Tina Fey brings back Sarah Palin for ‘Saturday Night Live,’ but was it enough? (No, not really.)

Saturday Night Live
Tina Fey & Nicki Minaj
May 19, 2018

I wanted to love this episode. I love Tina Fey and believe that if anyone can wring out some genuine hilarity from this show, it is Mama Tina. However, if we’re all being honest with each other, the Saturday Night Live finale featuring Tina was a bit of a let-down. It wasn’t terrible — or even bad! — but it wasn’t the consistently funny and revelatory episode I was hoping for, either.

Don’t get me wrong: there were some terrific moments. Tina managed to find a way to bring her amazing Sarah Palin impersonation back and make it (kinda) politically relevant; and her attempts to join the cast of Mean Girls is a master class is self-deprecation. But the rest of the episode felt … anticipatory …ย  like we were all waiting for something genuinely hilarious to happen … and it never quite did.

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There is an ongoing joke about Trump’s presidency being like a television show, and for the cold open, SNL decided to go all the way with the riff, comparing the most recent developments in the Mueller investigation to the series finale to The Sopranos, and you know what? It kinda works. And it sure is a hell of a lot better than sitting through 8 minutes of watching Alec Baldwin huffing through lame Trump jokes:

Grade: A-

Y’all know how I feel about Tina Fey: she’s a comedy goddess who can do no wrong, First of Her Name, Breaker of Laughs, Mother of Comedy Writers. I am very biased in favor of Ms. Fey, which is why I was woefully disappointed by her opening monologue this week. Instead of Tina being Tina, we filled her 6 minutes of stage time with literally every other celebrity who didn’t wrangle an invitation to the royal wedding this weekend.

Filling up Tina’s time: Jerry Seinfeld, Benedict Cumberbatch (how is he not at the wedding??), Chris Rock, Robert DeNiro, Fred Armisen, Anne Hathaway, Donald Glover and Tracy Morgan. I know the live studio audiences love these “HEY! I KNOW THAT FAMOUS PERSON!” bits but I find them incredibly lazy.

Grade: B-

British Bro Prince Harry walks us through his wedding reception in this pretty funny bit. Props to the costume department for accurately recreating the royal family’s wedding outfits at the last possible moment.

Grade: A-

It’s another “Morning Joe” spoof which boils down to two jokes: 1. Joe and Mika practically having sex on the “Morning Joe” set and 2. Joe talking over his guests. This time, the guest is Meghan McCain. It just is what it is.

Grade: B

The best sketch of the night was this digital short in which Tina Fey, inspired by Lin Manuel-Miranda, decides she wants to join the cast of her musical, Mean Girls, despite having neither musical nor dance talents. Here is an example of celebrity cameo actually working:

Grade: A+

“Weekend Update” is actually pretty good this week, opening with some Mueller investigation anniversary zingers and ending with offensive jokes they have been saving up all year. Michael Che is gonna be Michael Che, y’all.

Grade: A-

The Trump Sons return to the “Weekend Update” desk to continue their GOB and Buster Bluth impersonations.

Grade: B+

And Bishop Michael Curry, the African-American Episcopalian bishop who delivered the lively, powerful, spirit-filled — and not British at all — sermon at Meghan and Harry’s wedding, also stops by the “Weekend Update” desk. Keenan seems to genuinely be enjoying himself here.

Grade: A

Hey, remember To Catch a Predator? Which went off the air in 2007? Yeah, this is that, but the whole joke is that the scene is being directed? I don’t know. I have no idea what the point of this was.

Grade: C+

Tina Fey brings back Sarah Palin for one last victory lap: this time leading a cast of characters who have been tainted by Donald Trump in one way or another in a song declaring NO REGRETS.

Grade: A-

In this bit, Tina Fey plays a mother who is just a little too eager to recreate with her high schooler a talent show performance they did together when her daughter was in first grade. It’s a middling bit that is overburdened by Kenan Thompson’s character going into detail about his relationship with Fey’s character — time that could have been better spent with other acts, like Mooney’s “Invisible Box.” It wasn’t TERRIBLE, but it wasn’t great.

Grade: B-

The final bit of the night was a tribute to both Dick Wolf’s indefatigable “Chicago” franchise and to the terribleness that is improv. There is a degree of insidery jokeiness going on here: Saturday Night Live has a long history of hiring comedians from improv theaters, notably the famous Second City troupe both in Chicago and Toronto (and I am proud/embarrassed to admit I’ve been to both), and Fey herself started at Chicago’s Second City. But anyone who has suffered through a friend’s bad college improv performance can feel the pain of this bit.

Grade: B+

The “Friendship Song,” in which Tina Fey, Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant are … Haim? and sing about what really binds a friendship: talking shit about other people, was cut for time. It was not a loss, honestly.

Final Grade: B+. I really wanted this to be higher.ย 

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Saturday Night Liveย on NBC and will return next fall.

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