SNL Season 40 (2014-2015) Recap

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I will be posting a more in-depth analysis of the best of SNL Season 40 later in the summer, but for some now, here are some rankings.

Most Valuable Cast Members
1. Kate McKinnon
2. Cecily Strong

Best Sketches
1. Bad Boys
2. Graveyard Song
3. Anniversary Dinner
4. Grow-a-Guy
5. Woodbridge High School Theatre Showcase
6. Tad Rankin
7. Dinosaur Museum
8. Mr. Riot Films
9. Blazer
10. Bambi

Best Dress Cuts
1. Kyle 40
2. Inner White Girl
3. Bruce Chandling and Kevin Hart
4. Pentagon Presentation
5. 40 Greatest Guys

Best Hosts
1. Dwayne Johnson
2. Michael Keaton
3. Jim Carrey

Best Monologues
1. Reese Witherspoon
2. Louis C.K.
3. Chris Rock

Best Musical Guests
1. D’Angelo
2. Alabama Shakes
3. Florence + the Machine
4. Prince
5. Kendrick Lamar

Best Weekend Update Segments
1. Pete Davidson
2. Al Sharpton
3. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
4. One-Dimensional Female Character From a Male-Driven Comedy

Best Episodes
1. Dwayne Johnson/George Ezra
2. Reese Witherspoon/Florence + the Machine
3. Chris Pratt/Ariana Grande
4. Jim Carrey/Iggy Azalea
5. Michael Keaton/Carly Rae Jepsen

Best Lines
1. “Daddy needs his chocolate. He need it, need it, need it. Chocolate in the morning, chocolate in the evening, chocolate at suppertime, thank you.”
2. “Thank you, thank you, Colin Jost. Who tells the jokes? Excuse me. Colin Jost, who tells the jokes.”
3. “I called the park. They’ve been closed for two hours.”
4. “I float like a butterfly, I sting like a bee, I clean myself like a fly.”
5. “I haven’t crapped my pants all year!”
6. “If you don’t have a boner right now, you should just kill yourself.”
7. “If we want to treat women as equals, we shouldn’t put them on money. We should pay them an equal amount of money. And Michael Che shouldn’t be paid at all!”
8. “The fact that you would even ask me that makes you a spigot, and no, I’m not Jewish.”
9. “So next time you’re at Starbucks, why not order a double shot, of compassion?”
10. “Houston, we have a boner.”
11. “This is a fight.”
12. “The places in America with the worst bedbug problems are Chicago, Detroit, and yo’ mama.”
13. “If you C-section, say something.”

SNL Season 39 (2013-2014) Recap

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Saturday Night Live Season 40 has already begun, but let’s not forget about the best of last season.  The full breakdown of my SNL Season 39 recap can be found at the following links:

Most Valuable Cast Members
1. Aidy Bryant
2. Kate McKinnon
Rookies of the Year:
1. Kyle Mooney
2. Beck Bennett

Best Sketches
1. We Did Stop (the Government)
2. Super Champions with Kyle
3. The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders
4. Hip Hop Classics: Before They Were Stars
5. Guess That Phrase
6. (Do It on My) Twin Bed
7. Ice Cream
8. Blue River Dog Food
9. Josie
T10. (TIE) Flirty/dancing/A Very Smoky 420/Chris Fitzpatrick for President

Best 10-to-1 Sketches
1. Super Champions
2. Tourists
3. Herman & Sons Sperm
4. Halloween Candy

Best Host
1. Drake
2. Louis C.K.
3. Charlize Theron

Best Monologue
1. Anna Kendrick
2. Louis C.K.
3. Andy Samberg

Best Musical Guests
1. The Black Keys
2. Sam Smith
3. St. Vincent

Best Commercial Parody
The Bird Bible

Best Weekend Update Segment
1. Jebediah Atkinson
2. Olya Povlatsky
3. Drunk Uncle and Drunker Uncle

Every Good Neighbor Short Ranked
1. Wing
2. Super Champions with Kyle
3. Ice Cream
4. Flirty
5. Dancing
6. A Very Smoky 420
7. Chris Fitzpatrick
8. Tourists
9. Miley Sex Tape
10. Inside SoCal
11. Sigma
12. Will Smith Concert
13. i know

Best Episode
1. Miley Cyrus (10/5/13)
2. Jonah Hill/Bastille (1/25/14)
3. Drake (1/18/14)
4. Melissa McCarthy/Imagine Dragons (2/1/14)
5. Louis C.K./Sam Smith (3/29/14)

Best Dress Rehearsal Cuts That Were Posted Online
1. Wing
2. Viper

Best Quote
“If someone was like, ‘Hey, come live in this house, there’s only nine of us,’ I would say, ‘You got it dude!'” – Olya Pavlotsky (Kate McKinnon), on Weekend Update

SNL Season 38 (2012-2013) Recap

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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

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).

(Rookie of the Year) Cecily Strong

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

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.


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.

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.

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.
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

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.

Melissa McCarthy

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

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

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.”

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.


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.

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.


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.

Drunk Uncle on the Election

Drunk Uncle finally covers the topic he was born to explain.
Stefon’s Wedding/Farewell
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.

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

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

SNL Season 37 (2011-2012) Recap

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While putting together my 2011-2012 SNL recap, there were a lot of contenders in just about every category.  I think I may have seriously considered a greater number of sketches for sketch of the year than I have for any other season.  And that is all surprising, because I remember this season having some significant problems.  There was a problematic sticking with the status quo (which can happen with a lack of cast turnover).  There was a propensity for recurring characters that seemed stronger than usual, or, more specifically, a propensity for doing the exact same thing each time with the recurring bits.  There was an inexplicable pattern of corpsing.  Not to mention that the season ended on a string of mostly overall disappointing episodes.  But, there is plenty that deserves to be mentioned among the best of this season.  I think that perusing my season recap will lead you to believe that Season 37 was a pretty good one.  And there certainly was a lot to love.  The problems haven’t gone away, but if all this good was delivered despite those problems, then I can’t say this was a bad year.

Most Valuable Cast Member
Bill Hader

Looking over the cast list from 2011-2012, I can recall something memorable from every one of the cast members (yes, even Seth Meyers).  But I can also recall moments from almost all of them when I was like, “Mm, that’s not your best work.”  But there was one who I never really had any problems with all year: Mr. Consistency himself – Bill Hader.  (True, Bill may have corpsed a bit too much, but never in truly unforgivable fashion.)  And the fact is, he has demonstrated this consistency since day one, so my question is, why have we fully realized that only recently and why have I not picked him as Most Valuable Cast Member more often?  To the first part, we did not realize his consistency sooner because, by definition, consistency takes some time before it truly exists.  And to the second part, he has not been the top dog more often because Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig (and Will Forte occasionally, and Kenan Thompson for a season) had been in the lead spotlight as stars of the show.  Somehow, though, these past two seasons, Bill has managed to find a way to unite his consistent reliability with a leading man status.  He is now not just the guy you can use in any role, he is the guy you demand for every lead role.

Best Sketch
Bein’ Quirky with Zooey Deschanel (from Zooey Deschanel/Karmin)
The concept behind “Bein’ Quirky” is fine, but hardly fantastic on its own.  The idea is that Zooey Deschanel is so synonymous with the idea of “adorkability” and now she has her own show to celebrate that lifestyle.  Isn’t that what New Girl is already?  That similarity is a little beside the point, though, as New Girl is sincere in its ambitions, whereas “Bein’ Quirky,” while celebratory, is also deconstructive.  But that deconstruction has been done to death by plenty of bloggers, with various degrees of affection for Zooey.  So, where “Bein’ Quirky” truly succeeds is its open format, in which guests walk in as they please, and if each particular guest has something valuable to contribute, then it will work, and in the inaugural edition, Michael Cera (Taran Killam), Mary-Kate Olsen (Zooey Deschanel), and Björk (Kristen Wiig) had plenty to contribute, be it Michael’s Mickey Mouse-esque voice, Mary-Kate’s posture and gait based on her ninety-year-old grandmother’s, or Björk’s instruction that “if you like screaming, make it music.”  Ultimately, it was not a deconstruction of Zooey, or at least not just of Zooey, so much as it was a deconstruction of celebrities that the folks on SNL happen to do impressions of.

