The 34th season of Saturday Night Live certainly brought a lot of buzz and attention back to the show, and Lorne Michaels and company celebrated the end of that year with a bang that included plenty of starpower and nostalgia, plus a heavily implied farewell to Darrell Hammond, who completed his record thirteenth season as a cast member by returning for multiple sketches. We got to see Hammond reprise Dick Cheney and Sean Connery one last time on the show, and it's only surprising that we didn't get to also see him pull out his Donald Trump as well -- considering how much Trump was in the news with a certain Miss California (who could have been played by newbie Abby Elliott). But with star and SNL veteran Will Ferrell hosting, we saw just how much Ferrell mattered to the show earlier this decade, as he dominated the finale's proceedings from beginning to end. Even with all of the celebrity cameos and returning SNLers. Did I mention them yet? OK. We saw (take a deep breath now): Tom Hanks, Norm MacDonald, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Anne Hathaway, Paul Rudd, Elisabeth Moss and Artie Lange. With all of this happening, the current cast had much less on their plates to worry about. Good? Bad? It'll almost all make sense soon enough.
But first, a cold open from an NBC studio, and in the makeup chair getting ready for Meet the Press is one disgraced newly former VP Dick Cheney (Hammond), with Abby Elliott playing the makeup specialist. Ferrell shows up as his now Tony-nominated caricature of George W. Bush, trying to surprise Cheney and confront him about his newfound desire for media attention. Surprise fails because W. whispers too loudly: "That is one of the many reason I am no friend to libraries." Zing. We get it. They also poke fun at the current administration when W. asks why Cheney couldn't have been more like VP Joe Biden, going out for burgers and saying dumb things in public to make him look smarter. W. implies he has been watching a lot of Dr. Phil with his free time this spring. An OK, utterly predictable sketch, held together by the performances of the leads.
Ferrell's monologue attempts to re-establish his cred as a dramatic actor with roots in the theater, also with predictably disastrous results. Again, it's only Ferrell's sheer persistence that sells it. "Line?"
Talk about nostalgia. Our ad spoof for the night goes deep into the vault (Season/episode #26.11) for an oldie in which Ferrell sells his services as Wade Blasingame, Esq., attorney at law. Blasingame has sued more than 2,000 dogs. Because would you let a human do the things dogs get away with every day? Chris Parnell simulates the dog in scenes with Hammond, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Tracy Morgan and Horatio Sanz. If you want to look for such things, you might even notice that the way Ferrell, in particular, delivers his lines can suggest that SNL knew how to deliver lines awkwardly before a certain Tim & Eric came along (instead of the other way around). Anyhow.
The Lawrence Welk Show parody returns for a second time with some casting shuffles. Fred Armisen is Welk. But the singing sisters act, which initially featured guest host Anne Hathaway and Amy Poehler, swaps them out for Michaela Watkins and Abby Elliott to join Casey Wilson and Kristen Wiig, who naturally, is the star of the scene with her big forehead and tiny, tiny hands. She wants to put her tiny, tiny hands all over Ferrell's character, and when that proves unsuccessful, she moves on to the tiny, tiny bubbles. Considering what we see later in this episode, they didn't need to change the cast, did they? Hmmm.
More than a few people, eagerly awaiting the return of Ferrell to the show, asked for a reprise of Celebrity Jeopardy, with Ferrell as host Alex Trebek and Hammond as Sean Connery. Done and done. But they took the sketch many steps further (and perhaps one step too far) by having Wiig's Kathie Lee Gifford ham it up, Tom Hanks as himself playing dumber than dumb, and Norm MacDonald appearing and disappearing out of nowhere as Burt Reynolds. Some hilarious lines. Hammond on scoring negative $69: "69 is how I scored with your mother last night!" Hanks plays it so straight you go with him on it. MacDonald was a nice enough surprise at first, but his return at the very end seemed out of place. I wanted to say this was the best sketch I laughed at in a long time, but on second thought, not quite. A fun time, nevertheless.
The NBA on TNT segment gave the show a chance to make fun of TNT's relentless on-air promos that materialize as superimposed silent action scenes on the bottom of the screen. While Ernie Johnson (Bill Hader) and Charles Barkley (Kenan Thompson) talk hoops, Barkley gets sidetracked by the constant promos for an upcoming sitcom, "Mike," starring a goofy single dad (Ferrell). There's also one for "Courting Rachel" (Wiig), about a judge who's also a supermodel.
Green Day was the musical guest. First new single: "Know Your Enemy." Who was that extra guitarist? Is he the enemy?
Weekend Update welcomed back Amy Poehler to the anchor desk for a one-time-only deal (as her NBC sitcom, Parks & Recreation, had wrapped its initial episode order). Seth and Amy reprised their "Really!?!" segment, devoting their mockery to Arizona State University for inviting President Barack Obama to graduation but denying him an honorary degree. They seemed a little late to that conversation, but everyone liked seeing Poehler again.
Again, it's Ferrell, this time bringing us views on how steroids has changed baseball, courtesy of the ghost of Harry Caray. "Being dead is the best thing that's happened to me. It's almost like heaven." Almost? Almost. As for Manny Ramirez, would the Predator have made a good ballplayer? Discuss.
We have a half-hour left in the finale, and if I were to tell you there'd be only two sketches and one song remaining, your mind would befuddle trying to figure out how that could be so. How about two lengthy, cast-heavy sketches? The first is a sketch idea we'd seen earlier in the year, in which an event gets hijacked by an endless lineup of guest speakers. This time, Jason Sudeikis plays a priest at a funeral. Elliott gave her remembrance of Joey, and Hader interrupts by asking for "Uncle Joey's" green Swatch watch. As Wilson looks on as the widow, Ferrell's Graham Yost plugs his stand-up comedy gigs, Wiig on oxygen hears rats in her floorboards, Will Forte makes his first appearance of the night as a conservative bemoaning "the death of the American dream" thanks to Obama, Bobby Moynihan delivers his one and only line -- "What?!" -- and Maya Rudolph comes on to sing about Sasquatch.
If you had been paying attention in NYC, you'd have known that Rudolph was in town and singing silly with Jimmy Fallon on TV just the other night, and MacDonald also was hanging around doing gigs and promoting his work. So seeing both of them at the finale wasn't quite as surprising to me.
After Green Day's second song, their own "21 Guns" salutation, we had plenty of time.
Plenty of time for a finale that looked and sounded like a traditional theatrical whiz-bang grand finale, when everyone in the cast, along with friends and family, gets onboard for one last song. In this case, we began the sketch in Grand Central Station, with Ferrell, Hammond, Thompson and Hader discussing their summer vacay plans. But when Hammond mentions Vietnam, Ferrell leaps and lurches into song. Specifically, Billy Joel's "Goodnight Saigon." Sony has the actual music video on YouTube with embedding disabled. Will the label and Joel allow Ferrell's musical tribute to make it to your Internets? If so, you'd see his backup band include all of the current cast members, Poehler, Rudolph, Hanks, Anne Hathaway and Paul Rudd (both season 34 hosts themselves), Green Day, MacDonald, Artie Lange (?!?), and Armisen's fiancee Elisabeth Moss. Lange gets his own shoutout from the audience and acknowledges them with a smile and a wave. And we will all. Go down. Together. Interesting choice, isn't it? A visual and vocal sign of cast unity.
And everyone in the cast claps and points a little bit extra during the goodbyes for Darrell Hammond.Here's part of the finale plus the goodbyes, while it lasts!
I'll try to come back in a few days and see if I can get my hands around season 34 as a whole, and offer some final thoughts later in the week.