Over 42 years, Saturday Night Live has weathered its share of cultural storms, joking its way through everything from Watergate to 9/11, but they’ve never had to handle anything quite like this past year – one that saw the election of America’s first fake president, and the glimmer of our generation’s first true foray into mass activism.
The show certainly took the opportunity to try some new things – which, surprisingly, is still possible after 42 years – like bringing longtime SNL favorite Alec Baldwin on as Trump-in-residence, surprising us with acclaimed actress Melissa McCarthy’s recurring Sean Spicer meltdowns, and going live across the country for its final few episodes.
And with this season finale, led by Dwayne “No Longer ‘The Rock’” Johnson and featuring two music video-worthy performances from pop queen Katy Perry, SNL ends on the year’s highest note, compiling a collection of sketches with pretty much zero downers (minus the looming departure of three very strong cast members – Bobby Moynihan, Vanessa Bayer, and Sasheer Zamata, only two of which were acknowledged in the episode). Viewers seem to agree – the episode earned the show its highest finale ratings in seven years.
Between Johnson resurrecting a few of his classic characters, and the show honoring Moynihan and Bayer with plenty of extra screen time, there was no shortage of charming moments – and hey, we may even get a legit presidential campaign out of it, too.
Hallelujah Cold Open
Earlier this season, the show opened with one of the saddest moments in SNL history: a post-election cold open where the defeated Hillary Clinton (Kate McKinnon), solo on piano, belted out a nearly tearful rendition of “Hallelujah.” It was upsetting and perfectly embodied how upset we already were – and so, it’s particularly satisfying to see the show end the same exact season with a completely flipped rendition: a forlorn, shaky-voiced Trump (Baldwin) banging his tiny hands on the keys as he’s joined in song by Mike Pence (Beck Bennett), Kellyanne Conway (McKinnon), his idiot sons (Mikey Day and Alex Moffatt), Steve Bannon (a skeletal Leslie Jones, I think?), Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Aidy Bryant), Melania (Cecily Strong), and Ivanka (a surprise cameo from Scarlett Johansson), the implication being they’re on the way out of the White House (which Weekend Update will get into later).
The entire thing was one big, bullying wink, and it shows how far SNL has come in just one season – from wavering on its election coverage to becoming inarguably anti-Trump – and it was a nice reminder of how far we’ve come, too, from being too afraid to check the news to gleefully refreshing updates on the regime’s snowballing downfall.
Despite the fact that SNL’s Five-Timers Club is getting awfully full, since this was Johnson’s fifth time hosting, he received his very own velvet Five-Timers jacket, bestowed by Baldwin (who was bummed he didn’t get to gift Melissa McCarthy hers last week, when he got upstaged by Steve Martin). Johnson, thrilled about the honor, took the opportunity to officially join another group: the pool of candidates already running for president in the 2020 election. And great news, he’s already got the perfect running mate in fellow Five-Timer Tom Hanks.
It’s totally a joke, but also, we’re immediately aware that a Johnson/Hanks ticket would be lightyears better than what we’ve got. While the pair kid that America can only agree on two things – “pizza, and us” – the tongue-in-cheekiness takes a break when Johnson says, seriously to camera, “Listen, America, this isn’t real, Tom and I are only joking. It’s just that, when it comes to politics, we need more poise and less noise. Americans deserve strong, capable leaders, leaders who care about this country and care about its people.”
But y’know, that really does sound like Johnson and Hanks, and after all, they’ve saved the world in enough movies they’d know just what to do in even the most unlikely crisis. So sure, why not??
It’s hard to find gifts for a woman you can barely stand to be around (unless it’s in bed) – especially one who’s expecting a ring. But don’t worry, Cartier’s got your back with their new diamond-encrusted fidget spinner, the perfect thing to placate a partner who’s “kind of a lot.” This sketch is as much a parody as it is a list of legitimate red flags for guys, who might typically look past things like weirdly complicated diets and Jekyll and Hyde-like personalities until it’s too late.
WWE Promo Shoot
Johnson brings another one of his beloved wrestling alter egos, the Ric Flair-haired Koko WatchOut, back to shoot another promo, and the guy still hasn’t figured out how to talk trash. Hyping a match against Trashyard Mutt (Moynihan), he keeps confusing the concept, spilling a series of increasingly life-altering secrets about his opponent instead of just like, saying he’s going to really kick his ass. WatchOut, smiley and excited between takes, shakes Mutt’s world to the core by revealing the two are actually brothers (Moynihan’s the DeVito, natch) and that he’s been sleeping with Mutt’s wife, and is therefore both the father and uncle of Mutt’s unborn child. He also shares a video of the wrestler dancing to Katy Perry:
It’s too much for Mutt to take, but truly, who wouldn’t want to watch the match after that?
