The 39th season of Saturday Night Live ended as it began—with a former cast member front and center as host. The Tina Fey-Andy Samberg sandwich (with a little Jimmy Fallon mustard in the middle for good measure) may have been in part to anchor this season of major transition. With heavy hitters Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Jason Sudeikis gone, a pair of new Weekend Update hosts behind the desk after Seth Meyers’s February departure, and a total of eight new cast member by season’s end, the direction of the show was up in the air. And in a season of hits and misses, this finale was a solid reminder of what makes the show good.
Samberg’s return to Studio 8H was full of the eccentricity he brought the show, which really paved the way for stranger sketches, characters, and, most notably, digital shorts that became highlights of the show each week. Let’s not forget that the first SNL digital short featured him and Will Forte sitting on a stoop biting into heads of lettuce. His first hosting appearance similarly encouraged the fringe energy that the cast has been fostering all season.
My favorite sketches of the night diverted from the dreaded game show/talk show format that has become all too comfortable for the writers in this season’s moments of desperation. In “When Will the Bass Drop?”, the first of two digital shorts, Samberg plays a DJ hilariously avoiding dropping the bass as he plays Bubble Blast and rakes his zen garden while the crowd loses their minds. The return of the bizarrely affection family the Vogelchecks—made up of guests Fred Armisen, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Paul Rudd, and Maya Rudolph—had the cast grossly making out with each other only to be taken aback by NFLer Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend on TV. It hit hard with a gag that ended with a chain of passing air from the mouth of one person to the next to perform CPR on an ailing grandma (Kate McKinnon). And in a brilliant one-off that probably had the costume department put in hours of work for a 90-second reward, Samberg played Legolas in “Legolas from The Hobbit Tries to Order at Taco Bell.” Even the musical guest, St. Vincent, provided an edge of absurdity that fell right in line with the best moments of the night.
It was fitting to have Samberg cap off a season that increasingly relied on pretaped shorts for its biggest laughs. Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney, who have been killing it every week with videos in the vein of their sketch group Good Neighbor, are poised to be the next Lonely Island. Since Samberg’s first digital short the entire attitude of the show has changed; it’s become less about who sees the show live on Saturday night and more about which video gets posted to Facebook on Monday morning. The Internet generation is now calling the shots, even when it comes to casting. Controversy surrounding the cast’s diversity spread like a World Wide Web wildfire, and in January Lorne Michaels responded by hiring Sasheer Zamata, the only African-American female on the current cast.
This is the first cast in the show’s history in which no one was born before the premiere in 1975. That youth, combined with a transitional cast and technology’s increased presence, will soon render the show unrecognizable from your parents’ SNL. But that’s what’s always made it great—it’s a representation of the cultural landscape at any given time. This season proved more than ever that today’s landscape is digital.