Crime Scene
The “Crime Scene” sketch illustrated the principles of how to stage a comedic scene.  Or that is, how to create a memorable – and funny – stage.  The setting of this sketch was a murder site at an apartment that looked quite similar to Jerry’s iconic apartment on Seinfeld, and clearly the audience was being nudged towards recognizing that similarity before it was revealed how purposeful it was.  Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis – as the sort-of-but-not-really Columbo-esque detective and the incredulous officer – just went wild showing off the chemistry they honed during Horrible Bosses.  The detective’s claims that he knew nothing of Seinfeld, baseball, or most any other part of the culture made little to no sense, especially when he started making inadvertent (?) homages to them.  But that ramping up of nonsense, combined with an insistence that that nonsense just cannot be is a tried-and-true method for staging a comedic scene.

Christmas Ornaments
If you are going to tell a story, you have got to make it memorable.  And when you are telling a series of quick stories regarding to a series of personal items, it helps to go weird to ensure memorability.  Thus, for a sketch in which nothing happens other than the Christmas ornaments being hung while a quick anecdote is told about each one, it is a good call to employ Steve Buscemi for the storytelling duties.  Adding a layer of gravy to the successful weirdness is Kristen Wiig in a notably restrained role – perhaps her best performance of the season.  When I saw this sketch, I was like, “SNL’s on va-cay,” i.e., they sure seem to be having fun, doing whatever the hell they want to.

Central Press Conference
Is there comedy inspiration to be found from a child molestation scandal?  Apparently there is.  It helps to alleviate the potential for offense by not actually setting the scene in a situation where abuse has actually occurred, but merely suspected.  In fact, that switch – from confirmation to mere suspicion – was the key to making this sketch work, the joke being that the members of the Central University basketball team were so convinced (for all the wrong reasons) that they had a child molester in their ranks that they launched a preemptive investigation.  The investigators were so dedicated to the investigation such that some of them had to find somewhere to place their anger once they realized there was no molestation to direct it towards: there was a surveillance agent who had a severe problem with Coach Bert’s chronic lack of hand-washing, and there was the star player who admitted that he would have preferred being molested over having to hear Coach Bert’s theme song for his superhero alter ego.  The premise also served as an astute commentary on real child abuse scandals, considering the context that in real life, the abusers are usually the friendly, seemingly trustworthy authority figures and not the Steve Buscemi-portrayed weirdos.

Honorable Mentions: Text Message Evidence, Rolling Stones Karaoke, The Comments Section, Les Jeunes de Paris (from Zooey Deschanel/Karmin), Who’s on Top, The Obama Show

Best Short Sketch
Les Jeunes de Paris (from Zooey Deschanel/Karmin)

I never would have expected Jean Dujardin, star of The Artist, to stop by SNL.  True, this was a season absolutely packed to the brim with guest stars, but most of them were more traditionally big stars and/or folks with more obvious connections to SNL.  Also, Jean’s English isn’t very good, so it would’ve been hard to give him something to do … except that there’s this delightful recurring sketch that features very little dialogue and what dialogue it does feature is French.  The Artist was an enjoyable treat of a movie, though not quite deserving of a win for Best Picture, but I think it would have been better if it had featured Joan of Arc, Zooey Deschanel, and Kenan Thompson and Fred Armisen as chefs.  So this ended up being the rare SNL movie homage that was better than the original in almost every regard.

Original Kings of Catchphrase Comedy Volume 2
When I picked the first Kings of Catchphrase sketch as Best Short Sketch of the Year last season, I explained how it worked so well (as long as the performer is talented, hacky comedy will still be funny).  And after another round of the Kings and their friends, it is clear that there is no shortage of entertainingly talentless hacks and puns based on the word “phrase.”  Also, Slappy Pappy spinning around four microphones was the best visual gag in all of comedy in 2011.

We’re Going to Make Technology Hump
I love it when nerds discuss sex, particularly if they go about it in an astute and respectful, but also enthusiastic, manner.  Also, just about all porn is hilarious, but the nudity tends to distract from that comedy, so it helps to replace the naked people with Xbox controllers, iPads, and curling irons for the sake of bringing that comedy front and center.  The pieces of tech and their puppeteers recreated classic porn scenarios move-for-move, and that authenticity made the whole endeavor that much more satisfying.

The Real Housewives of Disney
Apparently some people really enjoy these “real housewives” reality shows.  But for me, they have basically no appeal at all.  I do not watch much reality TV in the first place, so that pre-disposes me to not notice these shows, but in particular, I think my lack of interest has to do with my unfamiliarity with people like the housewives.  I recognize that they exist, but I just don’t really know any of them personally.  And that is probably the main reason why those who are confounded by these shows’ popularity are similarly uninterested.  Disney’s stable of princess characters, on the other hand, are more widely familiar.  So, while I do not know Cinderella, Snow White, Jasmine, Belle, and Rapunzel as bitchy housewives from the Disney version, I do know them as something.  Thus, a bizarro version of these characters’ lives was a recipe for success, and the attention to detail in terms of verisimilitude – both in terms of the Real Housewives landscape and the character trademarks – guaranteed that success.

Best Host
Zooey Deschanel

Actors should not be criticized for lacking range; instead there should just be a lack of praise, and if they happen to do that one thing that they do really well, then they should be accordingly lauded.  That is how Zooey Deschanel should be viewed, but apparently there are some people who do not like her whole “adorkable” vibe.  In Zooey’s first hosting stint on SNL, her adorkability was utilized ingeniously, but it was not all-consuming, and it was also deconstructed, so non-Zooey lovers could enjoy the whole affair as well.

Steve Buscemi

Steve Buscemi could have been used more effectively in his second hosting stint, and it was a little absurd that he wasn’t.  But he commanded attention whenever he did appear onscreen (as someone who looks like he does is wont to do), and he gave two bravura performances in two of the best sketches of the year (Coach Bert, Christmas Ornaments).

Emma Stone

Emma flexed her range, playing the nerdy co-host of We’re Going to Make Technology Hump, a sad office worker crying to Adele, and a disturbingly ditzy beauty pageant winner.  But it was her creation of the socially awkward “Wallis” in the Bridal Shower sketch that truly proved that sketch comedy is her forte.

Honorable Mentions: Jason Segel, Charlie Day

Best Monologue
Jason Segel
I’m tempted to just re-print my original review for this monologue, but that review, even as long and boisterously enthusiastic as it was, did not appreciably break down just how perfectly Muppet-esque this performance was.  The lyric sequence “It’s so great that we’re hosting SNL!/As a group, we are all hosting SNL!/Yes, the Muppets are hosting SNL!” was a classic Muppet case of amusing misunderstanding.  The feud that broke out between Jason and the Muppets was appropriately light-hearted and still serious.  The Muppets were entertaining throughout, though not always for the intended reason (particularly in the case of Kermit’s Ray Romano impression).  And the Statler and Waldorf zinger wrapped everything up exactly as it ought to have been.

