In its season finale, this 43rd season of Saturday Night Live went out the same way it came in: Unsure how best to tackle Trump's America. It's been a rocky road all season, and I'm not convinced it's entirely the show's fault. Pushed to huge ratings highs due to its Trump-related content in Season 42, the show had to figure out how to keep up with a world in which new events, scandals, and real-life operatic twists threatened to make each week's topical cold open stale by airtime. The show also had to contend with large shake-ups in front of the camera as well as behind it. All of this led to a show that would more than occasionally connect, but also flounder as often as it succeeded.
In Tina Fey, the show had a beloved host to close out the season and seed some good will heading into the summer break. What unfolded said more about SNL the show than anything else. Here are the three sketches people will be talking over the next week.
Tina Fey Monologue
Why pick a segment I actually didn't like? Because arguing what this monologue theoretically does–that the core cast has often been lost this season as the show has morphed into Celebrity Saturday Night Live–is like arguing with the weather itself. I can simultaneously say that I'd like to see which SNL cast member could bring the freshest approach to Donald Trump and completely understand why the show gets the biggest names it can to populate the screen for 90 live minutes of television each week. This is a show designed to get ratings to sell ads to make money. Arguing that Luke Null should get more screen time than Benedict Cumberbatch is something that I believe and also not the hill upon which I'm going to die.
What's objectionable here is that this is the second Tina Fey-hosted episode that has served to essentially haze the youngest members of the cast. In 2013, her monologue and then "New Cast Member Or Arcade Fire" sketch kicked off a season that saw half of those featured players not return the following season. Blaming that one-two punch for their departures isn't fair, but neither is putting them on blast in their first episode. (Even then, you could argue, "Well, at least they were onscreen.") Two episodes isn't a trend, but it's still bizarre to see Fey-led episodes dedicate so much energy to comedically antagonize a subset of the cast that serves as a vital link between what the show is now and what it will become. Sketches like this don't poison the well, but they certainly don't help the cause.
Donald Trump Robert Mueller Cold Open
This week marked the one-year anniversary of the Robert Mueller investigation and potentially the end of the Alec-Baldwin-As-Trump Era on SNL. Now, anything can happen over the summer, and since this is 2018, saying "anything can happen" isn't hyperbole so much as recognition of reality. It's possible that Trump won't be in the White House. It's possible Baldwin simply won't want to play him anymore. It's possible Lorne Michaels goes a different way come Season 44. So why not mark this end of this controversial year by paying homage to one of the most controversial TV series finales of all time?
Kate McKinnon's Rudy Giuliani is one of her greatest impressions, with the over-exaggerated eyes and gnarled fingers painting a picture of a completely unhinged man. But the audio for Journey's classic "Don't Stop Believin'" was so loud that most of her lines were drowned out, which suppressed initial laughter. Things got better later in the sketch, especially by the time Alex Moffat's Eric Trump tried to parallel park his child-sized three-wheeler outside the diner.
But there's been something off about every sketch that has featured Trump all season. Having Baldwin, Robert De Niro, and Ben Stiller in the same sketch will make for great headlines, but there's nothing more to satirize at this level anymore. SNL's real strength this season has been dramatizing the schism in everyday America because of what those in power have been doing. Showing Baldwin simply repeat dialogue from Twitter doesn't provide any catharsis, but simply serves a reminder of what's already happening in front of our eyes. Who knows what next season will bring. But in any case, it probably shouldn't be more of this.
Weekend Update: Eric and Donald Trump Jr. On Trump Tower Meeting
Full disclosure: I couldn't tell you a single line Mikey Day has said in any of these segments all season. Not a one. If I learned he had been systematically working his way through the Cheesecake Factory menu all season, I wouldn't be surprised. That's because all eyes and ears have been on Alex Moffat all year, with his Eric Trump having turned into one of the truly great Season 43 creations.
I've written before about the specificity of movement Moffat brings to the table, with his gestures a half-second behind Day's at all times yielding a seemingly spontaneous performance that is in fact calibrated like a finely-tuned violin. Just watch how he turns Day's attempt at a high-five into a synchronized wave to an imaginary crowd: there's choreography at work that's amazing for both its execution and its consistency. For everything in this season finale that harped on its present state, here was one that showed its path to continued success in the future.