SNL Rings Out Season 49 on a Broad, Boundary-Pushing Note

Well, Saturday Night Live closed out its 49th season last night commendably pushing the boundaries of comedy invention, female-singer lingerie, and what used to be acceptable language on broadcast television.

Commendable, because much of the season finale was broad and funny and that ought to be the real measure of standards and practices for the longest-running sketch-comedy show in entertainment history.

If you’re funny, you ought to get to push all you want.

This was another in a recent string of SNL episodes that generated a good percentage of high-decibel laughs. And if anyone was unaware that it was the season finale and the season was the 49th, the host, Jake Gyllenhaal, got the message across with unfettered emphasis in his monologue, which featured a song parody about it being the “end of the road” for this season.

The tune even highlighted some historical and cultural benchmarks for the show that go way back: “Forty-nine years/over 200 shows/costumes and wigs/and a room full of blow.”

Maybe because SNL will not return until we are deep into the most bitter and bizarre presidential election in history (and they’re doing the debates so early that the traditional sketches sending them up might be outdated), it was probably inevitable that the cold open would trot out one more iteration of Trump madness, executed by the best Trump impressionist the show has ever employed, James Austin Johnson.

His assignment? Capture the main event of the past few weeks, the almost surreal lunacy of the ongoing criminal trial in New York, with a former president accused of funneling cash to a porn star to prevent a sleaze-induced backlash that might have cost him the 2016 election.

As often happens with Trump, it was difficult to be more funny than he unintentionally is.

Johnson has Trump’s movements and vocal inflection down almost alarmingly well, and especially his bizarro rhetorical digressions, where he free-associates from topic to topic like the inebriated but always sure of himself old guy at the end of the bar.

“They’re saying mean things about me when I’m trying to sleep,” Johnson as Trump said describing the courtroom events, jumping to introducing “vee-pee” wannabes, after a digression about Julia Louis Dreyfus as “the Veep,” leading into mocking Tim Scott and Kristi Noem (of course demonstrating her bloodlust against puppies) and moving on to his recent hero- worship of Hannibal Lecter.

This accompanied revealing the face of one juror, who would now face threats from his followers, and how “they call her Juror 9, but to me she’s like a 6, maybe.”

And every bit of that was disturbingly close to the exact truth.

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Many of the sketches were again extraordinarily broad and Gyllenhaal was game and skilled throughout. The first sketch had a one-joke premise—girlfriend’s father goes bonkers to keep guy from revealing Dad is a cookie-eating fiend. But when Jake was sticking his fingers down Andrew Dismukes’ throat, the slap-shtick was pretty irresistible.

The taped sketch that followed was a clever take on Scooby Doo, one that dissolved into ferociously garish, gruesome (and ridiculous) violence.

But sketch number three reached deepest into the looney-concept bin: Gyllenhaal played a singing master of ceremonies at an old-timey naughty chorus-girl performance, which segues into a men’s version featuring most of the show’s male regulars in a dance line, dressed as bland dorks in khakis. When they recreated the synchronized dance kicks while laying in a flower pattern on the floor, the bit reached an apotheosis of really funny absurdity.

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That level of laughter was only matched in the now-traditional coda to the last “Weekend Update” of the season, with Jost and Che setting each other up to deliver jokes in startling bad taste, written by the co-anchor for the maximum embarrassment of his partner.

To emphasize the potential offensiveness, Che bought out a real rabbi to listen to jokes like:

Jost saying Jewish friends need support now and that’s why his only cause was “Free Weinstein;” and Che having to tell a joke about the Pope saying sexual pleasure was a gift from God, “but unfortunately it was in response to the question: Should the Church still have altar boys?”

Those were only topped by Jost having to tell one about how Chat GPT was creating a voice-assisted feature inspired by the AI character modeled on the voice of Scarlett Johansson(aka Mrs. Jost) in the movie Her. Which, Jost read, “I never bothered to watch because without that body what’s the point of listening?”

Even the music act, the “Nonsense” pop singer Sabrina Carpenter got into the boundary-demolition act. Her first song, her hit “Espresso,” had her dancing a red fluffy skirt so short, it barely covered whatever little black frill she had underneath. The song tested the quick-cutting skills of the show’s director Liz Patrick (she passed impressively).

Carpenter’s second number, a medley of “Feather” with the aforementioned “Nonsense,” included some special-to-SNL lyrics confessing just how turned on she was by being on the show. Ok, then.

I’ll also admit that I was pretty hugely amused by a late sketch taking off on the weird random attack on actor Steve Buscemi, who was punched on a New York street last week. Gyllenhaal played a cop announcing to the press a special police program: “Stop punching character-actors in the face.” The incident, Sgt McDougal said, followed similar attacks involving Rick Moranis and “the shockingly versatile Michael Stuhlbarg.”

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Eventually the bit included advice to stay off the subway to actors who played girlfriends on Seinfeld and boyfriends on Sex and the City

“You may be at risk if you’ve ever been on the TV show Boardwalk Empire” or “if your IMDB page has over 100 entries but all your characters have just a first name.”

And: “We’ve asked Paul Giamatti to shelter in place.”

Nice way to finish. Next season promises a wealth of craziness to work with.

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