Lindsay Lohan
Once upon a time, Lindsay Lohan was a good actress, and a good SNL host.  Cut to the present, and well, making fun of her can be funny.  And she is perfectly willing to go along with ridicule, and her monologue was the most appropriate place to do that.  The playful suspicions regarding Lindsay’s functionality felt like legitimate concerns, and the blaring alarm as she stepped off the stage was a clever little experiment. 

Zooey Deschanel
A lot – a lot – of SNL monologues feature the host breaking out into song, which isn’t always a good idea because a lot of the hosts aren’t very musically inclined.  And when musicians host and then sing for their monologues, they might only sing, and not actually even try to be funny.  But Zooey is a musician and a sufficiently comedically-inclined actress, so her ditty worked.

Best Musical Guest

Robyn is sort of the hipster star of dance music, and that isn’t a bad thing in the way that hipster things can be annoying, because she’s not really a hipster herself.  Her dance moves are also inspirational, because some of them look really stupid and thus the sort of thing that anyone can do, such as rolling over backwards and then humping the ground a couple of times, and others look quite simple, like a bunch of twists and arm pumps, but they are actually a bit intricate and well-timed with the beat.

Foster the People
Foster the People – “Pumped Up Kicks” on SNL
Every live performance of “Pumped Up Kicks” that I have witnessed has sounded different from any other.  Foster the People’s rendition on SNL really played up the quacking keyboard, and Mark Foster had just the right sort of boisterous attitude in his voice.  Kenny G was just the right sort of odd special guest to make their second performance memorable.

Jack White

This “Love Interruption” song that Jack did first is cool and all, what with it sounding like Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” at the beginning and the backing vocals of Ruby Amanfu.  And then he came out with a completely different band for his second number, “Sixteen Saltines,” and totally ripped the place to shreds.

Honorable Mentions:
There were a few other acts that I thought at various points might actually end up at number one for the season.  Florence + the Machine were technically terrific, but they did not leave a singularly lasting impression.  Gotye’s stagecraft (with some help from Kimbra) was breathtaking, but the sound could have been better.  The Black Keys sounded nearly perfect, but they suffer ever so slightly in comparison to Jack White, who sounded essentially perfect.

Best Special Guest
It can be a bad sign when SNL relies on special guests, but when there are as many special guests as there were in 2011-2012, there are bound to be some memorable ones, and thus I am including the category of Best Special Guest for the first time in my season recap.

Nicolas Cage

A lot of SNL fans have been clamoring for Nicolas Cage to return as host since his first appearance in 1992, because he was a memorable host that first time, and because, in the past five years or so, it has become clear that he is just an unbelievable human being.  If one appearance on a Weekend Update routine is all we are going to get out of him for now, then that is better than nothing.  A LOT better than nothing, as that bit was better than just about everything else in that entire episode combined, and that was the best episode of this season.

Jean Dujardin – the French star of a recent silent film?  Gasp-inducingly unexpected … Introducing Jon Hamm as the backup host was not a good portent for the rest of Lindsay Lohan’s episode, but it was a good gag, and if he is not going to host in a particular season, he better make at least some appearance … His appearance on “Get in the Cage”  made it clear that the thoroughly controlled intensity of Liam Neeson is about the only acting style that can seem intimidating next to the unhinged essence of Nic Cage … Chris Parnell is totally underrated when it comes to the greatest rappers of all time … Olivia Wilde wasn’t that amusing so much as the fact that she appeared for all of ten seconds and had no lines was amusing, although the face she made in response to Andy Samberg eating glass was appropriate.

Best Commercial Parody
“Verizon – an old person’s nightmare,” or the nightmare of anyone who wants any sort of consistency or simplicity when it comes to technology, or wishes that what makes their products so great could be explained in any sort of layman’s terms.  There’s just too much muchness with today’s mobile devices to the point that technology salespeople are practically a different species.

Almost Pizza
Almost Pizza continued the grand tradition of SNL commercials such as That’s Not Yogurt and Colon Blow in which someone goes on and on about the wonders of some new mysterious food product.  Though mostly silly, it was also kind of zeitgeisty in how it was related to the foodie trend of being interested in just exactly what is in our food and where it comes from. 

Kemper-Pedic Me Time Mattress
Oh, gags of masturbation pretending to be something else – you never get old! 

Clint Eastwood for Chrysler, etc.
Clint Eastwood I
Clint Eastwood II
Clint Eastwood III
In the post-Gran Torino portion of Clint Eastwood’s career, the reaction to his Super Bowl Chrysler commercial was a gift to any comedian with a Clint impression worth a lick of salt.  It was an opportunity to just yell at everybody to tell them how they’ve gotten everything wrong.  And then Hader adds the whole pants-hiking thing to it.

Best Digital Short
Interviews with Drake
The briefness and the titles of the interviews with Drake allowed this short to explain itself, and then there was the word from the sponsor (as played by Kristen Wiig), which took it to another whole level.

Seducing Women Through Chess
The cheap ’80s-video look – a favorite of the Lonely Island – and Andy’s Carl Sagan-esque getup made the aesthetics of this short enough to make the whole thing memorable.  The actual content of the sketch – a classic case of contrast in which Andy’s confident tone was belied by his unsuccessful efforts – managed to sell it even further.

100th Digital Short
Of the two celebratory, final digital shorts, I initially preferred Lazy Sunday 2, but I ultimately settled on the 100th as the better one, as it actually offered more in the way of fresh material, particularly Will Ferrell’s dick-measuring sort of posturing.

Honorable Mentions: Lazy Sunday 2, V-Necks

Best Weekend Update Segment
Get in the Cage with Nicolas Cage
For my money, the Get in the Cage segment with the actual Nic Cage was the best moment of SNL since the Celebrity Jeopardy featuring Sean Connery, Burt Reynolds, and French Stewart.

Stefon (from Katy Perry/Robyn)
Stefon’s place on this list basically represents all of his appearances this season (although the edition from the Katy Perry episode was probably the best, mostly thanks to Spud Webb).  I have to congratulate everyone involved with Stefon for managing to not run him into the ground and keep him as great as he is. 

Drunk Uncle (from Steve Buscemi/The Black Keys)
Like Stefon, Drunk Uncle’s spot is meant to more or less represent all of his appearances, although his first was the best, partially due to the law of diminishing returns.  Drunk Uncle is perhaps the first (or at least the best so far) SNL character tailor made for the Twitter age.  The character conception (a curmudgeonly old relative) is good enough, but beside the point.  The idea is, essentially, how many lines of 140 characters or fewer can we squeeze into four minutes? 

Andy Samberg as Sarah Palin
Tina Fey isn’t around, so what do you do?  Resourcefulness can lead to great comedy, so why not let Andy Samberg play Sarah Palin and just do whatever he can think of.  There wasn’t much of a point to this bit, beyond just “being funny.” 

Lana Del Rey
Now here’s something SNL doesn’t always do, but probably should always do (by virtue of being a weekly show and not having the chance to react to stories right away): taking a different comedic tack than everyone else.  After her wildly out-there performances on the last episode of SNL, Lana Del Rey was torn apart in every corner of the Internet.  So SNL wisely turned that focus around and asked if maybe that reaction was just a tad overblown.  Also, Lana Del Rey seemed like a Kristen Wiig character already, so that was a godsend.

Best 10 to 1 Sketch
Christmas Ornaments
Here’s a formula for a great 10 to 1 sketch: Steve Buscemi playing … any role at all, and Kristen Wiig playing an airhead.

Crime Scene
Even though I had “Crime Scene” a spot ahead of “Christmas Ornaments” on the best overall sketch list, “Christmas Ornaments” won out among 10 to 1’s due to a couple of X-factors: “Ornaments” was a little bit weirder, making it thus more in line with the 10 to 1 style, and “Crime Scene” wasn’t quite the last sketch of the episode.  But the only bit that followed was a rerun of a commercial parody, which was more of a time filler than a 10 to 1 sketch, whereas “Crime Scene” had plenty of that go for broke energy that makes great late in the show sketches memorable.

