It hardly feels like Fred Armisen, one of the longest-tenured “SNL” cast members of all time (11 seasons), has ever left 30 Rockefeller Plaza. He has returned to cameo 7 times in the 3 years since departing, and he regularly collaborates with other “SNL” vets on his current regular gigs, “Late Night” and “Portlandia” (both produced by Lorne Michaels). But he has shown restraint this season, only appearing once before (to memorialize David Bowie). So while his first time as host is in no way long overdue, it is also not overkill. Speaking of cameos, several other alums also stop by, as befitting a season finale. This means that there is some squeezing out of the regular cast, but not of the good ideas. Year 41 ends on a high note.
Bernie and Hillary – “SNL” wraps up one of its wackiest political years with its two all-star impressions: one that broke big exactly as expected and the other a delightful surprise. The dance between Kate McKinnon’s Hillary and Larry David’s Bernie is as testy as the real deal. As they really explore the studio, there is a celebratory air that the show reserves only for times when it knows it has something special to celebrate. But wisely, it is not all just kissing and making up, because there is plenty of tension in this primary that the last call setting brings into focus. This is a summary of the fictionalized version of a slice of this campaign that “SNL” has managed to have its pulse on. B
Fred Armisen’s Monologue (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – Fred goes by his most particular predilections in his first monologue, with an excerpt from his (2 hours, 40 minutes-long) one-man show about his start on “SNL”: “Love, From New York, I Did Saturday’s Right Fun Fame & Fred on the 17th Floor.” (This is not the first time he has gone the one-man route.) His versions of New York and “SNL” are unmistakably archaic. They have this wild, paradoxical mix of honesty and dishonesty. It does not take Sherlock Holmes to know that this origin story did not really go down as Fred tells it, but his commitment to this dorky storytelling indicates a heft of emotional truth. When those guys who never believed in him (with their taunts of “Funny Freddy”) finally confess “We’re proud of ya,” it is genuinely touching, even though nobody actually talks like that. A-
Lewis & Clark – This is not the first time Fred has dramatized Lewis & Clark in a lo-fi manner. In this iteration, things get a little hot and heavy for Fred’s Lewis, Kyle Mooney’s Clark, and Cecily Strong’s Sacagawea (but mostly just Lewis and Clark) as they perform for a class of teenagers. From there, it proceeds a little unexpectedly, with Aidy Bryant’s teacher not calling for an end, but instead declaring it “breathtaking.” All of the students disperse, except for an especially excited Pete Davidson, who at first appears to be amped for action involving Sacagawea (Cecily, as usual, knows how to make sexy weirdly hilarious), but as she gets pushed to the sidelines, he is still ready to go. The shock value here is more silly than satirical, but there is some welcome progressiveness, as the man-on-man action, while admittedly played for laughs, is homoerotic and decidedly not homophobic. B