‘Saturday Night Live’ and Anya Taylor-Joy save the best for last

Saturday Night Live
Anya Taylor-Joy & Lil Nas X
May 22, 2021

This was the finale episode for a very strange season of Saturday Night Live, in which, as the cast notes in the cold open, we experienced the end of the world, and yet they kept putting on shows. And it would appear they saved the best episode of the season for last. With a full, and full-throated, audience for the first time all season and hosted by the impossibly glamorous Anya Taylor-Joy who was able to show off her formidable comedy chops (seriously, go watch Emma), the show was fairly consistent and did not have a single sketch I felt deserved side-eye.

Instead, the episode played like a nostalgic and heartfelt goodbye to some of the show’s most famous cast members. It’s rumored that this is Cecily Strong’s last episode; Colin Jost has been making noise about wanting to leave after this season; and Pete Davidson all but said farewell on “Weekend Update.” It was also hard to miss Kate McKinnon holding back tears in the cold open while standing next to Strong, Kenan Thompson, and Aidy Bryant, the show’s four longest-tenured cast members. All four have outside projects that they’ve been working on of late, so it would not be shocking to see one or all of them fly out of the SNL nest this year. Still, they are easily the four strongest performers on the show, and it won’t be the same without them. If it is their final episode, I’m pleased it was such a good one.

It’s been a hell of a year. Between a deadly pandemic, economic crisis, election, insurrection, and everything else in between … it’s a lot. And that’s the theme of the cold open which, once again, uses the entire cast, and then some, including a special appearance from Chris Rock, the season’s first host. It’s Rock who reminds us that this year has been so long that when he hosted, he wanted Kanye West to be the musical guest, but he couldn’t BECAUSE HE WAS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT.

The cast also tearfully pays tribute to those we’ve lost, including their own. “This is a year when we realized we are more than just a cast, we are a family,” Kate McKinnon says, while choking up. The entire endeavor is a sweet, sincere homage to an extraordinary year, and might serve as an emotional goodbye to some of the show’s longest-running performers.

Grade: A

Anya Taylor-Joy spends most of the monologue acknowledging her starring role in Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, which I suppose saved us all from a groan-worthy spoof of the series (something that they do address in a sketch that was cut for time). The monologue is fine; points for not breaking into song and dance.

Grade: B

On a Game Show Network’s “Reto Night” (whose schedule includes episodes of Name That Tune, and Guess Her Weight), they air a 1998 episode of Hollywood Squares, with celebrity guests that include Bill Cosby, Jared from Subway, and other now-cringy personalities, leading the network in 2021 to have to edit most of the episode out.

Grade: B+

You know how some MAGA hat-wearing types think it’s funny to pose with their daughters and their prom dates with a shotgun as some sort of implied threat that they’ll kill the boy if they touch their daughter, with the understood message being that her sexuality is her father’s property, and her purity is so connected to his own sense of honor that he’s willing to commit murder over it? Haha, fun joke, right? Yeah, this sketch takes aim at this trope and the father’s twisted sense of masculinity receives the treatment it absolutely deserves.

Grade: A

In this high-concept piece, a team of male angels design the final model of the human man, and have the team of female angels who are working on the design of the human woman come in to evaluate it and make notes. The female angels are less than impressed, particularly with the overall hairiness, the inclusion of nipples, and the “wrinkle pouch” which does seems like a design flaw.

This is basically the sketch equivalent to those tweets that you see that mocks God’s design process, like this:

Or, even more specifically:

The point is, don’t think too hard about it. (The writers certainly didn’t when they came up with that Kyle Mooney ending.)

Grade: B+

The digital sketch of the night is an ode to Pride Month and how it fails to live up to expectations, what with the corporatization of it all, the sunburns, and so many straights. Still, after a year when we couldn’t celebrate, it’s nice to be back.

Grade: A-

This bit is an ad for a Riverdance-like touring group of “Irish Elsa” singers who perform Gaelic classics, and audience favorites, like “Sweet Home Alabama” to the delight of their audience, your aunts. The cast can barely keep it together, but I’m not sure why as the material isn’t THAT funny.

Grade: B-

“Weekend Update” is a winner this week, with jokes about the Republicans’ reluctance to investigate January 6; Matt Gaetz, Andrew Giuliani, and everyone’s favorite bit: when Colin Jost and Michael Che read, sight unseen, jokes that they wrote for each other. They are legitimately shocking. As I noted, there’s been some talk that this could be Jost’s final season, making this his final “Weekend Update” and Che certainly makes sure he goes out with a bang.

Grade: A+

Pete Davidson swings by the “Weekend Update” desk to joke about mask mandates and acknowledge, again, his struggles with mental health issues in a nod to mental health awareness month. He also signs off on a curious note, saying that he’s grateful for being a part of Saturday Night Live and that it’s “been an honor growing up in front of you guys.” Is Pete Davidson also leaving the show?

Grade: A

Finally, “Weekend Update” concludes with a performance of “My Way” by Cecily Strong’s Jeanine Pirro, who throws her glass of wine all over Jost before climbing into a literal tank of box wine. Like Jost, there’s some talk that this might be Cecily Strong’s final season. If so, she goes out on a high note.

Grade: A+

In this ad for Enid & Astrid’s Brawr Barn, Aidy Bryant, and Anya Taylor-Joy hawk bras for every boob size and shape: windsock, Chicago-style, the Denny’s Grand Slam, and others. But don’t ask for a bralet, Enid hasn’t worn one of those since her christening. Tons of solid boob and bra jokes here that most women can identify with. And don’t think this Real Housewives recapper didn’t notice the address was “located on Avenue E  and Jill Zarin Boulevard.” Chef’s kiss.

Grade: A

In this sketch, Aidy Bryant and Anya Taylor-Joy are again featured, this time as NYU students conducting a panel with a cast of the imagined HBO series, Roommates in the City. They shower the male lead (whom they have a crush on) with simple questions, like “What’s your favorite pizza topping?” and “Which do you prefer: blondes or brunettes?” while they hit the rest of the cast with questions like, “As a Black woman, can you explain race?” and “How has being Chinese and gay prevented you from being happy?” Mean and funny.

Grade: A

The final bit is a message from AMC theaters featuring Vin Diesel encouraging people to return to theaters by reminding them of every detail of the movie-going experience down to the second concession stand location that is never open and the garbage cans whose holes are slightly too small for your trash. And did I mention that Beck Bennett is playing Vin Diesel and he does so with a devastatingly accurate impersonation? So weird. None of this should work, and yet, it comes together.

Grade: A

Finally, the sketch cut for time features a bunch of cast members pitching sketch ideas to Anya Taylor-Joy, all of which are terrible The Queen’s Gambit spoofs. It’s probably best it was saved for the internet, I’m not sure which sketch it should have replaced except for maybe “Celtic Woman,” but if it really is Cecil Strong, Aidy Bryant, or Kate McKinnon’s final episode (or God forbid, all of their final episode) you gotta keep that in …

Also, Lil Nas X gave great performances and literally split his pants in the process:

Final Grade: A.

Saturday Night Live airs at 10:30/11:30 p.m. Saturdays on NBC.

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