which is “ripped from real-life improv classes,” involves references to object work and sweep edits that confound the critics. (“What the hell was everything they just said?” wonders one.) When one of the improvisers on the team announces that he’s booked a couple of local commercials, it’s a bombshell. Even Improv Magazine feels there’s just “too much improv.” The whole thing is pretty delightful — though, truth be told, it might fall flat for someone that doesn’t love improv at least a little.

If there’s anyone who knows how the show works, and can make it work for her, it’s Fey. Her timing and playful characterizations delight, as usual. Yes, as all the celebrities in Fey’s monologue pointed out, there are a lot of celebrity cameos in SNL—and in this episode, in particular. Other than Baldwin, who seems to be just punching the clock and waiting to be done doing Trump altogether, just about everyone pays off. While there’s not a lot in the episode that will stand out once the weekend is over, it’s a consistent show with many well-made and funny sketches.

Saturday Night Live Season-Finale Recap: Tina Fey Returns