Fred Armisen Returns to ‘SNL’ for a Surreal and Star-Studded Season 41 Finale
At the top of the season 41 finale, Fred Armisen jokes about it being the last-ever episode of Saturday Night Live, and honestly, it really wouldn’t have been a bad way to go out. The former SNL cast member’s debut as host was a stellar one in terms of celebrity cameos, good writing and one satisfying character reprisal, but it also had some genuinely surreal moments, from the whimsical dance in the cold open to the warm goodbye performance from the SNL family band.
Also? Three words: Farewell. Mr. Bunting.
The jaw-dropping Dead Poets Society parody was certainly the (bloody) icing on the cake that was this episode featuring appearances from Jason Sudeikis, Maya Rudolph, Andy Samberg, Carrie Brownstein and, of course, Larry David’s Bernie Sanders. We also saw the return of the SNL Digital Shorts title card and a preview of Samberg’s movie Popstar in which he plays a self-obsessed rapper with some extremely questionable songwriting skills. We didn’t see the return of the “The Californians” like I know some people (myself included) were hoping for, but we did witness several characters crack up over Fred Armisen’s “O” face, so there’s that.
Hillary And Bernie Cold Open
It’s hard to believe that the next time we see SNL, it will be mere weeks before the general election, and what better way to say goodbye to this wacky primary than by watching frenemies Hillary Clinton (Kate McKinnon) and Bernie Sanders (David) have a beer at closing time and trade disses (“It looks like you were just elected to the Galactic Council!”). Sanders admits he regrets telling people to stop talking about Hillary’s “damn emails,” and Clinton of course offers Sanders a cabinet position, which leads to Sanders turning “Pivot” into a Seinfeldism. Ending the scene with a (literal) last waltz through Studio 8H was, I mean, delightful, and it was nice to see Darrell Hammond as Bill Clinton one more time, instead of Trump. You also have to respect the timing of that final push into the elevator and the full-cast “Live from New York.” I can’t remember the last time they did that.
Fred Armisen Monologue
Armisen left the cast in 2013 after almost a decade on the show, but the one thing we never really saw him do is a monologue. Not surprisingly, he didn’t require any help from the cast with his one-man show, “Love, From New York, I Did Saturdays Right,” in which he tells the story of his SNL audition using bad theater cliches, even worse impressions (except for that wordless Prince), and subtly hilarious lines like, “You’ll be back, Funny Freddy! Nobody makes it out of this town!” He also really uses the space, going into the audience for a bit that reminded me of “The Audition” sketch from Mr. Show, and giving overly dramatic directions to the lighting technicians while meandering up by the band. It set the tone for an episode that would be as wonderfully weird as Fred.
Not the first (or last) amateur theater joke of the night, this sketch showed what can go wrong when a teacher (Aidy Bryant) invites three random actors (Cecily Strong, Armisen and Kyle Mooney) to teach her students (Pete Davidson, Sasheer Zamata, and Jon Rudnitsky) about the expedition of Lewis and Clark (or, “Lewis Ampersand Clark”). The educational skit quickly turns into a story about how horny Lewis and Clark were for Sacajawea (or “Saca-jo”), and the politics of having a male-male-female threesome. The funniest part might have been the cutaway to Davidson’s character thoroughly enjoying the performance, or the fact that Armisen and Mooney almost cracked up several times. But there would be time for that later.
SNL Digital Short: Finest Girl
I think we can all agree that no one’s going to be referring to this video as “Finest Girl,” even if Vanessa Bayer still looks totally hot while wearing a turban and beard. This Digital Short serves as the music video for a song featured in Samberg (and the rest of The Lonely Island)’s upcoming movie, Popstar, in which Samberg plays Conner4Real, a guy famous for singing a song about his thirsty and geopolitically obsessed lover, among other things. This jam doesn’t waste any time getting to the point, reiterating that point, or coming up with a number of different ways to make the same point (although it’s hard to decide what’s better: “Invade my cave with your special unit” or “Terrorize that pussy”). Jay Pharoah’s President Obama makes his first cameo in forever, and we got to see Osama bin Laden (Fred Armisen) having a picnic with Uncle Sam. My main question is: was that really Samberg’s ass twerking those dice?
Out of all the characters and impressions Armisen did during his SNL tenure, I don’t think anyone was expecting to see Regine on the season 41 finale, but we weren’t exactly expecting to see Jason Sudeikis, either. Both made excellent returns in this sketch, which featured Armisen as Regine (who, until now didn’t strike me as a perfect Portlandia character), Sudeikis’s new girlfriend who is as pretentious as she is covered in erogenous zones. We’ve only seen this character twice before, first in 2012 and again before Armisen left the cast in 2013, that time with Daniel Craig. Regine’s near-orgasms every time her BF kisses her neck, blows in her ear or tickles her behind the knee are foot-in-the-guacamole hilarious, and it’s all made better by the supporting characters (Bennett, Bayer, Mooney, and Bryant) being unable not to crack up.