We’re Going to Make Technology Hump (from Emma Stone/Coldplay)
Exactly the sort of show you would love to stumble across at 1 AM.

Honorable Mentions: One Magical Night, Tinyballs

Best Episode
Zooey Deschanel/Karmin
A zeitgeisty best sketch of the season (Bein’ Quirky), excellent commercial parodies galore (Verizon, Clint Eastwood), a host that a lot of people really, really love, frantically awesome special guests, the best impersonation confrontation ever, a musical guest that was kind of okay at least for their first performance, and hardly a dud of a sketch to be found.

Steve Buscemi/The Black Keys
A few excellent routines (Central Press Conference, Ornaments, Sex Ed, Drunk Uncle) thankfully stood out in an episode that actually featured several sketches that were kind of meh, but were at least elevated by a truly singular host.  Also the Black Keys were there. 

Maya Rudolph/Sleigh Bells
Maya’s wacky energy infused sketches that were already inspired (Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Laughs, The Obama Show, How’s He Doing?, Beyoncé and Jay-Z), been there, done that (What Up With That?, Bronx Beat), or just plain pointless (Super Showcase).

Honorable Mentions: Jason Segel/Florence + the Machine, Emma Stone/Coldplay

Best Lines
1. “All the dialogue is either whispered or screamed/Everything in the movie is on fire.” – Nic Cage, from Get in the Cage
2. “Take things you like and make them different.  If you like swans, make them into a dress.  If you like screaming, make it music.  If you like clouds, make them your friends.” – Björk (Kristen), from Bein’ Quirky with Zooey Deschanel
3. “Hey Siri, why did a Chinaman steal my job?” – Drunk Uncle (Bobby)
4. “This one’s just a candy cane.  A’ight?” – Male Sheila (Steve Buscemi), from Christmas Ornaments
5. “Sister Maya, was this an act of malice?”/“No, brother West, it was an act of whimsy.” – Cornel West (Kenan)/Maya Angelou (Maya Rudolph), from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Laughs
6. “Now, this is a little snowman. Ow! He bit me! I’m fully kidding.” – Male Sheila (Steve Buscemi), from Christmas Ornaments
7. “All right, quick!  Name this baby! If you said Larry, you’re close. It’s Jesus.” – Male Sheila (Steve Buscemi), from Christmas Ornaments
8. “We don’t want your dumbass soap opera scenes. Just show clean, close-up shots of tech-humping.” – Jacob (Andy), co-host of We’re Going to Make Technology Hump, reading a viewer e-mail
9. “When I was a kid, five dollars, you could get, you could get, hot dog milk bread cigarettes television.” – Drunk Uncle (Bobby)
10. “I think people thought I was stiff … distant … and weird.  But there’s a perfectly good explanation for that.” “I am stiff, distant, and weird.” – Lana Del Rey (Kristen), on Weekend Update
11. “Hey, baby Jesus, you wanna do Pilates?” – Drunk Uncle (Bobby)
12. “When I saw this, I was like, ‘Santa’s on va-cay!’” – Male Sheila (Steve Buscemi), from Christmas Ornaments
13. “People keep asking me, ‘What does Sarah Palin think of this new Game Change movie?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know, I’ll-ask-a!’” Andy Samberg as Sarah Palin on Weekend Update
14. “We have a clip.” – repeated line, from Kalle (Kristen)
15. “This broad is trying to gaslight me.” – Male Sheila (Steve Buscemi), from Christmas Ornaments
16. “No more illegals.  Illegals SUUUUUCK.” – Jeff, the host of The Comments Section (Jason), reading a comment by Jennifer Evans (Melissa McCarthy)
17. “This one’s been up my butt. Not just a little bit – all the way.” – Male Sheila (Steve Buscemi), from Christmas Ornaments
18. “Kristen Wiig!” – Audience member, from Lindsay Lohan’s monologue
19. “What’s he, another one of your Fieldstein characters?” – Detective (Charlie Day), from Crime Scene

SNL Season 36 (2010-2011) Recap

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The biggest struggle in putting together this season’s SNL recap came in the category of best episode.  There were several (maybe six or seven) episodes that were generally satisfying from beginning to end, but none in which every sketch was a winner.  Similarly, there was no episode in which there was no memorable sketch.  Even notorious hosting hacks like Scarlett Johansson and Robert De Niro provided us with winners like “Stars of Tomorrow” and “The Abacus Conundrum,” respectively.  There should be no doubt about the overall quality of this cast; the biggest issue, as is so often the case, is whether the job is being done at the writing stage.  And it frequently is, but not all the time, and that is because of the show’s unwieldy nature.  That is the word of the season: unwieldy.  The cast, with nine full-timers and five featured players, is too big, for one thing.  It is not quite as bloated as the early nineties and actually not that much higher than what it has been the past few seasons (the count was as high as 16 five years ago).  But for this particular casting mix, fourteen is too much.  Half the cast members just finished their sixth or later seasons, and with that many players that established, it is tricky for every featured player in a relatively large, unflashy featured group to break out.  So, as for the unwieldy 2010-2011, there was plenty to love, you just had to be patient to discover it.

Most Valuable Cast Member
Bill Hader
It is the rare bit from SNL that every casual fan is talking about and that diehard fans unanimously agree is a classic routine.  It didn’t quite happen with Kenan as DeAndre Cole last year (the zeitgeist factor was there, but not the unanimity), but it did happen with Bill as Stefon this year.  And this from a guy who was pegged as merely the new impressionist du jour his first season.  Hader was initially the ever-reliable supporting player, devoid of the sometimes annoying or weird tics that make Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig, Kenan Thompson, and Fred Armisen occasionally bothersome to some, but not regularly front and center.  But now, thanks mainly to Stefon but also thanks to an expanding repertoire of characters (highlighted by the goblin-like James Carville, the ever-sobbing John Boehner, the way-past-his-prime newsman Herb Welch, and, of course, Vincent Price), he has broken through with his agreeableness.

Kenan Thompson
Last year’s MVCM never came to dominate the show the way a Will Ferrell or an Eddie Murphy did.  But he did present several indelible moments, and he has tirelessly continued to do so with a string of moments in some of the season’s best sketches.  “What Up With That?” has lasted longer than anyone could have reasonably expected it to, and his Bill Cosby fulfilled what ought to be an at least once per season appearance quota.  And then how can we forget Jimmy McMillan, David “Beef Jelly” Winfield, Forest Whitaker,, Raven Symoné, Blackenstein’s Monster, and even Googie Rene?

Andy Samberg
The digital short is as alive as ever.  Andy has of course been the main face of the digital shorts for as long as they have been around, and it seemed that this year he set aside the best digital material for himself (and often his Lonely Island buddies as well) – “What Was That,” “I Just Had Sex,” “The Creep.”  And for those who think he is only valuable when it comes to the shorts, re-watch his performance as the head of MTV’s programming in the Skins sketch to see how that is not the case.

Rookie of the Year: Vanessa Bayer

Best Sketch
Digital Short: What Was That?
“What Was That?” was particularly amusing, and it would have been so if the source of that amusement were only such bons mots as, “The Middle East?  Quit goofing around!”; “Ethnic cleansing – talk to the hand!”; and, “All these oil spills?  Hit the showers!”  But of course, it was more than that.  The Model U.N. member played by Andy seemed to be making a mockery of his platform of addressing the actual U.N.  The delegates slunk back uncomfortably in their chairs, wondering, “Who is this fool?”  Indeed, he was a fool, but the sort of fool from King Lear.  He reduces various world tragedies as silly and simplistic, but there was a certain deep truth to such a representation that only a fool would be allowed to utter.  And after all, the Rwandan genocide was “real mature, guys.”

