Like Tiger King and Schitt’s Creek, The Queen’s Gambit was nearly unavoidable for several months of this pandemic year. Its star, Anya Taylor-Joy, is a talented dramatic actor whose biggest comic role to date is that of Emma in the latest Jane Austen adaptation. Usually, SNL’s season finale comes with a big name with a big upcoming project, but Taylor-Joy’s presence may hint at something else: that it’s time to move on from the worst of the pandemic in the U.S. The alternative? SNL couldn’t book her in January, and this was the next-best window. Either way, Taylor-Joy showed off her acting chops and kept up comedically, while musical guest Lil Nas X helped bring some Pride to this season-46 send-off.
As usual, this week’s sketches are presented here ranked from best to worst.
In an attempt to wrap things up, Colin Jost compares the beginning of the season with its end, but ends up with just a couple of now-worn Matt Gaetz jokes. The rest of the segment doesn’t have much more to offer, addressing Biden’s ride in an electric pickup and vaccine status in dating apps. Things get more interesting when Pete Davidson comes on to talk about those who feel anxious even after getting the vaccine. There’s a great SNL joke that Davidson reports was written by Lorne Michaels, but Davidson’s idea for containing anti-vaxxers is even funnier. It’s a messy vision involving the state of Florida, a Jimmy Buffett concert, and all kinds of drugs laced with the coronavirus vaccine. And, yeah, worth a shot.
The best joke in the second chunk of “Update” involves the new Boom Supersonic startup and its $100 fares: “Get ready to fly fast and cheap on the only airline named after the sound of an explosion.” Well, that is, the best joke before Jost and Michael Che continue their tradition of forcing one another to tell dicey jokes they have not yet read. Again, it’s a highlight. As usual, Che’s jokes paint Jost as a racist, while Jost feeds Che gags about his sexual performance and Blue Lives Matter. (The latter is hardly a joke, but forcing Che to give police props for excessive force is perversely enjoyable.) The crescendo might be Jost’s coerced defense of Woody Allen, but Cecily Strong slips in at the end as Jeanine Pirro. The brash, loud, wine-slopping conservative hack gives Strong plenty of room to play, and she douses the stage (and Jost) in wine. It’s a really worthy final segment.
Season 46 Finale Cold Open
This extended open involves the cast recounting memories of the year, from COVID precautions to a fly landing on Mike Pence’s head. Chris Rock even drops in to remember how long ago his hosting gig feels now — back when the president (who said the coronavirus would disappear) got COVID. It’s a lot of quick hits that add up to one larger, bittersweet impression of a strange time. After a traumatic year, there are a lot of reasons for the cast to tear up. Cecily Strong, for instance, has been grieving a beloved cousin who died from brain cancer. But with Strong, Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, and Kenan Thompson all front and center when the sketch starts, there’s bound to be speculation about which of them are leaving the show. One, two, three, or all four?! Each has more than enough going to outside 8H to justify the leap, but it would be a significant hit to see them all go.
With Pride canceled last year, queer folks (Bowen Yang, Kate McKinnon, Punkie Johnson, and, sure, Taylor-Joy) plan to make up for lost time this June. In short, it’s overpriced drinks, meltdowns, too many straight people, and arguing about theory on the Deutsche Bank float — a total mess, for which LGBTQIA+ people can be proud. Given the season’s timing, SNL doesn’t usually get to mark Pride in any way, so it’s great that writers and cast found this way to mark the occasion. The jam may not be one you sing in the shower, but it’s got a lot of life. There are plenty of nice observations about relationships and culture, and an underlying sense that the things that make us human also make us beautiful. It’s the only song in the show during which Lil Nas X gives thanks to Harvey Milk while bragging about “posting hole.”
This touring show stars four Irish lasses (Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong, Kate McKinnon, Taylor-Joy) singing traditional Gaelic songs alongside originals and a few classics such as “Sweet Home Alabama.” There are plenty of little gems here, about everything from the presumed audience (“It’s Lion King for Karens”) to the Americanized cultural experience (the lyrics of “Castle Directions”). As this sketch is overstuffed with songs and choreography, and some ostensibly Gaelic pronunciations, there is a fair amount of confusion. Not enough to derail the sketch, no, and even the walk-ons (Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney as rabid drummers, and Chloe Fineman as a prancing violinist) are giving it their all.
In heaven, a bunch of (male) angels show another group of (female) angels their prototype for human man: hair everywhere, awkward genitalia, and useless nipples. The latter group of angels have notes. This supernatural reevaluation of anatomy isn’t a new idea, but this reconsideration has its fun specifics — in particular, the sad artlessness of the man’s junk and the emotional circumstances it creates. The tone here might be even more fun than the content: the stupidly proud, defensive bro angels are a treat. The best moments arrive with the smallest characters, in particular the helpfully freaky Zelda (Melissa Villaseñor) and the needy Jesus (Kyle Mooney). That needy Jesus, who pops in right at the end, deserves his own sad and thirsty spinoff.
