Keegan thinks he’s hosting the season finale, delivering a very odd farewell, but maybe that’s because he wanted the season to go out on one of its strongest episodes in recent memory!
Did everyone involved with “Saturday Night Live” think this was the season finale — because it’s not.
The opening sketch featured the entire cast, which is the kind of thing you might hold until the finale, and then host Keegan-Michael Key delivered a closing statement that basically said this was it and the show would be back for next season.
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It will, but first it’ll be back next week with a new installment featuring host Anya Taylor-Joy and musical guest Lil Nas X. We’re not sure if Keegan got confused at the end, thinking he was hosting the season ender, or what was happening there!
Despite that awkward close, he actually delivered somewhat on his promise to offer up the best “SNL” of all time. It wasn’t that — there have been too many classic episodes — but it was definitely one of the strongest of the season, and a huge step up from last week’s dud.
Keegan settled down as the night progressed and started delivering performances and material as strong as the heights of his “Key & Peele” fame. And while there was no Jordan Peele cameo, he did get a hilarious shout-out during the monologue.
The night also included two sketches that didn’t appear to make it into the live show, but they were two of the stronger sketches of the night. We’re still grateful that the show takes advantage of its YouTube page to deliver these “bonus” sketches to us.
As usual, we’re ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Monologue, Cold Open, “Weekend Update” and any sketches that were cut for time but made their way online. We’ll skip the musical guests, because they’re not usually funny — unless Ashlee Simpson shows up. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week.
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Monologue: Keegan-Michael Key
A surprisingly sincere monologue at the start, with a somewhat terrible standup type of joke, before Keegan started singing (one of several standard monologue formats) about how he was going to “do every SNL thing tonight.” He even took audience questions, but he didn’t do a backstage tour of the studio … so not everything. This should have honestly been funnier than it turned out, but the writing wasn’t great on some of the joke punchlines. Cecily Strong and Kenan Thompson had nice, quick appearances, though, to try and keep the momentum going.
Not as strong as it could have been, there were nevertheless some good barbs in here. We appreciated Ego’s comment about why she was wearing a two-piece dress, as well as Melissa Villasenor’s hilarious spray tan moment (even she and hosts Bowen Yang and Heidi Gardner couldn’t stifle their giggles entirely at how ridiculous she looked). Heidi was fantastic (though we’ve seen the character before) as the teen crushing hard on Pete Davidson’s young substitute teacher, but not all of the cutaways or stereotypes worked, including Keegan’s three-time senior and correspondent, Schneeb. He played it a little too straight for what could have been.
We were totally on board with Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong’s aging Broadway stars having Mikey Day feed them every line of the musical number they were supposed to be doing, as the three of them actually kept the rhythm going pretty well. When Keegan-Michael Key joined them and started sharing terrible Broadway stories, it was actually more ridiculous. The whole piece didn’t end as strong as it could have, but at least everyone was having fun with their characters.
A full-cast experience as Kate McKinnon’s Dr. Anthony Fauci served as an emcee for explaining the CDC’s latest mask guidelines. Only, the players in the short sketches she prepared were not only stilted actors — performed wonderfully by the cast — but taking their scenes in sometimes disturbing directions, like the guy who wants to pick up a kid at a school even though he’s not a parent. It was actually effective as education and humor together, and it’s always nice to see something that involves the full cast like this. Giving them the “Life from New York” line almost made it feel like a season finale (as we’re still confident someone is going to move on from this sprawling cast after this season … right?).
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An unexpected twist in this one took us on a delightful journey we don’t want to spoil here. Keegan-Michael Key has a pretty solid delivery throughout, capturing the narrative of his story as well as the reasons he has to diss his rap foe, played with wild eyes by Chris Redd. The deeper and deeper layers of their current relationship were presented perfectly to build to a fully-earned and satisfying — if expected — ending.
Cecily Strong was great, as always, with her Gemma “I’m Bri-ish” character, but this was another case of Heidi Gardner stealing the show with her concerned asides to Kenan Thompson about his state of arousal and other things. Her earnest delivery got him smirking a little as he had to assure her that everything was fine down there. Meanwhile, Cecily and Keegan-Michael Key had a fun rapport as the DJ and Gemma, with her awful singing and almost frozen face. Bonus for a twist ending that brought it all together.
Anyone who’s been to one of these knows that no one follows the rule of staying quiet until all the names have been read, but we did love the way the sketch teased leaning into the stereotype of Black people shouting more only to confront and address it before introducing a redneck family every bit as loud, as well as a demure white family who wouldn’t know how to celebrate if time was set aside just for them … which it was. The character work was strong in this one, from all of the families to Alex Moffat’s frustrated principal. While it had no breakout moments, it was nevertheless entertaining and funny top to bottom.
A so-called extended scene from the Michael Jordan documentary with Keegan as MJ. But the real breakout star of this one was Heidi Gardner as the male security guard he coerced into playing quarter-against-the-wall until the poor guy had given up more than was reasonably possible. “What can I say? I like to win?” Keegan’s Jordan said. Kenan got to reprise his Charles Barkley, but he didn’t really do much with it so that fell kind of flat. The whole sketch started strong, dragged in the middle but really began to take off as the bets got more and more outlandish, with Heidi really bringing everything she had to the character.
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Colin Jost and Michael Che were “trying really, really hard, you guys” and they delivered, with one of the strongest “Update” segments in recent memory. Almost every joke landed hard as they tackled mask mandate changes, Microsoft’s new microchip, Liz Cheny and the GOP, as well as Democrats, in general. It all worked.
