Written by Mark Henely, Melissa Jouben
Saturday Night Live Season Finale with Fred Armisen and Courtney Barnett
The Host: Fred Armisen
Mark: I’ve said before in these reviews of SNL that I like the hosts for the spectacle that they are. There is something fun about giant stars like Russell Crowe and Ronda Rousey getting silly and putting themselves out there. But, oftentimes, these hosts that get on for their fame often get in the way of making a really funny show (i.e. Donald Trump). The great thing about Armisen as host is that he never once gets in the way. He elevates the material and the performances of the capable cast-mates from this season and delivers a great episode. There were 8 sketches on this show and, for my money, 7 were funny. That is something of a minor miracle for SNL.
Melissa: Fred Armisen has got to make most lists of the best performers SNL has ever seen. He’s adept at creating characters and an impressive impressionist. Remember his Barack Obama? Prince? Any one of his Weekend Update characters? But going into his monologue I was kind of unsure and very intrigued about how it would go. I can’t help but think of this quote from his ex-wife, Elizabeth Moss: “He’s so great at doing impersonations. But the greatest impersonation he does is that of a normal person.” Fred Armisen isn’t exactly somebody you would want to hear a monologue from because he’s just a really weird and kind of private guy. That’s why I was relieved, and ultimately very entertained, with how they played to his strengths for his monologue by having him perform a one-man play about auditioning for Saturday Night Live. As a host, Armisen transported himself back into his days at SNL seamlessly – which means showcasing some of his best performances alongside some of his worst.
Melissa: Last night’s cold open evoked all the right feelings for me. To set it in a bar at closing time is both a fun way to send off the season, and also a great commentary on where we are in the primaries right now: Hillary Clinton is all but assured the nomination at this point and is probably as celebratory as she is weary and ready to wind down, while Bernie is starting to be seen as staying a little passed his welcome. But the cold open doesn’t try to push politics too far and instead does what I love in an SNL cold open, which is allow the cast members to have fun and simply enjoy themselves. When Saturday Night Live returns in the fall, we’ll be mere weeks away from casting our vote for the next President of the United States. Kate McKinnon and Larry David probably had a lot of fun playing their part in what I’m sure will go down in history as one of the most fascinating presidential primaries on record, but we all know that when the show comes back McKinnon is going to be sharing the stage with Darrell Hammond, not David. This cold open is a love letter to the primary season that pretty much wrote itself, as far as parodies are concerned, and it was simply sweet to see this fun little moment between David and McKinnon – who in my opinion has been carrying this season on her back, and is going to return to studio 8H next fall and be faced with the possibility of carrying the next four seasons on her back as well.
Sketch of the Night: (Tie) New Girlfriend and Farewell, Mr. Bunting
Mark: The New Girlfriend sketch (where surprise guest, Jason Sudeikis, introduces his weird girlfriend to his friends) is a tour-de-force. There are two games going on at the same time and both are really funny. Armisen’s performance is so undeniable that he gets at least 2 of his fellow performers to break and Sudeikis is so loose that he creates some very funny moments that I imagine weren’t in the script. This could be a new classic.
While The New Girlfriend was great, the biggest laughs of the night came from Farewell, Mr. Bunting. It’s a parody of Dead Poets Society that is stupidly funny in the best way possible. It is worth a watch.
Melissa: Hey, guys? If you knew how to make a sketch like this the whole time, why did you wait until the absolute end of the season? This is the kind of thing I haven’t seen SNL do in a very long time – honestly since the early days of Fred Armisen. Performance-wise, the cast members are all delivering perfection. For me, there is no explaining or analyzing this sketch. To try and break it down just feels counter to the nature of it. All I can say is that it is a far, far departure from the very political and heavy-in-social-commentary season we’ve just wrapped. I don’t know, don’t listen to me. Just watch it!
Worst Sketch of the Night: The Harkin Brothers
Mark: This sketch had it all and did nothing with it. The premise is that The Harkin Brothers, a large Lynyrd Skynyrd style family band, was playing a concert for a disinterested from of teens from Harlem. That is a solid premise and the band was made up of the entire cast plus guest stars Armisen, Sudeikis, and others. All the talent in the world was on that stage and there were no jokes. Just the entire cast singing a song in character. A bizarre sketch and a missed opportunity.
Melissa: Maybe there were no jokes to be had, and maybe this fell a little flat because of it, but for me this is what you tune into the finale to see. All these cast members and all these guests cobbled together into one sketch just enjoying themselves and having fun. It’s the end of the season, and these performers and writers are probably completely mentally and physically exhausted after working the kinds of hours they’ve been working since October, and they just want to end the show on a deep exhale rather than something that might take your breath away. It’s like the last day of school… You don’t really have to go when you know nobody’s taking attendance and there is no work to do, but you always show up because you know you’re just going to goof off with all your friends.
Musical Guest: Courtney Barnett
Mark: Barnett didn’t knock me out, but, as a no-frills rock and roll chick, I think she fits in with Armisen’s aesthetic. I liked her on this show, but I don’t think I’ll be looking any deeper into Barnett.
Melissa: So far I’ve been skirting by a little bit on writing about these musical guests because I really don’t know who most of these people are. But last night Fred Armisen introduced Courtney Barnett to the stage and I went from having never heard of her to being like “THIS is what being a musical guest is all about.” Sure, the real reason is to break up the sketches and give the audience a chance to sort of cleanse their palate, but it’s also supposed to be about giving a national platform to artists who are deserving of such recognition. And although I’ve never heard of Courtney Barnett before, she’s a name that I really hope I hear a lot of in the future.