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'SNL' finale more packed with stars than laughs

Tina Fey returns as Sarah Palin on 'SNL'

Tina Fey leads current and former 'SNL' cast members  in "A Chorus Line's" "What I Did for Love," rendered as  "What I Did for Trump." Credit: Saturday Night Live via YouTube

"Hello, it's meeeee...."

 And along with meeee -- Tina Fey, hosting "Saturday Night Live" for the third time and reprising Sarah Palin for the 30th -- was Jerry Seinfeld, Anne Hathaway, John Goodman, Robert De Niro, Jerry Stiller, Alec Baldwin, Fred Armisen...

 Who are we forgetting? Oh, right, and:

Lin Manuel-Miranda, Tracy Morgan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Rock...

In a celebrity-packed 43rd season finale that proved Lorne Michaels can still summon just about anyone in his Rolodex to Studio 8H, "SNL" wrapped by reminding viewers of its enduring power and glory, while obscuring that which viewers already know: The 43rd and its finale were merely OK. Even though there was plenty good in both.

Foremost on Saturday was Fey's skit as Sarah Palin, leading current and former cast members -- Goodman as an honorary emeritus castmember -- in "A Chorus Line's" "What I Did for Love," rendered as  "What I Did for Trump."

(If you missed it, and it's hard to imagine how by now, Goodman reprised Rex Tillerson, Aidy Bryant was once again Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, also Fred Armisen as Michael Wolff, Kate McKinnon as Kellyanne Conway, Leslie Jones as Omarosa, and Cecily Strong as Stormy Daniels. Who was missing? Of course Bill Hader as The Mooch.)

"The Sopranos"  cold open from Holsten's was solid too, with Stiller back as Michael Cohen and De Niro as Robert "I've Got Eyes on You" Mueller (Baldwin/Trump: "Am I the only one who sees that guy?")

Fey monologue? What there was of it, just fine: "I got here on Monday and people came up to me and said 'welcome home' and it made me feel so bad I didn't remember their names..."

She then threw it open to questions, and those world-famous plants in the audience, like Seinfeld who instantly offered this pretext for their presence: "Do you think the show has too many celebrity cameos these days? The cast isn't getting a chance to grow?"

 It was amusing, with just a kernel of truth: There were star cameos or cast callbacks in virtually every episode this season, but the same could be said for last season. The cast, meanwhile, had plenty of chances to grow.

What "SNL" struggled through this season -- what it always struggles through -- is the post-election year slump. The 42nd had the benefit of lightning in a bottle, most notably Melissa McCarthy's Sean Spicer, and -- love it or not -- Baldwin's launch of POTUS in October 2016. The 41st had Larry David as Bernie Sanders, and McKinnon as Hillary Clinton.

The 43rd? No lightning, not much thunder either.

 There was certainly excellence, while memorable moments popped up when least expected.  "Diner Lobster," the sketch that channeled "Les Mis," on the John Mulaney-hosted edition, will be part of a classics reel some day. Sterling K. Brown's (March 10), Bill Hader's (March 17), and especially Donald Glover's (two weeks ago) editions were reminders that "SNL" can still be the once-and-future powerbroker of pop culture and water coolers.

Then, the problems.  Baldwin, in a couple of interviews, said the POTUS impression had become a prison sentence, or words to that effect, and it was easy to see how this had become a form of servitude. Cold open after cold open struggled to make sense of Washington and if Donald Trump hasn't vanquished late night comedy seventeen months into office, he's certainly challenged it. Nothing any show can do or say can top what he does or says. Some of the best work in late night is, in fact, on "Late Night" and its "A Closer Look" -- mostly because it's often straight reportage.

But neither Seth Meyers nor "Look" are at "SNL" any  longer. New head writers Colin Jost and Michael Che did a good job tilting at the windmill. Next season they've got to set it on fire. And Baldwin?  Even with the new talk show at ABC, he'll be back. This prison sentence isn't over yet, not by a long shot.

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