Two student interviewers (Aidy Bryant, Taylor-Joy) talk to the cast of fictional HBO comedy Roommates in the City (Punkie Johnson, Ego Nwodim, Bowen Yang, and Heidi Gardner) including that “breakout heartthrob” Max (Pete Davidson). Max gets softballs while the others get heavy questions about sexuality and race like, “How has being gay and Chinese prevented you from being happy?” Getting diverted from discussing the art by white journalists making presumptions about their lives is something that surely hits close to home for a lot of the actors onstage. Bryant and Taylor-Joy do a nice job with this pair of perky young journalists, who start clueless and giddy but end up mean-spirited and a tad horny.
Enid and Astrid (Aidy Bryant and Taylor-Joy) run this undergarment emporium, which sells not “bras for boobies,” but “brawrs for breasts.” Their models, such as “Load-Bearing Wall,” feature steel, 2x4s, and other unusual structural bonuses to help support women who need a bit more to support. This has the feeling of an Aidy Bryant–Kate McKinnon sketch, and while the partnership here may not be as exuberant and goofy, Taylor-Joy slots in fine. Her understated sidekick counters Bryant’s broader impulses as the take-charge matron. The elaborate contraptions may be a bit much, but Bryant’s boisterous know-it-all takes things to a fun place. Beck Bennett’s cameo as hardworking husband is nice, too.
AMC Theaters Commercial
Vin Diesel (Beck Bennett) does his best to tempt moviegoers back to theaters by recounting all the little things that sum up the movies for him: popcorn, sticky floors, the Aerosmith arcade game in the lobby, etc. Though there are cameos from theater personnel (Kenan Thompson, Taylor-Joy), this is basically a monologue by Vin, monosyllabic dope. While impressions aren’t Bennett’s strong suit, this one is pretty sound — which is good, as the sketch is essentially a list. The deep growl and careful movements balance out the runaway, childlike wonder Vin seems to feel about movie-theater napkins. Plus, there’s Vin’s many facial expressions: the scowl and the smirk.
Picture With Dad
This prerecorded sketch finds a pair of high-schoolers (Heidi Gardner, Andrew Dismukes) taking a prom photo in the backyard with her parents (Aidy Bryant, Beck Bennett). Dad, trying to be funny while posing with a shotgun, ruins things for everyone. While, yes, it is a sketch about a man blowing his dick off, it isn’t singly obsessed with the blasted junk. That said, there is a lot about a man blowing his dick off, and there’s a long, repetitive segment in which the dad fails to comprehend exactly what it is the teens are telling him. Not sure this will reach the shotgun dads out there — who really do pose for unsettling prom pics like this — but here’s hoping.
This retro episode of Hollywood Squares from 1998 keeps being cut down, as the Game Show Network would rather not remember guest spots from Bill Cosby (Kenan Thompson), Jared Fogle (Kyle Mooney), secret square Matt Lauer (Alex Moffat), or any of the other problematic public figures they’ve had on the show. While the idea behind the sketch is smart, the problem comes in essentially leading the audience right up to the cliff and then cutting away. Much of the comic energy is undercut by white text on black screen with accompanying voiceover. There are small, imaginative flourishes that work — such as Jeff Dunham’s terrible cornbread puppet — but not enough to overcome the interruptions.
Anya Taylor-Joy Monologue
In front of SNL’s first full — and fully vaccinated — audience, Taylor-Joy reviews the details that those at home may or may not know about her: She was born in Miami but moved immediately to Argentina, and is in fact our lady of Queen’s Gambit. Eventually, there’s a chessboard on the ceiling, with all the SNL cast members’ heads glued onto the pieces. While Taylor-Joy doesn’t come off nervous, her delivery of the jokes feels a bit less than assured; there’s a slight hesitation in her voice, as if wondering whether the material is coming across. It’s completely to be expected, given that much of her time has been dedicated to drama, and she charms nevertheless.
As a host, Taylor-Joy proves she’s quite capable of playing well with others. Many of her sketches are ensemble pieces, and in the ones in which she’s really called on to do bigger characters (“College Panel,” “Lingerie Store”) she holds her own. There’s both excitement and relief in tonight’s finale, as well as a lingering bittersweetness, touched on during the Cold Open. “Update” gives a worthy final bow, and though there are sketches that just don’t connect, none are outright duds.
From the vantage point of the season finale, the preceding year feels long and strange. Once Trump was out of office, the writers and actors (including Jim Carrey and a disengaged Alec Baldwin) processed the week’s headlines without focusing on national political figures, which was a breath of fresh air. The season had its hits, but I suspect it’ll be remembered for how it adapted to COVID restrictions and transformed into the show it had otherwise always been, one week after the other. During a time when people were clamoring for something vaguely normal, this was a feat, as was the SNL cast and crew avoiding any significant COVID outbreaks. It’s also worth noting how much SNL benefited this season from its efforts to diversify its cast and writing staff; that, and a more diverse list of hosts, has made sketches such as “Strollin’” or the cut-for-time “Gospel Play Promo” feel like not such a monumental happening. Things start back up in September, and in the meantime, we’ll all have time enough to forget “Wario” ever happened.