There were a few fallow periods in the middle of this season, but the fertile portions that surrounded them were aplenty.  They more than made up for the weak points, resulting in one of the most overall satisfying seasons of the past several years.  Every year has its ups and downs, and this season certainly had its forgettable sketches and unworkable hosts, but I tend to focus on the best of the season rather than the worst when making my final assessment.  And there was plenty of the best, and the best of the best was sublime.  I don’t know if we are ever going to get back to the status quo of the late 80’s/early 90’s when even the worst was perfectly watchable.  But if 2012-2013 represents the best consistency SNL is going to get to nowadays, then I am satisfied.

Most Valuable Cast Member
Bill Hader

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With a relatively high influx of new talent mixed with a large number of veterans hanging on (for the first time ever, three cast members were in their tenth season or higher at the same time), the screen time was appropriately spread around.  No one cast member truly dominated the season, so the one who stuck out the most was by default the most valuable one of the last couple of seasons.  Bill Hader may not have been ubiquitous in his final season the way he was in his penultimate and antepenultimate seasons, but he did have enough showcase performances to maintain his top dog status.  Fittingly, the two best showcases came in the season premiere (the Grenada veteran in the puppet class) and the season finale, his last show (Stefon’s epic goodbye).

Runners-Up:
(Rookie of the Year) Cecily Strong

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She was responsible for the two biggest breakout recurring bits of the season (the Girl at a Party, and, along with Vanessa Bayer, the former porn stars), making for the best rookie season since Andy Samberg’s seven years ago.
Taran Killam

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With plenty of veterans leaving or on their way out, it is time for Taran Killam to step up to the plate.  You can stick him in whenever you’ve got a sketch with one role missing a performer, and he is plenty capable of coming up with weird bits on his own, in particular Mokiki doing the Sloppy Swish.  In interviews, you can tell that this guy is so happy to be there AND so willing to put in the work.

Best Sketch
Darrell’s House

Some people were turned off by the no-budget aesthete and the cringe humor elements of the first part of Darrell’s House, which was too bad.  But everybody loved the second part, and I believe that is because there was something funny going on in every second and every frame.  Each sentence was punctuated by an awkward edit, or a smooth edit that seemed like a non sequitur but was actually meant to be there.  Then there were the extra bits that weren’t supposed to be there, some that stood out like a sore thumb (Darrell checking his phone in the background) and those that required an eagle eye (Jon Hamm shaking his head incredulously as he left).  The most impressive part was that the final product was edited on the fly during the show in between the airing of the first and second parts.

Runners-Up:
Lincoln


Louis C.K. is not afraid to make himself look embarrassing.  In fact, with his stand-up and eponymous sitcom, he has made the embarrassing sublime.  And now he has sublimely embarrassed the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.  When Louie puts on the top hat and the beard, he looked nothing like Lincoln, but he was Lincoln.  That is, if Lincoln had pondered the existentially crushing weight of the universe and grimaced in pain at how awful some of it all is, in a way that amuses and educates us.
Crystals

There have been many great moments in comedy involving stupid characters.  But stupid characters are best not when they are completely stupid, but rather when they have at least a smidgen of mental capability, or when they at least make an attempt to display such capability.  There is a fascinating sort of warped logic to such attempts, as exemplified by ex-porn stars Brookie and the one who can’t remember her own name, with their hare-brained scheme to shill for luxurious products.
Puppet Class

Puppet therapy is in.  While the class in this sketch wasn’t for therapy per se, that is how Anthnoy Peter Coleman was using it, whether he realized it or not.  The puppetry of Seth MacFarlane’s teacher was safe, and therefore boring.  Anthony Peter Coleman’s puppetry was dangerous, and thus it had something to say.
Tippy

Mid-conversation joiners who request a conversation recap deserved the good-natured poking that Nasim Pedrad provided.
Djesus Uncrossed

A Quentin Tarantino history parody that avoided being too on-the-nose by seeming like an all-too-real possibility.
Outside the Lines

If abuse were this hilarious, would we be calling for the abusers to be fired?  Of course we would, but at least we would also be laughing.

