We've become quite accustomed to the season finale of Saturday Night Live serving as a kind of unofficial homecoming for recent SNL graduates. As soon as Andy Samberg was announced as the host for this season's last episode, we knew what we were likely to get. And even though Justin Timberlake was touring, there were enough cameos — Maya Rudolph, Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Paul Rudd — to more than make up for it. What that meant for the rest of the SNL cast members, particularly the seven freshman whose fates for next season are all in some stage of limbo, is something else entirely. But if you look to SNL for 90 minutes of variably successful sketch comedy rather than a semi-weekly political struggle for dominance ... well, for one thing, who are you and what is life like through your eyes? But also, this episode was probably a far less fraught affair.
Samberg himself admitted in his monologue that his seven-year SNL experience was far more heavily weighted to digital shorts than actual live sketches, so it's not surprising that this episode went to the digital well twice. Easily the best of these was the bass-drop tease DJ Davvincii, building up to an EDM crescendo that was particularly explosive.
Less great was the Lonely Island's return with "Hugs," yet another semi-successful attempt to convince the universe that Jorma Taccone is an awkward dork who can joke around with the rest of us instead of an uncommonly handsome man trying to slum it among the rest of us shlubby grotesques. Twinkcore Comedy strikes again.
As for the influx of alumni ... it could have gone better. (It has gone better. See Maya Rudolph's hosting effort from two seasons ago.) Rudolph as Beyonce was welcome but perfunctory, and hopefully it didn't distract from Sasheer Zameta's season-best work as Solange voicing over the actual events of that elevator video ("Foot five!"). Paul Rudd showing up on Weekend Update simply to serve as straight man to Samberg's Nicolas Cage was probably the most clear-cut example of a celeb straight robbing screen time from a real cast member. And then there was the welcome-and-then-a-question-mark return of The Kissing family, which attempted to tie things in to current events by having the family tsk-tsk ironically at Michael Sam at the NFL draft, all while making sure to code Taran Killam as gay by dressing him up as a tablet of Pepto Bismol.
Bummer for you, Brooks Wheelan, John Milhiser, and Mike O'Brien. Really hope your last episode as an SNL cast member wasn't spent watching Paul Rudd just sit there and Fred Armisen barely attempt to read his lines. It's not like Kristen Wiig tried any harder, but her low-key line-readings as the Lorax-lookalike half of conjoined twins at least fit the aesthetic of the latest incarnation of the porn-actress spokesmodels. Let's all work harder to build a world that properly accommodates Vanessa Bayer next year, though, huh?
2nd Runner-Up: Kyle Mooney
As we've alluded to, this was not an episode that particularly relied on the 17 current cast members (boy, we must be in for a bit of a culling over the summer) because there was so much time devoted to old friends stopping by. And perhaps that serves as an apt metaphor for some of the problems for this season as a whole. SNL brought in a lot of interesting talent, and some of it got more chance to shine than others. Kyle Mooney has earned friends and foes ("Hey." —JR) as he and Beck Bennett tried to slip into the digital shorts realm, but he’s certainly been one of the most-featured new players, and he had one of the night’s most memorable bits as crappy stand-up Bruce Chandling.