The Miley Cyrus Show (with guest Johnny Depp)
When beholding Miley Cyrus, I have thought many times, “Now here is a celebrity who is begging to be made fun of.”  But nobody on SNL seemed interested in doing so, at least not so far as doing a full-blown impression, except until Vanessa Bayer came along and was happy to nail the y’all-sprinkled nasally Southern accent, the absurd word vomit-infused teenage girl-isms, and the cheesy sitcommy repartee.  The decision to place Vanessa’s Miley in the context of her own talk show was an inspired one, as it afforded her the opportunity to fail spectacularly (but entertainingly so) at a comedy monologue.  (Interestingly enough, the real Miley eventually proved adept with her own monologue when she appeared as host.)

Our Time with Taboo and
When we look back at the early part of the 21st century, we will wonder why we ever allowed Jaime “Taboo” Gómez and Allan “” Lindo to become famous.  We may then wonder who exactly allowed their fame.  “Our Time” points out that even during the time of their fame, though, they were barely famous anyway.  Those who care enough to know anything about the two other members of the Black Eyed Peas have likely been tripped up by the baffling matters of their nonsensical nicknames and indistinct ethnicities.  For the record, is in fact “Filiblino,” and Taboo, while perhaps vaguely Asian, is actually half-Mexican and half-Shoshone.  As for their stage names, Andy and Kenan’s explanations are a lot more edifying than the actual explanations.

Best Short Sketch
How short must a short sketch be to be eligible in this category?  I haven’t decided definitively, but the three sketches below were all 3:23 or shorter, so something like that.

The Original Kings of Catchphrase Comedy
David “Beef Jelly” Winfield, Goran “Funky Boy” Bogdan, Slappy Pappy, and Pete “Airhorn” Schultz are supposed to be comedians with dumb acts that rely on catchphrases that make no sense.  But in this sketch, they are hilarious, and not really because it is so funny that they, or anyone, could possibly think that are they funny.  They are plainly hilarious.  The fact of the matter is, comedy does not need to contain jokes (or apparently anything clever at all).  What it does require is a talented performer.  So while Kenan Thompson, Paul Brittain, Bobby Moynihan, and Zach Galifianakis were supposed to be playing hacky comics, they couldn’t help but be funny.

The Merryville Brothers Trolley Ride
“They Merryville Brothers Trolley Ride” provides a demonstration of the “uncanny valley” hypothesis, which posits that when facsimiles of humans appear almost, but not quite, like actual humans, they will produce a general reaction of revulsion, as opposed to less similar humanoid creatures, which engender more positive reactions.  When such too-close human facsimiles are presented sincerely, as in The Polar Express, it can be off-putting.  But when presented ironically, as in this sketch, it has the feel of humor that comes from a wild place.  There was a reverse humanoid situation going on in that the animatronic people were played by actual humans, thus adding another level to the revulsion and the humor.

Les Jeunes de Paris (from the Miley Cyrus episode)
Visual wit does not get enough credit in comedy, probably because verbal humor is generally more respected than physical humor and many comedians are not willing to take the risk in appearing that they are only going for base, physical humor.  But that which can be properly called visual wit is more similar to wordplay than it is to slapstick.  “Les Jeunes de Paris” – with its in-time-with-the-music eating of a piece of bologna, splashing in the face with fake water from a mime, and pulling out a bottle of wine from behind a Playboy sleight-of-hand-style – is the pinnacle of visual wit on SNL.

Best Host
Jim Carrey
In his film career Jim Carrey has mostly foregone the manic, no-holds-barred performing style that made him famous.  But when he makes live appearances, it is still his bread and butter.  That strategy serves SNL well, as it elevates otherwise thin or drawn-out material like the Black Swan parody and the umpteenth Grady Wilson appearance, renders orgasmic strong material like the Merryville Trolley Ride and the psychic celebrity impressionist, and makes strange material like “A Taste of New York” something indelible.

Zach Galifianakis
In my initial review of the Zach Galifianakis episode from this season, I wrote that while Zach was great, several cast members “looked as if they do not know how to keep up with him.”  That can make for an episode that is uneven in parts, but in and of himself, Zach is too great to not consider him one of the best of the season and one of the best that SNL currently has at its disposal.  Hopefully, after a few more hosting stints, everyone will be able to catch up with him, and then maybe sketches like “Celebrity Scoop” will actually work. 

Jeff Bridges
A couple of SNL season recaps ago, I posited that the mark of a great host is the ability to imprint his personality on the show (at the time, it was John Malkovich who inspired that explanation).  Jeff Bridges succeeded as host with this imprinting ability the primary reason for his success.  His idiosyncratically cool, laid-back demeanor was the tone of the episode, with “Jeff’d” – Jeff Bridges’ absurdly good-natured eponymous prank show – serving as the exemplar of that tone.

Best Monologue
Zach Galifianakis
Every once in a while, a talent emerges in the comedy world and makes us wonder how we ever could have thought anybody else was funny.  Such was the case when Zach Galifianakis broke though with The Hangover.  Thanks to that massive success, many more of us than before have now become familiar with Zach’s stand-up, where he shines even more crazily.  If his grandmother were still around to see him perform his monologue, she probably would have said, “What are you doing?”

Robert De Niro
Sometimes, the monologue concept is so great that all that has to happen for it to succeed is the host just reading his lines.  De Niro has been inexplicably awful every time he has hosted SNL, but here all he had to do was get through the list of incorrect facts about his hometown of New York.  And that is what he did.

Miley Cyrus
There was not much particularly hilarious about Miley Cyrus’s monologue, but there was a lot of truth.  The strongest element in making this monologue was not so much the fact that Miley was correct in claiming that her scandals have been of a lesser nature than most celebrity disasters, but the series of hand gestures and facial expressions that conveyed the message of “Yeah, I know what people are saying about me, but my life’s not so bad.”

Ed Helms
Ed Helms may have established a persona (always an underdog, but constantly fighting; moments of freaking out underneath that calm exterior), but he has not clearly established what his typical material is.  He is willing to try out a good amount of different comedic strategies.  And that can be a risk.  The story of how Rascal T. Peppercorn inspired him towards a life in show business had some elements of success, even though it could have failed horribly.  But Ed stood up on the stage confidently, and he delivered.

Best Musical Guest
In terms of musical guests, this was THE best season in SNL history, at least for as long as I’ve been a regular viewer.  There were nine stellar acts that would have easily made the top three in a normal year, six very good acts who would have had a chance to make the top three in a normal year, four good or solid acts, and three mediocre acts that all actually had one good performance.

Kanye West
“Power” –
“Runaway” –
If you think that Kanye West is a jerk, then fine.  He may well be.  But don’t let that blind you of the immensity of his accomplishments, with his instantly classic SNL appearance near the top of what he has pulled off in the past year.  With the whitewashed stage and the cadre of backup ballerinas, Kanye pulled off what was once thought impossible: making the SNL stage his own.

Arcade Fire
“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” –
When in doubt, include eight members in your band.  That’ll fill up the stage mighty fine.  It is also nice to perform songs that invite every member to be constantly moving and that feature transcendent backing vocals and that go along nicely with whimsical pageantry.  When you are performing live, you want to be able to emote.

Kings of Leon
“Radioactive” –
“Pyro” –
Sometimes a band is described as a great live band.  I often find such a compliment goofy, because to know that a band is great, one does not to see them.  Hearing should be enough, and the recorded version provides plenty to be heard.  That is not to say that bands cannot be great live, and Kings of Leon make that clear, because I when see them live, I truly understand what it means to be a great live band.