(Best Short Sketches)
Replacement Refs

When people look back at the 2012 NFL season, this sketch will give them a good idea of what it was really like having replacement refs officiating the games.
Aw Nuts! Mom’s a Ghost!


Further evidence that the Disney Channel sitcom-ification of anything is comedy gold.
Wooden Spoon Warehouse

Dorky humor earns respect when it is accompanied with the commitment of accents and costumes.

(Best 10 to 1 Sketches)
Darrell’s House (Edited Version)
I have intrigued myself by considering the possibility of Darrell’s House only airing as the edited version with no explanation as to how it came to be.  My dad walked in the room while I was watching the edited piece without having seen the first part, and he was confused.  I like to think some people would have been confused AND amused.
Crystals
Jamie Foxx’s hosting stint was bottom-heavy, with its best bits appearing in the lower portion of the show, appropriately enough for an episode that culminated in a sketch starring ex-porn stars.
Coroner’s Office

Jeremy Renner looked lost during much of his hosting stint; that actually worked to the advantage of a sketch in which he couldn’t understand the concept of identifying the body of a dead family member.
The Art of the Encounter

Hey, remember the 90’s? I do, but somehow I missed dating instructional videos like this one, so clearly my formative decade was incomplete.
Last Call

Rather meta and thoughtful for such sloppy humor – right in Louis C.K.’s wheelhouse!

Best Host
Zach Galifianakis

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It goes without saying that Zach Galifianakis is going to be a great host nowadays.  The question is, will the episode he is hosting be able to meet his wavelength and be just as good as him?  As May 4, 2013 proved, when that does happen, it makes him a great host even better than was previously fathomed.

Runners-Up:
Melissa McCarthy

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Melissa McCarthy earns a spot on this list mostly on the strength of how she says “ham” and “Barb Kellner.”
Justin Timberlake

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He used his 5-Timers Club induction episode to solidify why he is currently THE SNL host of the 21st century.
Louis C.K.

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His willingness to commit to the willingly stupid Mountain Pass sketch was unnecessary though admirable, while his work in the Lincoln sketch was existence-defining.

Best Monologue
Vince Vaughn

One of the supposed biggest draws of Saturday Night Live and live TV in general is the idea that ANYTHING can happen.  But over the decades, SNL has become so polished and codified that it really doesn’t seem like anything can happen.  That is why I love moments like Vince Vaughn’s monologue, which rambled on and on for nearly 10 minutes and had no point beyond “Vince Vaughn talks to the audience.”

Runners-Up:
Zach Galifianakis

To save time, as soon as Zach Galifianakis is announced as host, you can pencil in his monologue as one of the best of the season.
Louis C.K.

Louis C.K. is the best stand-up comedian working right now.  His monologue was a piece of his routine.  And that’s the way it is.
Melissa McCarthy

This season had a noticeably satisfying number of abnormal moments.  When was the last time a monologue was an extended physical gag?  Physical humor is not my favorite genre, and the joke of this monologue could be surmised from a mile away, but commitment to something so different goes a long way.

Best Musical Guest
Alabama Shakes


Brittany Howard has the best pure rock voice to emerge in quite some time, and she made sure to sound as good as usual when gracing the SNL stage.  Her face might make some weird shapes when she belts her biggest notes, but (thankfully) she lacks the vanity that would prevent her from hitting those notes for the sake of avoiding those faces.

Runners-Up:
Muse

With “Madness” and “Panic Station,” Muse brought a small-scale epicness that could actually be conveyed with the acoustics of Studio 8H.
Kanye West


The mini-era of messing around with the SNL music stage began three years ago with Kanye, and now he has returned, to show everybody just how frightening that strategy can be.
Phoenix


Somebody had to make sure we had some fun this season.
Vampire Weekend


Bang it out quickly and painlessly and go crazy with your pitch, say Vampire Weekend.

