When future scribes write the full history of Saturday Night Live, this season will stand out as much as the first, albeit for wildly different reasons. The lead-up to, and reaction of, the 2016 presidential election dominated nearly every episode. Even when the show wasn't dealing directly with it, its absence cast a long shadow. The program often struggled with how to be itself when the world around it shifted in such a seismic fashion. While the results could be occasionally maddening, they were always fascinating.
Change is nothing new for the show. While its fundamental DNA is solid and informs nearly everything it does, the people that keep its spirit alive are constantly changing. SNL announced that the season finale would be the final episode for both Bobby Moynihan and Vanessa Bayer. Cast turnover is natural, and indeed vital, to the show's longevity. Moynihan had more of an overtly important tenure, with a personality that constantly leapt off the screen. But Bayer delivered one of the most underrated runs in the show's history, doing subtle and often subversive work that rarely called attention to itself but always managed to deliver. Both will be missed, but both will be linked to the show's incredible history.
For his part, newly minted member of The Five-Timers Club Dwayne Johnson had charisma to spare throughout the finale. Not every sketch worked, but none of the episode's shortcomings lay on his shoulders. He was game for everything, including what I imagine will prove to be an incredibly divisive sketch about a mad scientist contest. While some may be loath to talk about that one, here's what people will be discussing for the near future.
WWE Promo Shoot 2
This is the second, and superior, iteration of a wrestling promo sketch in which Johnson's Koko Watchout brutally beats down Bobby Moynihan's opponent Trashyard Mutt with a litany of personal attacks. It's what I call a Mad Libs Sketch: The the structure is essentially always the same, and the only variations are what the writers put into the blanks. But when the blanks are filled in this well, who cares if it's essentially a reskinned sketch?
SNL is littered with Mad Lib sketches, and it's great when a host like Johnson appears multiple times and can participate in them. Johnson is one of the great wrestling promo deliverers ever, so it's no surprise that his character can lay the verbal smackdown. But it's the brilliant escalation of insults that really makes this work: Each attack is bigger, bolder, and stranger than the last. An infertility accusation is one thing. But a complex scheme in which the pair are twins and Johnson's character has waited decades for this particular promo is the icing on an insane cake. For his part, Moynihan proves once again why he's a special talent, one that the show will be hard-pressed to ever replace. His mixture of bravado and meekness inside a four-minute period is simply marvelous to behold.
Dwayne Johnson Five-Timers Monologue
What better way to play up Johnson's recent insinuations that he might run for president than to pair him up with Tom Hanks as his running mate. These are two of the most well liked people in the entertainment industry, and putting them together is the show allowing the rumors to flourish while also having a lot of fun with it.
After quickly disposing of Alec Baldwin, the two run through their film resumés in order to demonstrate how prepared they are to both win the vote and effectively govern. The jokes given to both men are fine, but this is really a charisma-based two-hander, with the audience eating up everything these men do. By the time the banner and the confetti fall, the crowd is ready to march on Washington. This will be littered across every Sunday morning talk show, entertainment site, and 24-hour news networks for the foreseeable future, and will only increase the interest around a Johnson presidential run in 2020.
If people remember this season for anything outside of Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump or Melissa McCarthy's Sean Spicer, it will be for David S. Pumpkins. People will be dressing up as Pumpkins on Halloween for as long as there are Halloweens. Trying to explain the popularity of Pumpkins is like trying to explain why puppies are the best. Why bother? Both Pumpkins and puppies are amazing, and are always welcome.
Ostensibly a parody of DJ Khaled's song "I'm The One," this pre-taped sketch serves two functions at once: It allows the show to mock the records with an overabundance of MC cameos, and also permits the show's cast to create its own insane hip hop creation. If the previous sketch was a Mad Lib Sketch, this is a The Gang's All Here Sketch, in which everyone gets a few seconds to offer up his or her best variation of the sketch's comedic conceit. Everyone will have their own personal favorite cast creation, but Pumpkins – or David S. Pimpkins in this sketch – got the rock star treatment when he appeared, essentially overshadowing anyone else's part in the proceedings.