If the musical guests were judged based on their appearances in sketches along with their performances, here’s how the top would go:
1. Rihanna
2. Lady GaGa
3. Nicki Minaj
4. Arcade Fire

If they were judged only by their appearances in sketches, then it would be:
1. Katy Perry
2. Rihanna
3. Lady GaGa

Best Commercial Parody
The Mosque at Ground Zero
This is what all parties involved should really be afraid about regarding the proposed community center near Ground Zero: hucksterism promoting “classy” (cheap) values while only setting out to make a quick buck.

Crunkmas Karnival
DJ Supersoak and Lil’ Blaster’s strategy for promoting the Crunkmas Karnival is basically the same as the one they used last year for the Kickspit Underground Rock Festival, and it just goes to show you that there is no shortage of acts that suggest askew sexuality/scatology (Dump, Butt Snack) or surprising homoeroticism (Boyz II Dickz) and no lack of unusual ways for semi-celebrities to make guest appearances (comedy from Phil Spector, a mayonnaise fight with former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop).

I-Sleep Pro
I am all for humor that touches upon race, not necessarily because making humor out of racism weakens it (though that may be somewhat true), but because the vocabulary and philosophy of race are often just so silly.  Accordingly, the concept of this commercial parody was based on a pun: “black” noise instead of white noise, which is a type of noise that has nothing to do with skin color.  Also, Kenan is the king of making broad comedy that could be racist into something that is not racist and vaguely cerebral.

Best Digital Short
What Was That?
Like many other great digital shorts, “What Was That?” was notable for its music, and I’m not just talking about Andy’s white-boy rapping in this case.  That driving synth score provided by the rest of the model U.N. has really come to stick with me.  Arcade Fire’s appearance was appropriately complementary (and also more gratifying than another musical act coda to a recent classic SNL sketch – Tenacious D’s wrap-up song for the “Spelling Bee” sketch).

Ronnie and Clyde
It is not just that Ronnie is so comically inept in his appearances with Rihanna.  It is also that Rihanna’s rhymes are so tight, and the beat is so right.  These duets could pass for actual Rihanna songs.  RiRi is very cute in her thirties-meets-modern outfit, and she knows how to play to her audience of bank employees and customers.  Also, Ronnie’s getup was probably closer than Faye Dunaway’s to the real Bonnie Parker, who was notoriously ugly.

I Just Had Sex
Like “I’m on a Boat,” the major aspect of the comedy of “I Just Had Sex” was not the lyrics in and of themselves, but the fact that it was not too different from some hip-hop songs that are sung sincerely.  Akon yelling out his own name and the names of his collaborators?  That happens all the time.  The beat was your standard hip-hop beat.  The bluntness of the lyrics was only a little bit blunter than normal.

Best Weekend Update Segment
It has been a while since a recurring SNL routine has been unanimously and resoundingly embraced as Stefon’s appearances have been.  Celebrity Jeopardy! may have been the last.  Normally, when compiling my best-of picks, I choose particular appearances of recurring bits, instead of having every occurrence of that bit count as one selection.  If two (or more) renditions of the same bit are honored in a particular category, then so be it.  But if I were to stick with that rule this year, then Stefon would have filled all three spots in this category.  And that lack of variety would not have been too interesting.  So, for the sake of being able to mention other great Update segments from this season, Stefon’s win encompasses all of his appearances.

Secondhand News with Anthony Crispino
The year in Weekend Update 2010-2011 was the year of Stefon and the year of the Secondhand News.  Anthony Crispino’s pun-based riffs on the news were the sort of SNL routines that SNL fans find themselves repeating verbatim to their friends and family whenever they can be snuck into a conversation.  There is a particularly American style to reporting the news incorrectly and yet being so confident in its accuracy.  His top appearance came in early March, when he reported that Arkansas Governor Huckleberry Hound was upset about Natalie Portman making a baby out of dreadlocks and that Charlie Rose had sent out millions of messages via Twizzlers (“there’s candy everywhere!”) after he was fired from his show Two Guys, A Girl, and Half a Pizza Place. 

The Rent is Too Damn High Party Candidate Jimmy McMillan
Too often in sketch comedy when parodying ridiculous people, performers make the mistake of simply repeating what those people have done and said.  Kenan’s portrayal of Jimmy McMillan worked because of the details that were absurd reworkings of McMillan’s shtick (an apartment that cost $7 million to rent) and the details that were just plain made up (“breakfast, lunch, and dinner”).

Best 10 to 1 Sketch (Last Sketch of the Night)
The Even More Expendables
Not only did this sketch parody The Expendables and its strategy of throwing everything and the kitchen sink together to make a movie, it also had a very end-of-the-night feel to it in the same regard, as SNL threw all its best, most random leftover impressions into a stew whose parts did not go together.  And it all appeared to be more entertaining than the actual Expendables.

A Taste of New York
While last year’s best 10 to 1 sketches would have worked at any time of the night, this year’s best, especially “A Taste of New York,” could have ever only worked around 1:00 AM.  It was a bizarre and unsavory tale of rats, homelessness, and scabs that worked thanks to the dedication of Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, and Jim Carrey in rendering themselves true New York characters.

By sheer force of will, Zach Galifianakis insisted that this sketch (that probably should have been twice as long as it was) about a reckless and selfish ship’s captain be memorable, in typical Galifianakian fashion.

Honorable Mention: Who Do I Have to Screw to Get a Drink Around Here?
This sketch was not quite the last of the night, but it may very well have still aired at 12:50, as the one sketch that came afterwards was one of those super-short “American America” animated shorts.  Thus, it was close enough to being a 10 to 1 sketch, and deserves at least a mention (as I would have picked it at number one had it been a true 10 to 1).  Two guys wondered aloud the classic query, “Who do I have to screw to get a drink around here?”  And they actually got an answer, in the form of Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller, decked out in homeless wizard-style chic.

Best Episode
Miley Cyrus/The Strokes (3/5/10)
This episode had all the elements of classic SNL: sharp topical riffs (Charlie’s Sheen fingerprints were all over the place), a willing host with plenty of baggage (the “I’m Sorry But I’m Not Perfect” monologue, the Miley Cyrus Show, the Disney Channel Acting School) and a load of weirdness (Our Time!, Richie Inez, Jr. in The Sound of Music, Les Jeunes de Paris).  And it goes without saying that the musical guest was great.

Jim Carrey/The Black Keys (1/8/10)
It took a little while, but by the middle of this episode, Jim Carrey had grabbed it by the throat and made it his own, inside and out (Merryville Trolley Ride, Medium Impressionist).  He is the sort of host with the power to make the show listen to him when he insists that it will be as he wants it to be.  And it goes without saying that the musical guest was great.

Ed Helms/Paul Simon (5/14/11)
There were several episodes contending for the top spots this year, all with a little of this, and a little of that.  The Ed Helms-hosted joint, solid from top to bottom, stood out thanks to its buzzworthy elements (the live action Ambiguously Gay Duo, the real Lindsey Buckingham on “What Up With That?”).  And it goes without saying that the musical guest was great.