Best Commercial Parody
Tres Equis

The Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World fits in the same comedy tradition as SNL’s Super Fans and Bill Brasky sketches, so it is only fitting that with Tres Equis SNL would present the opposite of that tradition.  How many Ditkas, Braskys, Chuck Norrises, and Most Interesting Men can the world contain?  The Tres Equis spots posit going beyond the limit produces dire consequences.

Runners-Up:
Gillette

There is something weirdly cool about the Adrien Brody/Andre 3000/Gael García Bernal Gillette commercials in such a way that recreating them with impressionists is inherently funny and in such a way that adding Jerry Sandusky into the mix is the apex of comedy.
Convention Cutaways

If you watch a lot of footage of … stuff, you’re going to notice patterns of the everyday bizarre.

Best Weekend Update Segment
Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation with a Party

A lot of people really do have selfless intentions to change minds and fix the world.  But when you don’t really know how things work and you’re slightly drunk, those intentions make you sound like an annoying idiot.  If you’re lucky, you’ll end up a hilarious annoying idiot.  One worries that Cecily Strong has made too many girls you wish you hadn’t started conversations with at parties believe they are hilarious.  But they’re probably not paying attention to anything anyway, so no need to worry.

Runners-Up:
Drunk Uncle on the Election

Drunk Uncle finally covers the topic he was born to explain.
Stefon’s Wedding/Farewell
http://www.hulu.com/watch/491721
One of the best recurring characters in SNL history gets the most exhilarating, most emotionally fulfilling sendoff any character has ever had.
Cecilia Gimenez

Kate McKinnon may have been doing an Italian accent for a Spanish person, but at least Cecilia’s painting “restoration” was similarly confused.

Best Episode
Zach Galifianakis/Of Monsters and Men
When the Jennifer Aniston Look-Alike Contest appeared early in this episode, I thought, “Okay, here’s the one weird sketch of the night.”   I figured the rest of the show would fail to live up to the weirdness level set by Zach.  That was the formula set by his first couple of hosting stints: one or two Galifianakian bits amidst the disappointing rest.  But then we also got the M&M Store, Michael Jordan’s wedding, and Darrell’s House – times two!  Thus was ultimately an episode that gelled perfectly with the host and made a case for why it is still worth it to watch SNL live: two big statements from a show that usually does not make any in a typical episode.

Runners-Up:
Christoph Waltz/Alabama Shakes
The best musical guest of the season kept us rocking through an episode that featured no duds and two of the best sketches of the year (Tippy, Djesus Uncrossed).
Melissa McCarthy/Phoenix
An episode that utilized the best sensibility of Melissa McCarthy’s Groundlings improv training.
Seth MacFarlane/Frank Ocean
The  premiere set the tone for a season that was frequently willing to put out unique, original material.
Justin Timberlake
The 5-Timers Club makes for an episode that is Party Time, Excellent!

Best Dress Rehearsal Cut Posted Online
Kanish

Along with Darrell’s House, Kanish suggests that bad editing was a theme of the Zach Galifianakis episode.  The secret of comedy is good timing, and it seems to be that the secret of making something comedic that wasn’t meant to be is bad timing.