When the whole squad joins the track, things get a little crowded in this collab that’s mostly just a roll call. One of SNL’s best sketch formats is the scene that’s just an excuse to list a bunch of weird characters with dumb names, and this rap track doesn’t disappoint, with rapid-fire intros of everyone in the studio: Big Chris, Shantasia, Young Bitch, Prinsexxxy, Sno-Cone, Sloppy Moses, Marci Jamz, King Keef, Lil’ Nitwit, 2 Black Guyz, Hawtclown, Pregnasty, Skiffle, Katy Perry with Kathleen Bell, Essentially Simon, and, of course, David S. motherfucking Pumpkins.
Trouble’s in town, and one mild-mannered office worker becomes the hero everyone needs: Scorpio (Johnson), a crime-fighting powerhouse with insane muscles – and a perfectly inspired outfit. Scorpio’s attempt to assist his co-workers (Strong, Bryant, and Zamata) is derailed when they can’t get over Scorpio’s real superpower: his tailoring skills. This is something most comic book crime fighters seem to acquire along with their more prominent talents, like bat strength or whatever, so it’s about time someone highlighted heroes’ commitment to creating memorable looks.
The least fascinating woman in the world, Gemma (Strong), surprises her old pals Thompson and Bayer once again when she unexpectedly plops onto the same Jurassic River Rapids ride as them. As the couples drift past mechanical dinosaurs, Gemma’s boyfriend (Johnson) – as un-self aware as she is – ignores his friend’s less hot wife and lets her get drenched, while Gemma clutches her pet baby pig and mumbles her way through her hit song, “Firework” (which was frankly a missed Katy Perry cameo op).
Because side effects don’t matter, especially when it comes to your erection, ignore your doctor’s warnings and consult your local spirit guide about Xentrex, the strongest male enhancement drug on the market. It may stop your heart, but at least you’ll die with the hard-on you deserve. In this pre-taped commercial parody, Johnson shows what a strong actor he is when he’s got the time to give a few takes (not that he isn’t great in the rest of the episode’s live scenes!)
For the last time in awhile, Jost and Che are back to explain why this week – even more than the last – was crazy. The pair dive into what President-for-now Trump’s been up to, and why Mike Pence is warming up in the bullpen as we speak.
Even though fast-talking Update weather lady Dawn Lazarus (Bayer) stopped by pretty recently, she’s back to share a summer forecast, and also because “it’s my last show and I’m gonna sneak back in.”
And there’s one more Update goodbye in this bittersweet final appearance from Moynihan’s Drunk Uncle, who works in a lot of opinions that writers have probably been trying to get on air for years – like, “You can’t even call it a Nintendo Switch anymore, you gotta call her Caitlyn” and “Ghostbusters should be men!” Also, attn.: NBC Experience Store, please sell “Make America Drunk Again” hats.
RKO Movie Set
Young actor Brock Tenderson (Johnson) is on set with a legend, Janet Champagne (Bayer), and he’s so thrilled to be there that nothing can ruin his day – even explosive gas from his ladylike co-star, which she politely calls her “mistakes.” In what would turn out to be Bayer’s final scene as a lead, the crew was clearly having a bit of fun at her expense, dropping cat meows and roaring engines in between more realistic (and a few over-the-top) farting noises – so much that Johnson and Bayer both break, but handle it bravely.
World’s Most Evil Invention
Capping off a year of increasingly bizarre sponsored sketches, where brands agreed to have their name promoted but zero control over the content of the scene, this unlikely White Castle commercial – set at the International Mad Scientists Society’s Most Evil Invention in the World contest – is by far the most button-pushing. The first half of the scene sets up a few beats of typically “evil” villains introducing freeze rays and shrink rays; when nervous nerd Roy (Johnson) shuffles onto the stage, it seems the game is going to be about how un-evil this scientist is – until he unveils his invention, a child molesting robot. When his peers seem shocked, he suggests they grab a bite at the White Castle and work it all out together – and by the huge grin on Moynihan’s face when he delivered the sketch’s final line, a White Castle shoutout, the writers knew how what an amazing use this was of their free reign over sponsored content.
Bartenders are the world’s greatest wingmen – as long as they’re winging the right thing, unlike this misguidedly helpful guy (Bennett) attempting to help a patron (Johnson) score. Instead of asking ladies if they’d like to spend some one-on-one time (wink wink) with Johnson, who looks the most normal-dude he’s ever looked here, our wingman keeps trying to set up weirdly complicated threesomes and, for some reason, bringing busboy Moynihan into it.
As is tradition, departing cast members Bayer and Moynihan get a cutesy lil send-off in this graduation sketch, where four dorky seniors put on some skits butchering cultural references and hating on their high school’s lunch lady. They’re joined onstage by Bennett and Kyle Mooney, which causes a brief moment of panic that they might also be departing (and hey, we still don’t know), but it’s weird Zamata wasn’t also involved (more on that below); it’s also lightyears below the level of Kristen Wiig’s adoring, Rolling Stones-soundtracked final ep, but it was still a nice goodbye.
It’s unclear why Zamata’s leaving, but since she still had time left on her contact and because she wasn’t one of the cast members honored in the Senior Video sketch, we’re thinking it may not have been an amicable split – though Zamata’s certainly been getting tons of offers to appear on other projects, and perhaps just found a better fit.