Best Lines
1. “Where is your brain?!  In your butt?!” – Marvin (Kenan), from the St. Kat’s Middle School sketch
2. “Ethnic cleansing?  Talk to the hand!” – Model U.N. member (Andy), from “What Was That?”
3. “It combines time travel with screaming.” – Nic Cage (Andy), from “Get in the Cage,” with Jake Gyllenhaal
4. “Uh-oh.  Boner alert!” – Clyde (Rihanna), from “Ronnie and Clyde”
5. “I will not work with children, although I will dance with them.” – Sandall Barnes (Jon Hamm), from the Audition sketch
6. “Came popping out my momma like some kettle corn” – one of the creeps (Akiva), from “The Creep”
7. “Well, you know how is a way of saying William? is a way of saying Apple-too-ul-pop.” – (Kenan), from “Our Time!”
8. “The Middle East?  Quit goofing around!” – Model U.N. member (Andy), from “What Was That?”
9. “Iceberg up ahead.  Think I’ll blast through that sucker.” – Passenger (Kristen), reading from the captain’s (Zach Gal) journal, from the Titanic sketch
10. “As y’all probably heard, I’m sexy now.” – Miley Cyrus (Vanessa), from “The Miley Cyrus Show”
11. “I might tinkle in a fake sink.” – Lizette Barnes (Kristen), from the Audition sketch
12. “You’re on Jeff’d, so it doesn’t matter, it’s all staged!” – Jeff Bridges, from “Jeff’d”
13. “…when you stood up to urinate, everyone saw your pe-a-nis.”  “And, uh, how were the reviews?” – Passenger (Kristen)/Captain (Zach Gal), from the Titanic sketch
14. “And I am from the Matrix!” – Taboo (Andy), from “Our Time!”
15. “And all these oil spills?  Hit the showers!” – Model U.N. member (Andy), from “What Was That?”
16. “I’m allergic to guns.” – Eugene Levy (Fred), from “The Even More Expendables”

The trend of underutilizing capable hosts continued: Bryan Cranston, Paul Rudd (!), Helen Mirren … Most disappointing episode: Russell Brand/Chris Brown … Most surprising episode: Scarlett Johansson/Arcade Fire, but not because of ScarJo … Did I mention how great the music was this season?

SNL Season 35 (2009-2010) Recap

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The “Arizona Evenings” sketch in the SNL season finale worried me.  It featured script supervisor “Starfish,” as played by Kristen Wiig, in perhaps her worst performance on SNL ever.  I am a K-Wiig fan and would argue that she is the best female cast member in the show’s history, but the Internet chatter on SNL tends to have a good deal of Kristen Wiig fatigue.  It is true that she appears in a lot of sketches and a lot more often than the three other female cast members (who are all featured players), but I believe that the criticism goes too far.  But when I saw Starfish, I was reminded of the infamous 1994-95 season, when cast members with otherwise successful runs on the show (Farley, Sandler, Spade) turned in their most obnoxious performances ever.  I feared that the same was happening with Kristen.
The crisis that SNL currently faces is actually not the same as the one it faced fifteen years ago, nor is this one anywhere near as perilous.  My brother was talking the other day about how he believes the current SNL writers’ room is like the TGS writers’ room on 30 Rock, in which everyone just sits around and says random things that they think are funny.  Whereas, on seasons past, the writers would have a comedic idea they really want to flesh out and birth a sketch from that idea.  I think he is on to something here, and looking over my picks of the best for the last season, I believe SNL remains at its best when it maintains that “idea” mentality.  So, for my 2009-2010 SNL recap, let’s start it off with an idea man.

(I would embed the videos, but this recap is long, and videos would make for even more scrolling.  So no embedding.  But I am providing the links.)

Most Valuable Cast Member
Kenan Thompson
Kenan’s tenure on SNL has been marked by a lot of sketches that would be absolutely terrible if anyone else were in his roles.  Sometimes those sketches are barely watchable (Ruff, Rugged, and Roker) and sometimes they are inexplicably brilliant (Scared Straight).  This season, his performances tended toward the latter, and there were even some occasions when he had ideas that were brilliant by any standard and would have been so with any performer (“What Up With That?”), though he was clearly the best suited to play them.  His star power cooled off in the second half of the season, but his first half renditions as DeAndre Cole, “Reba McEntire,” Bill Cosby, Charles Barkley, and Maya Angelou were strong enough for the entire season.

The current group of not ready for primetime players is akin to the late 80’s cast of Carvey, Hartman, Lovitz, Jan Hooks, Nora Dunn, Victoria Jackson, etc., which was truly an ensemble group where no one star really stood out.  Even Kenan did not really emerge as a star this year; he basically just had the most strong performances.  Nevertheless, a few honorable mentions are worth noting: Will Forte, for his steady stream of MacGruber brilliance and offering of further evidence that he is one of the strangest cast members of all time, and Bill Hader, for deftly fulfilling the roles of reliable supporting player and secret comedic weapon.

Best Sketch
What Up With That? (with guests Al Gore, Mindy Kaling, and Lindsey Buckingham)
The first time I saw “What Up With That?”, I could not believe that something like this could go on for seven minutes on network television.  But I was absolutely thrilled that it was allowed.  The second rendition perfected the formula, with a famous cameo in the speaking guest role, and the best performance by that night’s host of any WUWT? (Joseph Gordon-Levitt as “our friend from another dimension,” Klaus Future).  Kenan’s face when he said, “It’s gonna be audacious” was priceless and sealed the deal in making this the best sketch of the year.

Digital Short: Two Worlds Collide
It took too long before Kenan had a promiment role in a digital short, but when it finally did happen, he and Andy Samberg gave birth to a beautiful comedy baby.  The casting of Kenan as Reba McEntire would have been enough for me, but making Reba and Andy lovers took it to another level.  Then the revelation of Reba as a man kind of but not really pretending to be Reba twisted it all up into a ball of nonstop laughter.  So why Reba?  Why not Reba!

The Potato Chip Thief
Joining the grand tradition of “What were the writers smoking?” sketches (such as the census interview with Christopher Walken, the job interview with Steve Buscemi, and the Dr. Poop sketch) was this monstrosity that must have come from the twisted mind of Will Forte.  The difference is that those past sketches had straight characters to ground the proceedings, while the Potato Chip Thief was a total embrace of the weird.  I could barely believe what was unfolding before my eyes, and my hats go off to Forte, Jason Sudeikis, and Blake Lively for throwing themselves completely into every aspect of this sketch: the ridiculous accents, a short-sleeved dress shirt (!), the Col. Sanders-esque get-up, “you have no right!”, “that is between you and your god!”, “Blacklisted!”, “be a man for the first time in your life!”, “you don’t take people’s potato chips,” the chip spit, “my undry dreams,” the unmentioned until the end “hemorrhoid donut,” “because they’re hungry, Janelda, because they’re hungry.”

There were several notable sketches from all over the place competing for the top spot, and some had trouble matching the top contenders because they were, well, too short, which led me to the creation of my newest category:

Best Short Sketch
Zipco Closet Organizer
If the mark of a great SNL sketch is its ability to lead to an unrelenting fit of laughter, then the Closet Organizer commercial would win easily.  The hilarity kept getting amped up, and I could barely catch my breath.  I was in such a silly mood by the end of it that I wondered if the following sketch deserved as much laughter as I gave it.

MacGruber (“He has a black employee now!”)
It is incredible how well the MacGruber sketches work over and over again with the exact same format.  (Maybe because they each last about a minute…)  The Charles Barkley-featuring version turned out to be the best of all time, as MacGruber became a racist.  What sets MacGruber apart from any other racist joke is the idiosyncrasy of his racism (“Jazz me over that fly shoelace, you dig?”).

Kickspit Underground Rock Festival
Supposedly the infomercial (for the Insane Clown Posse-led “Gathering of the Juggalos”) that this sketch parodied is just as ridiculous as SNL’s version, if not more so.  But the original was stretched out over fifteen minutes.  SNL took the tactic of stuffing as much as possible into about two minutes, and the lineup for the festival looked promising.