Farewell, Mr. Bunting
Arguably the best pre-taped sketch this season (and possibly ever), the simplicity and pure shock value of “Farewell, Mr. Bunting” is sure to make it an instant SNL classic. It’s been nearly 30 years since Dead Poets Society came out, so at first this seemed like a very good-looking but random tribute to the film’s final scenes in which the students (Bennett, Mooney, Pharoah, Rudnitsky, and Davidson) have to say goodbye to the teacher who made them love learning and deal with the mean, old principal (Bobby Moynihan) instead. But as soon as Mr. Bunting (Armisen) enters the room and the kids stand on their desks, the sketch takes a dark left turn that you probably have to watch several times to believe what you just saw. If only Robin Williams was around to see this.
As this was SNL’s last chance to work in election humor until (presumably) October, Colin Jost and Michael Che started with their favorite subject, Mr. Trump. Specifically, his problematic endorsement from the NRA, and how he’s actually just like a gun: “We think he’s gonna make us feel safe and strong, but he might end up accidentally killing us.”
After a few more jokes directed at gun owners, some gentle jabs at Clinton, and a Chris Christie/Bon Jovi joke for good measure, we saw our first desk guest (and second former cast-member drop-in) of the night: Maya Rudolph as the recently impeached Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Surprisingly upbeat about being recently ousted from office, Rousseff’s funniest lines were less about Brazilian woes (like how the Rio Olympics might be “BYOB”) and more about her Spanglish (or, Portuganglish?) accent, like her instructions to say her name “Like your tongue is mad at the rest of your mouth.” Like any good guest, she also takes some time to hit on Jost — she just better watch out for Leslie Jones.
Child labor jokes! Creepy clown jokes! A joke about Colin Jost getting an “A” on his Hepatitis test! As usual, there were some winners and some groan-worthy one-liners during the second half of Update, except this time Jost managed to get in a photoshopped joke about Che, rather than the other way around. The guys also took time to read some of their “Rejected” jokes, most of which got moans from the audience (especially that super dark Lucky Charms joke), but none worse than Che describing an elderly woman giving birth as “like pulling a penny out of a wad of gum.” OY.
Bringing us home was Che’s “neighbor” Willie, which is usually Kenan Thompson’s chance to say some outlandishly depressing shit that’s vaguely tied to a holiday or upcoming season. Things we learned this time: Willie had a really disturbing childhood involving “the candy van,” he chooses weird times to say “all lives matter,” and he should NOT be a dog owner.
When an astronaut (Armisen) gets chosen to take the only life-saving escape pod back to a moon colony, leaving his friends (Killam, Strong, and Bennett) to die, the only thing he has left to do is select his dinner, movie and preferred level of seat reclination. The bit gets a little old after the first few directives from the computer generated voice menu (Bayer) but I liked the little details like the food menu items and Armisen choosing to watch City Slickers 2. There’s also a twist ending, although it’s nowhere near Mr. Bunting-level. Not to mention, for an escape pod that has so many fancy amenities, you’d think they’d figure out how to not make the doors stick.
High School Theater Show
Last seen when Elizabeth Banks hosted back in November, this recurring sketch allows the cast to accomplish two things: mock the ultra politically correct and misguided social justice warriors, and remind everyone how unintentionally hilarious high school theater performances are. Rated “R” for “Reality Check,” the student play, “America The Beautiful?” shows Bryant, McKinnon, Killam, Mooney, Bennett, and Armisen (sporting some circa-2010 Justin Bieber hair) making salient points that actually sound like every over-the-top viral Facebook post you’ve ever read. As usual, parents in the audience (Bayer and Thompson) are exhausted by their children’s faux avant-garde display, despite the fact that they all just got into NYU. That’s good!!!
The Harkin Brothers
Taking the season out with a bang (of a tambourine), the entire cast gathered on stage for a sketch that was, at its core, simply about putting on some early ’70s clothing, donning fake mustaches, and giving a solid goodbye performance that frankly baffled the residents of Fayetteville, Arkansas. As Sasheer Zamata introduces the band, it takes a minute to see everyone who’s on stage. You’ve got Sudeikis on drums, the inimitable Carrie Brownstein on guitar, Armisen on keyboard, Rudolph on tambourine, Larry David on triangle, and Andy Samberg on—is that a lute? While the song about summer in the south didn’t have any LOL-worthy lines, it was entertaining enough to scan the stage and see so many funny people doing something so random. Plus, a classic southern rock song is kind of the perfect way to end something. Just ask Conan O’Brien.
So Shoot, What Else?
- How awkward is it to be walking around with the “fucked bin Laden” chorus stuck in your head today?
- “Flatbread pizza? What are we, in line at Legoland?” – Regine
- And THAT’S why you don’t put ceiling fans in a classroom.
- Why don’t more people bring up the fact that Trump thought people would want to buy steaks from The Sharper Image?
- “Andromeda Galaxy” is an awesome band name. Just sayin’.
- “I have Malaria. Malar! Malar!” – Aidy Bryant
- Bobby Moynihan’s saxophone player character definitely looks like Zoot from The Muppets.
- Where was Leslie Jones this entire episode? Probably shooting Ghostbusters.
- On a personal note, it’s been a lot of fun recapping this entire season of SNL for you guys. Have a great summer!