Unlike scripted shows, which often build to a finale, Saturday Night Live starts just as fresh with its last episode as its first. So the fact that the season went out with something of a whimper is a function of the show’s creative DNA rather than a failure to sum up the narrative themes of the season. (If one HAD to come up with Season 44 themes: Kenan Thompson was the MVP, Heidi Gardener was Most Improved, there were few truly great episodes but dozens of awesome sketches, the show never topped Adam Driver as an oil baron in the season opener, and dear God they need to stop putting Alec Baldwin in as Trump if they ever want a laugh in the cold open again.) An episode either works, or it doesn’t, and its placement inside the season has little to no bearing on its success.
Host Paul Rudd is about as charming a host as one could hope for, but there were few times in which his presence was truly needed in the sketches written for him. His recreation of 1980’s music videos on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon are rife with Rudd-ness, so to speak. But tonight, he primarily faded into the background, which seems insane for someone who consistently stole scenes from every other actor in Avengers: Endgame.
I know we’re all about to binge-watch Grace and Frankie now, but before we do, let’s break down one last time the sketches people will be discussing this week.
Weekend Update: Colin Jost and Michael Che Switch Jokes
Tepid take: Colin Jost and Michael Che are good “Update” hosts. It took a while to get here, and the show’s handling of Cecily Strong’s demotion as co-host after Season 39 still stings somewhat, but this pair now works. In fact, given the show’s inconsistent episodes this season, “Update” has turned into the most reliable portion of this show week in and week out. Having the pair try to embarrass the other on national television during the finale is now an annual tradition, but this turned into the best example of why these two had their best season on the show thus far.
I’ve long argued that people aren’t devoted to SNL for its characters or even its comedy, but for its performers. When people talk about the show, they tend to focus on the first two, but they are really talking about the third. Given the show’s ironic tone and its focus on creating characters that can be pushed into the pop culture stratosphere, the Not Ready For Primetime Players often sink into anonymity even while being seen by millions of people each week. The machine that is SNL is designed to be above any one person. But that doesn’t mean those people can’t occasionally be themselves within the machine, and those quick glimpses into the people behind the comedic masks are what really stick.
Case in point: it’s much, much, much funnier to watch two guys try to embarrass each other on live television than it is to see them competently recite jokes. The two clearly have a kinship, and seeing them visibly squirm as the cue card shifts to a line that will inevitably cause them grief is the pair at their most human. The best moments of “Update” all season have existed between the seams. It’s the only place in the show that doesn’t exclusively rely on everything going as planned in order to be successful. The two sit somewhere between Seth Meyers and Norm Macdonald in terms of delivery: They don’t have the assassin-like quality of the first, and don’t have the pure anarchy of the second, but they manage to incorporate qualities of both through a relationship that seeps through with each passing week. It’s hard to predict what Season 45 will bring, but I’d bank on an even better version of “Update.”
If you had “DJ Khaled gets the biggest laugh on the season finale of SNL,” then let’s talk, because I’d love to get some stock picking advice from you. I’m not sure what the Vegas odds were on this happening, but I’m convinced the payoff was huge. But here we are: DJ Khaled delivering the line, “It’s a nice show!” about the Netflix program Grace and Frankie made me spit out my drink, provided the show’s most meme’able moment, and was the icing on the cake on this solid, densely packed musical sketch.
Game Of Thrones allusions abounded during this episode, with SNL unable to avoid the elephant (or dragon?) in the pop culture room. But what seemed like the last chance for the show to talk about the monoculture monolith ended up turning into a bizarre ode to a program that sums up the Peak TV era: huge stars, multiple seasons, and almost no buzz. I’m not trying to dunk on Grace and Frankie (if DJ Khaled says it’s a nice show, I’m gonna take his word for it) here; in fact, there’s something oddly nice about giving a show this far under the radar some love.
Look, Netflix doesn’t need the publicity or anything, but this sketch turns into a nice reminder that there are literally hundreds of shows that have similarly (if infinitely more concentrated) dedicated fanbase as Thrones. It’s equally likely that every time DJ Khaled says his name, it’s an “I Am Groot” situation in which each iteration has its own subtle meaning, but that’s another topic for another day.
Weekend Update: Leslie Jones On Alabama’s Abortion Ban
Leslie Jones is the best direct-to-camera performer the show has had in a decade. Full stop. Pete Davidson might be in the conversation, but there’s no one else that can be themselves, look into camera, and with no artifice just own the audience. Jones’ impact elsewhere in the show has been mixed (although her shorts with Kyle Mooney are incredible and demonstrate range live sketches do not), but on “Update” she rules the roost.
Even while it’s easy to take her monologues for granted at this point, she’s still a fantastic voice to speak truth to power in the wake of recent legislation in Alabama and other states that have passed restrictive abortion legislation in the past few weeks. As with the Che/Jost success earlier, this segment works because there’s no distance between Jones the performer and Jones the person here. It’s one and the same, which makes dubbing herself “Leslie ‘Dracarys’ Jones” such an empowering moment. That’s not a persona she’s assuming. That’s just who she is, period. And that’s why she’s so good at “Update” segments: the authenticity she brings is refreshing, especially when the show either treats the world around it with kid gloves or refuses to engage with it at all. For just a few minutes each week, Jones brings reality to the foreground, and does it with ferocity and humanity.