The main takeaway from SNL’s 40th season finale? TGIAAEY: Thank God It’s Almost An Election Year.
True, the show is still figuring out the best way to skewer the Republican candidates already in the race; though all of them have made appearances on the show so far, none stands out as a particularly memorable character yet. On the other side of the political spectrum, though, SNL has hit upon someone we’ll gladly stick with for the next season and a half as she madly guns for presidential glory: Kate McKinnon’s crazy-eyed Hillary Clinton.
Clinton’s a figure with a long, loooong SNL history. She first appeared on the show in 1992 and has popped up regularly ever since, played by everyone from Janeane Garofalo to Amy Poehler (the previous gold standard) to Ana Gasteyer (the previous previous gold standard) to Miley Cyrus. Given all that, it’s impressive to see McKinnon set her own impression apart so quickly and decisively; thanks to sketches like last night’s cold open, she’s already the star of the 2016 election. (You do, however, have to feel for Vanessa Bayer, who inherited the Hillary mantle in 2010 only to be replaced by McKinnon shortly after Kate joined the cast.)
As for the rest of the show, and host Louis C.K.? Both of their performances last night call to mind a former child star: they peaked early, and the less said about their later work, the better. Actually, that’s not fair to Louis—his sketch performances were pretty consistent, i.e. good but not great and often marred by line flubs. With one huge exception, of course: the night’s…
Look, I’m aware that C.K.’s most recent standup monologue won’t be for everybody. The thinnest-skinned liberals may have taken offense at his exploration of “mild racism” (“If the doctor’s from China or India, I’ll think, well, good!”); Israeli and Palestinian sympathizers could both find plenty to object to in his bit that compared those warring factions to C.K.’s daughters (i.e. “selfish little bitches”); anyone with a mild sense of human decency could and probably should decry him for his long digression into Jean Baptiste, C.K.’s hometown’s local child molester.
But damnit if that monologue didn’t give me the deepest belly laughs SNL has inspired all season, even as I was groaning in horror at his big punchline: “[Mounds bars] do taste delicious, but they don’t taste as good as a young boy…to a child molester, not to me!” I also applaud the host for really going for it—unlike, say, fellow standup monologue deliverer Chris Rock, whose own attempts at edge earlier this season just seemed dated. C.K.’s first two SNL standup monologues were funny, but seemed tailored to feature topics suitable for network TV. This one, though, felt like pure Louis. Soak it in while you have a chance, because even in the middle of his routine, C.K. knew he was likely going too far: “How do you think I feel? It’s my last show, probably.”
I’ve probably said enough already about McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton, but just to reiterate: She’s good! The cold open was good! And it’s nice to see a sketch that featured every single current cast member, minus the Weekend Update duo of Colin Jost and Michael Che—as well as the glorious return of Darrell Hammond’s masterful Bill Clinton impression. Which does raise a question: Can we expect Hammond, who’s back in the SNL family as of this season as the show’s announcer, to play Bill throughout election season? (In other words, is Beck Bennett shit out of luck?)
There was, unfortunately, a whole lot of meh material on last night’s season finale; meandering sketches that didn’t seem to know what point they were trying to make (“Cabana,” which proved that lightning usually doesn’t strike twice—even if Cecily Strong’s British accent was as funny here as it was the first time Gemma appeared a few months ago), meandering sketches that just weren’t making a very good point (“Police Lineup,” which boils down to “actors—amiright?!”), meandering sketches that had funny premises but poor execution (that Forgotten TV Gems look at the fake ’50s sitcom Whoops, I Married a Lesbian, a sad example of untapped potential). But the only thing that really whiffed—and whiffed badly—was the sketch chosen to appear in the coveted post-monologue spot: “The Shoemaker & the Elves,” in which the titular cobbler learns that his magical pals are into some very weird sex stuff. That’s… pretty much it.
There’s envelope-pushing in service of a joke, as in C.K.’s monologue, and there’s envelope-pushing for the sake of itself. This sketch was very much an example of the latter; it had no greater purpose or message beyond “Ooo, we’re saying dirty things!” And I’m docking extra points for its ending, which seemed to point toward a payoff that never came. (Did anyone text that number, though?)
The Mild Racism Award for Mild Racism
Hey, how about that—just two sketches after C.K. explained this concept in his monologue, we got to see it in action! Louis imitating a black woman’s manner of speaking is funny enough; it’s just too bad that Leslie Jones still doesn’t quite have live sketch-work down. Here, she cut off C.K. before she was supposed to, then broke character to apologize and motion for him to continue. (I’m sort of surprised that SNL hasn’t put the dress rehearsal version of this sketch online instead of the live version, as they did when Jones screwed up in the Chris Rock episode—but it hasn’t, at least not yet.) The bit didn’t really recover after that gaffe—especially when Jones broke again, almost taking C.K. with her.
The “Wait, What?” Award
The first time C.K.’s crying lumberjack appeared, I cocked my head and shrugged—but held tight, since I figured he’d be back before the end of the episode. And he was… but only in another short that hit all the same beats as the first. I guess the point is.. there is no point? Or something? Like I said before: Wait, what?
Best Musical Moment
Let’s take a moment to talk about Rihanna, who didn’t lend her voice to any sketches tonight. (Boo!) But don’t think that means she stuck only to singing. The performer’s musical numbers were intricately staged in a way that SNL performances rarely are, unless they happen to feature Kanye West or Prince. Big ups to Rihanna, then, for entering those ranks with “Bitch Better Have My Money,” which literalized the song’s lyrics by putting Ri-Ri in the front seat of a car and a bound, gagged woman in the back, then brought in stagehands to strike the set partway through the song, and “American Oxygen,” a lower-concept number that placed Rihanna alone onstage, in front of screens showing footage of everything from Martin Luther King, Jr. to drug dealers to September 11. You know… America. They were both more fun to watch than the average SNL musical performance—but “Bitch” is a better song, and was also more visually dynamic.
The Good Jorb Award
Hey, it’s Bobby Moynihan’s Riblet! Yes, the character is obnoxious—but I find him to be the good kind of obnoxious, in as much as that’s a thing. I also think he presents a solid justification for benching Jost next season and putting Moynihan in his place. (Preferably not as Riblet, but even that might be an improvement over Update as it stands.)
I mean, it’s got to be Kate McKinnon. Right? Obviously? Even though Kenan got more screen time last night, Kate did more in one great sketch than he did in four mediocre ones. She also did what she could with Whoops, I Married a Lesbian, the night’s biggest missed opportunity.
— Aidy Bryant as a kid, tells Hillary Clinton that her parents don’t like her “and they just never will.” Hillary: “What a fun thing to hear for almost 20 years!”
— “Child molesters are very tenacious people. They love molesting childs! It’s crazy! It’s like, their favorite thing!”
— Other Weekend Update visitors: A smiley, charming Tom Brady (Taran Killam, making the most of his looks) and resident young person Pete Davidson, delivering hoary jokes older than he is. Also: There must’ve been a grain of truth to Davidson wondering onscreen how he even got cast on SNL in the first place. The question is, how big is that grain?
— #SquadGoals: To find out once and for all which SNL staffer Katt Williams is paying to keep mentioning him.
— Best interstitial photo of the season: Louis walking through a revolving door and noticing there’s a skeleton in there with him.
— There was no big Letterman tribute tonight—but C.K. did take a moment at the goodbyes to bid a special farewell to the late night host, who signs off for good in three days. Except he’s just going to re-up his contract for 10 years in the end, right?
— My overall thoughts on season 40: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Do you have a more eloquent assessment?