Kate continued the trend this week, with her take on Liz Cheney talking about being ousted from her leadership position by her own party, and her nasally delivery even had Colin cracking up a bit. She tried to put a positive spin on it and list the other brave Republicans ready to take a stand, but that list proved harder to come up with than — well, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Kate then started reminding everyone of just how conservative she is — and perhaps reminding Democrats why they maybe shouldn’t be so quick to try and be supportive of her struggle.
The boys then went low with a height joke about Tom Cruise and making up a billionaire feud between Jeff Bezos and last week’s host, Elon Musk. Che then went in on hard on classic rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd while Jost tackled the real story of Chicago trying to use feral cats to combat its rat problem. From here, the boys broke the facade and started reacting to their own jokes in real time, which only made the whole thing stronger.
Andrew didn’t kill in his first “Update” appearance as himself talking about his great-grandmother and upbringing in Texas, but even when a joke bombed or the audience wasn’t in it with him, he brought a genuine charm to it that only made us like him a little bit more. His wasn’t a particularly strong segment, but it did its job of helping the audience connect with him a little more.
Maybe we’re like Che and we just don’t get horse stuff enough to really appreciate what Beck Bennett did as Bob Baffert commenting on Medina Spirit testing positive for steroids. There were a few gentle laughs in this, but overall, the whole segment really killed the momentum (and ultimately the ending) of a great “Update” segment, which is a shame. They almost batted as strongly as Medina Spirit this week!
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Cut for Time: Sending Drinks
The gentlemen at the end of the bar had us from the moment we saw their ridiculous hats and coats. Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant were clearly enjoying playing off of one another as single women who’ve been in quarantine a bit too long. The escalating attempts to impress them, through waiters Mikey Day and Andrew Dismukes, were perfectly balanced with their ridiculous silent physical displays and the ladies’ reactions. Everything about this piece was both absurd and working flawlessly.
Usually, it’s the Muppets who are parodying everything, but props to “SNL” for a rock-solid parody of them. The puppets were slightly off, but Mikey Day and Beck Bennett nailed the personalities of Statler and Waldorf perfectly. We were cracking up at Keegan-Michael Key’s over-the-top take as a security guard, alongside Kenan Thompson, trying to shut down the heckling. This is the type of sketch we could have imagined on “Key & Peele,” as it was brutally funny with a dark twist to it. We even cracked up at Keegan and Kenan losing it over the solid physical puppetry work of Beck and Mikey after they’re begun to terrorize the balcony dwellers.
So many sketches tonight featured ten or more members of the cast, this was a night of showcases for everyone. Perhaps it’s his sketch background, but Keegan-Michael Key actually helped several cast members have their strongest night of the season.
Newcomer Andrew Dismukes, even though his “Update” segment didn’t work all the way, had a great night, showcasing that kind of dorky charm that he brings to the show. This was the first week he settled in as a performer enough we could see him staying on in that capacity (he’s been a writer for a little while now).
Melissa continues to be criminally underused, while Pete, Kylie and Chloe had quiet nights, but each still managed to find their moments. Conversely, Beck, Chris, Kenan and Mikey were everywhere tonight, while Kate, Cecily and Aidy had selectively strong performances.
But our heart was definitely drawn to Heid this week. Not only did she appear constantly throughout the night, but she gave us three fully immersive performances we won’t soon forget. She still knows how to embody an awkward teen to perfection, and we were dying at how she delivered her concern to Kenan in the sketch about his wife leaving him.
But it was her transformation into the security guard being humiliated by Keegan’s Michael Jordan that cemented her win for the night. It was a masterful performance from top to bottom, taken to the next level as the sketch wore on. Everything about that performance was golden.
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We can’t help but wonder if next week’s season finale will be the last for any of this enormous cast. Kenan kind of broke the format when he opted to just stay and stay and stay. Now, he’s even able to star alongside Chris in a sitcom while still doing the show.
Aidy has filmed three seasons of “Shrill” while still a repertory player on “SNL,” so it’s much harder to predict how and when some of these people might decide to go. Kenan’s already a lock for his 19th season (maybe he’s shooting for 20 years?)
It used to be that seven years was a standard contract, so we’d prepare to say goodbye to people at that point. If that rule followed, nearly half of this cast could be poised to say farewell, though we doubt that many would go.
After this season, we’ve got Kenan at 18 seasons, Kate at 10, Aidy and Cecily at 9, Beck, Colin and Kyle at 8, and Michael and Pete at 7. “Update” anchors tend to be writers on the show and often stick around a little longer, so Micheal and Colin will likely stay.
There’s been absolutely no chatter about anyone leaving, which could be setting up a huge surprise next week, or it could be that whoever might be going wants to do so quietly without the big Kristen Wiig-style fanfare that some huge stars get.
Right now, the show isn’t leaning as heavily on one breakout star, though Kate is close to that role, so perhaps several of them will want to bow out together, maybe with a literal bow next week. We have a feeling next week will be the end of the road for someone, but it’s hard to guess who that might be.
We could see Melissa going, as she’s not fulfilling her own potential on the show, even though she’s one of the younger cast members. But especially if a few veteran women opt to stick around, as she’ll likely continue to get little screen time in that case.
We could see the power trio of Kate, Aidy and Cecily all saying goodbye, or perhaps the latter two will say their goodbyes and Kate will just keep doing the show a la Kenan because she clearly loves it.
We used to think Pete might move on, but we suspect he’s in a happy place right now and he’s been giving more to the show this past season than in his entire tenure. But we could see Beck and Kyle moving on to explore their passion for very weird entertainment in film or their own TV show(s?).
Or maybe the entire cast will roll over again and stick around. It’s a huge cast, but if Lorne Michaels wants to pay all those salaries, it’s hard to argue with the results this past season. More often than not, it’s been working.
“Saturday Night Live” wraps its season next week with host Anya Taylor-Joy and musical guest Lil Nas X. Will it be the final episode for anyone in the cast?