Season 44 of Saturday Night Live has come to an end, not with a whimper but an eh. It was a surprising episode, with moments of truly sidesplitting comedy augmented by a rare emotionally resonant segment on Weekend Update. But it was also a deeply frustrating example of the show’s glaring weaknesses at the moment.
Paul Rudd returns for his fourth time hosting the show, bringing the same unstoppable charm that’s kept him on the big screen for three decades. Rudd is the sort of Hollywood star who oozes gratitude, fully aware that in another life he’d be just another person. He played off that affable nature during the opening monologue, raising a glass of champagne to the personified idea of Saturday Night Live itself.
“I first officially met SNL in 2008,” he gushes. “I was like, this guy’s crazy! You were doing sketches about some guy named Barack, and I hadn’t done a Marvel movie yet, so I was still treating people pretty well.” It’s a warm start to a solid hosting gig. As uneven as the show was tonight, Rudd proved an anchor point, bringing energy and enthusiasm to each sketch.
It’s hard to overstate how much the host having fun improves the show, particularly when the writers insist on suddenly ending sketches with abrupt, out of nowhere, twists. Take tonight’s “Music Box” sketch for example. On paper, it’s about a group of folks slowly remembering a show about a ballerina trying to hold in a fart. Rudd dives headfirst into the bit as a whimsical singing shopkeeper, selling each ridiculous lyric. It’s a great bit, with Cecily Strong and Kyle Mooney playing the straight men with a little girl. Then, suddenly, it’s a Twilight Zone sketch, for some reason? Hey, who cares, at least we got to see Paul Rudd sing about farts.
After months of watching Saturday Night Live for these recaps, it’s interesting to notice patterns. These odd non sequitur endings are becoming increasingly common, like the writers had a great idea for a Vine joke they have to stretch into five minutes. The other option, also increasingly common, is just abruptly ending the skit, like tonight’s The View parody. It’s jarring. Hopefully, when the show comes back from the break they’ll have worked out some of these recent kinks.
If I sound overwhelmingly negative, let me be clear, I still had fun this week. Pete Davidson’s digital short rap video “GoT Tribute” is a clever twist on fandom with a special cameo from one of today’s most underrated geriatric comedy duos. “Leslie & Kyle” rekindles last year’s on-screen romance sketch between Kyle Mooney and Leslie Jones for a surprisingly dirty farewell to the season. The satanic slumber party themed “Ouija” proved SNL is capable of surprising tenderness sometimes, even when the spawn of the devil is involved.
In the night’s best traditional sketch we catch up with Kate McKinnon’s Ms. Rafferty, who this time is being interviewed by NASA about her experience with time travel. Paul Rudd is incredible as a redneck wowed by a free subscription to Showtime and Cecil Strong plays his long-suffering friend. Strong plays the straight man to Rudd’s Nurse Jackie jokes, but the scene is entirely stolen by McKinnon. McKinnon has played this chainsmoking traveler before, but holy shit is it ever a pleasure to revisit. Her ability to describe a monkey attack as, “I don’t know if you’ve been on the receiving end of fifty balloon knots, but it ain’t exactly a Tuscan sunset,” without breaking character is remarkable. I could watch her knit and laugh.
Weekend Update was on fire this week, remembering political humor works best when it has teeth. Tackling the Trump administration’s war drums for Iran, Chinese tariffs, immigration, and more, the whole segment felt fresh. Strong had a brief bit as Judge Jeanine Pirro that frankly would be funnier if the subject wasn’t a monster. But the real star of Update this week was Leslie Jones.
Taking the stage in a Handmaid’s Tale dress, Jones gave a monologue about the recent escalation in the war on women, citing the multiple brutal anti-abortion laws being passed around the country. Removing the dress to reveal a t-shirt with “Mine” and an arrow pointing down, Jones roasted the legislators who passed these laws while declaring her own bodily autonomy. Hearing as vulnerable a statement as “If you’re a woman out there and you feel scared and confused, just know that you’re not alone,” on Saturday Night Live was odd. But the segment was powerful and full of righteous fury.
It’s the exact opposite of the cold open, a segment which made me want to throw my remote and ask everyone involved what the hell they think they’re doing. As odd as cold opens reenacting the week’s news has become, at least they try and say something. This season finale opens with a fucking Queen parody about how Trump can’t be stopped. Look, I’m not an idiot, and I get what they were going for. But rather than criticize or, even better, make jokes about Trump, the song just presents an unwinnable situation. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Donald Trump tweet positively about how nice is it SNL is treating him fairly now. It’s absurd.
Hopefully, the summer break finds the show figuring out how to move some of Weekend Update’s teeth into its other political jokes. It’s impossible to overstate how bad Baldwin’s Trump is, less a parody of an egomaniac than a famous actor preening into self-parody. We wish they’d take some risks. There’s no way they’d bomb worse than the steadily worsening cold opens.
DJ Khaled was the music guest this week. Khaled feels like a Saturday Night Live character already, making his guest spot in “GoT Tribute” a surreal delight. As for his “performance,” hey at least you get to see Meek Mill, Lil Wayne, John Legend, and a host of today’s biggest rappers make surprise appearances. Plus any show that ends with a Nipsey Hussle tribute can’t be all bad.
That’s it for Saturday Night Live recaps for a while. Light some incense and say a prayer. Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll replace Baldwin with Anthony Atamanuik over the break.