Best (Non-Girl at a Party, Non-Drunk Uncle) Lines
1. “A new survey shows that the number of children that is the most stressful for a mother to have is 3, especially if you had 4 when you left the house.” – Seth Meyers on Weekend Update
2. “Because there’s one thing that don’t never go out of style:” “Crys-” “Anal.” – Sammy Stamina (Jamie Foxx)/Brookie (Vanessa)/The one who can’t remember her name (Cecily), in Swarovski Crystals
3. “One time I got banged through a glass ceiling. I changed everything for women. Turns out I’m a feminist. Thanks, Herman’s!” – The ex-porn star who can’t remember her name (Cecily), shilling for Hermès Handbags
4. “Yeah? Who were the judges?! Mr. Magoo and Helen Keller?!”/”Why are people clapping?! These two?! Who did their make-up?! Helen Keller?!” – Paul Nevins (Zach Galifianakis), in the Jennifer Aniston Look-Alike Competition
5. “No Replacement Refs Were Harmed In The Making Of This Program” – Disclaimer at the end of Replacement Refs
6. “Please don’t talk over me. This is not a movie theater.” – Racist Jim (Zach Galifianakis) chastising “Black” Joe, in M&M Store
7. “Glice.”
8. “I was saying TTYL to my innocence.” – Anthony Peter Coleman (Bill), in Puppet Class
9. “Remember: Dylan McDermott was in The Practice, and Dermot Mulroney was in a movie called Staying Together, where he played a character named Kit McDermott. And that is a true fact!” – The host of “Dylan McDermott or Dermot Mulroney” (Bill)
10. “Now who’s the horse?” – Brookie (Vanessa), shilling for Moët et Chandon
11. “I lost part of my foot. It broke off in a butt. And I’ve regretted it ever since. But I don’t regret wearing crystals!” – Brookie (Vanessa), shilling for Swarovski Crystals
12. “Jesus, why you look like a shark?” – Cecilia Gimenez (Kate)
13. “What happens in Delaware…” – Joe Biden (Jason), in Biden Bash
14. “NOT THE B!!!!!” – Brice (Bill), bemoaning the cancellation of Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23, in Firehouse Incident
15. “I can barely hear you.  This is an Altoids box.” – Zach Galifianakis, in his monologue
16. “Wow! Wow! It’s like you’re seeing things, and then, but, what I’m hearing, is she’s a woman and she has breasts and stuff!” – Dan Pants (Louis C.K.), in Last Call
17. “My secret is, I’m not Jon Hamm.” – Wayne Smote (Kenan), in Darrell’s Room
18. “The girl was Chinese or something?” “No! Well, yes, but that’s not the point.” – Tippy (Nasim)/Denny (Christoph Waltz), in the Tippy Sketch
19. “I’m Clark, and I like biscuits and waffles.” – Anthony Peter Coleman (Bill), in Puppet Class
20. “Argon, sir. It’s a noble gas.” – Hotel clerk (Louis C.K.), in Hotel Fees

Best The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party Lines:
“Oh, achoo. Oh sorry, Seth. I must be allergic to indifference.”
“Like if I eat French fries at dinner, then I do the rest of the day good.”
“I asked for an end to genocide. Okay? So maybe next time you’re on your new iPad, look up how to be a decent human being.”
“You mean the Christ-mas spirit? Oh right, you don’t care about Jesus cause you worship Hallmark.”
“Also, I’m sorry, why can’t secret Santa be openly gay? Like, hello, it’s 2010.”
“Seth, can I use the n-word real quick?”
“Open your eyes, people: hunger, racism, small businesses. It’s like, maybe don’t.”
“Wow. It’s African American-face. And yes, of course I did.”
“Open your eyes, people: war, hunger, diseases. It’s like, pick one.”

Best Drunk Uncle Lines:
“If you wanted a House of Representatives, you built one yourself.”
“Why did the chicken cross the road? Say it with me: to get away from the immigrants.”
“You know what I’m writing off this year? The next generation.”
“So, I didn’t go to ’lectoral college, okay?”
“So Drunk Uncle, were you surprised by any of the races?” “Oh sure, blacks, Hispanics, Koreans, all of them really.”
“And when you voted, you pulled the damn lever, Seth, like a man.  You didn’t fill in a little oval like you were taking some preg’ancy test.”
“Yeah, I’m a hoarder!  But you know what I hoard?  1950’s Playboys and dignity.”
“You want to talk about equal rights?!  A dog can pee in the streets, that’s fine.  Drunk Uncle pees on one payphone, gets arrested instantly.”
“Instead, I got my fat niece going, ‘Spotify me! Spotify me!’ Barf!  Spot-if-I care.”
“You know what’s in my Tumblr? Regret.” – Peter Drunklage