While we here at Vulture spent a lot of time deconstructing the 34th season of Saturday Night Live last week (Top Five guest hosts, Top Ten skits, stats), leave it up to Will Ferrell, Green Day, and the talented cast and crew of SNL to close this landmark season on the highest-imaginable note this weekend. While we could blather on and on about how fantastic the entire episode was (Harry Caray! Mark [from the creators of Jeff]! Celebrity Jeopardy!), the moment that everyone’s talking about — but because of pesky music-rights issues, NBC isn’t allowed to post online — was the epic rendition of Billy Joel’s Vietnam classic, “Goodnight Saigon.”
This is destined to go down as an indelible moment in SNL history not just because it was teeming with awesome cameos — we spotted Tom Hanks, Anne Hathaway, Norm MacDonald, Green Day, Elisabeth Moss, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Artie Lange, but no Justin Timberlake (yes!) — but because, in a way, we feel like it kind of hints at the fact that this might be the end of an era. This year saw the departure of Amy Poehler, who, besides being one of the most talented and versatile cast members, served in sort of a “den mother” capacity for the program; after all, Poehler’s Upright Citizens Brigade serves as an unofficial farm league for the show. And when Amy Poehler left earlier this year, she never really got a proper send-off. However, between this sketch and her appearance as co-host of this edition of “Weekend Update”, she can certainly walk away on a high note.
Additionally, we have a sneaking suspicion that this episode just may well have been Darrell Hammond’s last as featured performer.* He’s been an SNL cast member since 1995, the longest tenure of anyone in the show’s history. His appearances in sketches have become less and less frequent over the last few years, but there’s no denying that within the tight-knit circle of SNL writers, performers, and producers, he is profoundly respected. Regardless of whether this proves to be true, we couldn’t help but view this moment as a tribute to him.
But one question about this sketch that we’ve seen flying around the Twittersphere is “Why ‘Goodnight Saigon’?” Obviously, we haven’t spoken to Seth Meyers about this (yet!), but our theory is that it’s because the song has a storied place as one of the greatest male-bonding songs for Generation Xers. Sure, we Xers were all too young to have fought in the Vietnam War, but we were exactly the right age to see the effect that it had on our fathers whenever the song was played in the cassette deck of our cars (right after “Allentown” at the end of Side Three of the dual-cassette “Greatest Hits Vol. I and II”). And for that reason, it became a song that a lot of dudes my age give a certain amount of reverence to (and also used to blast on the boom box and sing along to after drinking a few root beers), but also sort of hold at arm’s length because of the irony associated with actually “liking” Billy Joel songs (despite the efforts that Chuck Klosterman made with his tremendous essay about BJ in Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs). So, when you combine all of these elements, it really makes for a perfect going-away tribute for the end of an incredible season.
Anyway, great episode, great season, spectacular season finale. Now it’s up to you to fire away in the comments!
*SNL expert Rachel Sklar was told that “he’s still planning to return.”