Congratulations everyone: we've reached the penultimate episode of the 39th season of Saturday Night Live! And at least the season is ending in strong(er) fashion: Charlize Theron was the host, along with musical guest Black Keys, in an episode that started out a mess but turned into one of the best of the year with several stand-out weird sketches, Drunk Uncle, and some fine digital videos—with a particular emphasis on that last bit.
Eric Voss over at Splitsider nailed something I've been thinking about all season long: Andy Samberg and the Lonely Island crew may have brought their unique (and highly viral) take on Digital Shorts to SNL, but in the wake of their departure, the show has actually increased the amount of pre-taped segments every week, enlisting some of the best video production talent from the web. While the live segments, especially at the top of the show, are largely retreads of recurring characters or disastrous attempts at relevancy (see: every cold open this year), Digital Shorts has flourished, even without the Lonely Island DS imprint.
A vast majority of the stand-out sketches this season have been those videos, which have given space to the writers to touch on melancholy moods (Monster Pals), stilted personalities (see: every Kyle Moody/Beck Bennett 10-to-1 sketch), cinematic ambition (parodies of Wes Anderson, Her, and The Beygency all come to mind), outright surrealism (Bird Bible) and actual stories. On that last front, we get this week's hilarious Dragon Babies, another in a line of instant classic (and instantly recognizable) Mike O'Brien creations. Sketches like this show that SNL still has life in it to compete with the wide array of skilled sketch comedians working on the internet.
The other knockout pre-taped sketch: the hilarious last sketch of the evening, Tourists, in which various SNL cast members and Theron dressed up as tourists and asked real New Yorkers for directions. The best part: Bobby Moynihan asking someone if they know where a certain street is...and then proceeding to explain how to get there when the person responded no.
It was a very good night for Moynihan, who also brought his beloved Weekend Update character Drunk Uncle back for the first time since Seth Meyers left. It wasn't his best appearance ever—that still goes to his team-ups with Peter Drunklage and Meth Nephew Jesse Pinkman)—but he's such an enjoyable character that even Colin Jost's stiffness didn't turn him off. Also on Weekend Update: the real Barbara Walters (Cecily Strong seemed very happy to have her there), and the first signs of life from the Jost/Cecily Strong team with the bizarre inclusion of Breaking Nudes. We can only hope for a lot more of that next season from those two.
The rest of the episode was divided about usual for SNL: the first half was rough, with a particularly bad monologue (Theron can't sing...so she does sing...and it's kind of corny?), a very flat Girlfriend's Talk Show, and yet another in a long line of bad cold opens (it's nice to see Sasheer Zamata and Vanessa Bayer get the focus early in the night, but a Michelle Obama/Hillary Clinton rivalry is a really thin premise).
There's something very late-90's about Nasim Pedrad's Heshy character (is she channeling Cheri Oteri?), and although this isn't my favorite new recurring bit, this sketch worked thanks to the goofy sound effects and Theron's equally enthusiastic Gail. Even better: the (live) commercial for Whiskers 'R We. Adorable kitties and weird sexual tension is a killer combo, and Kate McKinnon was excellent as ever. She was also right in her wheelhouse for Mother’s Day Game Show—it wasn't hilarious, but the lightning Dad Round was just right.
One strange development that's been happening late this season: SNL seems to be cutting more and more sketches from broadcast, then dumping them online...even when they're better than what aired. Take out Girlfriend's Talk Show and the cold open, replace them with the three sketches that weren't aired (including standout Cocktail Hour), and you have maybe the best or second best show of the year. We really can't believe Mornin' Miami didn't make it on air—people need to know that Bitch Fantastic has morphed into Butt Friendship!
Click through for all those sketches, plus an exploding whale and performances from The Black Keys. Next week's episode, hosted by Andy Samburg with musical guest St. Vincent, is the season finale—and something tells us this may be the last time we see some of the feature players' faces around Studio 8H.