Best Host
Jon Hamm
Jon Hamm’s comfort on the 30 Rock stage shone through on January 30.  After only two appearances, he is one of the best recurring hosts that SNL has at its disposal.  If things continue at this pace, he could be the definitive host of the teen decade.

Zach Galifianakis
After the one-two punch of “Zach Drops by the Set” and the fourth hour of today in the middle of the March 6 show (which featured a creepy Zach Galifianakis sticking his face against the window), I thought that Zach’s face would just be plastered on the screen for the rest of the show.  And I would have been happy if it was.  One more thing: the bidet.

Betty White
During the windup to Betty White’s appearance, the Golden Girl kept stressing how afraid she was to do the show.  Well, she either got over that fear completely, or she was just leading us on.  Either way, she tackled every role she was given with a confidence that can only come with 60+ years in the industry.

Best Monologue
Zach Galifianakis
Most of this year’s monologues were either an afterthought (Charles Barkley attempting three different monologue formats), terribly misguided (Gabourey Sidibe singing about herself to the tune of “The Shoop Shoop Song”?), or a terribly misguided afterthought (Taylor Lautner defending Taylor Swift’s honor against a cardboard cutout of Kanye West?).  The best monologue this year took the SNL monologue back to its roots, when it was usually a stand-up routine.  And the stand-up stylings of Zach Galifianakis are totally appropriate for the SNL stage, in a 21st century kind of way.

Betty White
Leave it to Betty White to be the other host whose monologue was a standup routine.  She demonstrated that she understood the FaceBook phenomenon, enough to be able to crack a few legitimately funny jokes about it.

Best Musical Guest
Lady GaGa
GaGa’s first performance of the night (“Paparazzi”) featured her best song and was perfectly GaGa-theatrical, but the “Love Game”/“Poker Face” medley really showed off what she was capable of, especially with that piano action.

The Ting Tings
The Ting Tings’ first song, “That’s Not My Name,” showed off the fun and goofiness of the Ting Tings, but it was ultimately unsubstantial.  Then “Shut Up and Let Me Go” really showed them having a hell of a time and seemed to never end.

“Flash Delirium” was a nice enough MGMT performance, nothing to get too excited about.  But then “Brian Eno” came along.  Andrew VanWyngarden kept going on and on about Brian Eno, and on and on, and on and on, and though it only lasted about five minutes, it felt like forever.  One of the strangest forever’s I have ever known, but one I am glad to have known.

Bucking the trend of the second song besting the first, Ke$ha went absolutely insane to kick things off with “Tik Tok”: spaceman costumes, an American flag cape, goofy lights, purposely screwy vocals.  What does it all mean?  Nothing.  And that’s the point.  “Did anyone stop to think maybe we are the aliens?”  Indeed.  As for her second performance, “it’s Saturday night.  Do you want to make out?”

Best Commercial Parody
Zipco Closet Organizer
The overly exuberant voiceover, the harried housewife, the black-and-white footage: it captured the ads for those “As Seen on TV” products perfectly, and then it became … something else.

Kickspit Underground Rock Festival
You can tell that the SNL writers know they have come up with a good sketch when they repeat their best jokes a few seconds later in the same sketch as though they have already been established as an audience favorite.  That happened here with “Mrs. Potato Dick” and “Ass Dan.”

Duncan Hines Brownie Husband
Tina Fey amplified her unlucky-in-love and compulsive eating Liz Lemon persona to epic proportions with this spot.  “The perfect blend of rich fudge and emotional intimacy” – I can’t put it any better than that.

Best Digital Short
Two Worlds Collide
“I’m Reba!”

The Date
From the minds of Will Forte and the Lonely Island comes this love letter to strange, fragile men who know how to woo someone like Megan Fox.  I was not quite sure what to make of this, but once it got into the fevered nightmares caused by lamb slaughter, I could not say no to that face.

Booty Call
The attractive female guests of SNL go for some strange men.  A string of bizarre details that are hardly connected to each other come together to form the picture of a very interesting individual.  Best twist ending of any digital short?

Best Weekend Update Segment
Bill Cosby (Kenan Thompson) discusses his new rap album
Kenan debuted his Bill Cosby impression on SNL in his first episode.  Why it has not appeared more often is beyond me.  Kenan’s impressions generally are not terribly accurate, but we let it slide because of his uncontrollable charisma.  But his Cosby is spot-on.  I somehow simultaneously believed and failed to believe that the real Cosby would say things like “Kanye Kangaroo,” “suck on my elbow,” and “the twangamazoos.”

Stefon (Bill Hader) discusses NYC hotspots
Bill Hader completely cracked up in the middle of his first appearance as city correspondent Stefon, and we let it slide, because the audience was cracking up, and the performance required him to breathe heavily, put his hands to his mouth, and generally act nervous.  The comedy of Stefon resembled what is best described as the fever dream of a gay man, and how can you go wrong with that?

Charles Barkley (Kenan Thompson) comments on Communist China’s 60th anniversary
Charles Barkley provided a series of reasons why he is unqualified to be discussing China but why he has many more entertaining things to say on the subject than just about anyone else.  He also continued the trend of calling Seth “Screech” Meyers by the wrong name.
(Kenan very nearly went for 3-for-3 in this category with his appearance as Maya Angelou responding to rumors of her death.  She referred to Seth as “Dr. Seth Meyers.”)

Best 10 to 1 Sketch
The Potato Chip Thief
The 35th season of SNL may go down as the year of the 10 to 1 sketch (that is, the last sketch of the night, so named because it airs at 10 to 1, or 12:50, or perhaps because it has a 10 to 1 chance of success).  Leading the pack, of course, was the potato chip thief.

Doorbells and More
Before this concept was ruined by guest appearances from J. Lo and Gabourey Sidibe, Tina Tina Chaneuse was Jenny Slate’s breakout performance.  Tina Tina was very cute and endearing.  It was like, “Aww, look how hard she’s trying to be successful.”  Bonus points to Bobby Moynihan as the incredulous doorbell ringer.

Census Interview
A revisiting of the classic Tim Meadows-Christopher Walken census sketch, this did not quite meet the heights of its forerunner, but that would have been a lofty goal to reach.  Unlike many other great 10 to 1 sketches, it embraced the throwaway nature of the last show of the night and had a feel of “now that everything else is out of the way, let’s have some fun.”

Best Episode
Jon Hamm/Michael Bublé (1/30/10)
Highlights included the Closet Organizer, “Hamm and Bublé,” the bad stenographer, and the reappearance of the Closet Organizer in a later sketch, a gag I believe that SNL has not pulled in over ten years.

Charles Barkley/Alicia Keys (1/9/10)
When I saw the Charles Barkley episode, I was satisfied, though it did not strike me as a season high point.  But then I took another look at it, and realized that we had MacGruber, Reel Quotes, the return of Make-a-Wish recipient Danny Hoover, the Booty Call Digital Short, and Scared Straight – really, not a single bad sketch.  Somehow, a Charles Barkley-hosted episode was one of the best of the season.  Really.

Ryan Reynolds/Lady GaGa (10/3/09)
A few sketches that I very much enjoyed the first time around (the Osmonds vs. the Phillips on Family Feud, the “On the Ground” digital short, Barkley on Update, the Norwegian Actors’ Playhouse on International Masterworks), a couple that get better the more I think about them (So You Committed a Crime … And You Think You Can Dance, and International Masterworks, again), and an iconic musical guest.  Not a single misstep, except the dumb appearance from GaGa and Madonna on Deep House Dish.

Alec Baldwin tied Steve Martin for most hosting appearances with 15, while John Goodman, who has not hosted since 2001, languishes in third place with 12 … Most surprising host: Blake Lively … Most disappointing host: January Jones … Charles Barkley became the first professional athlete to have hosted more than once, sort of.  Tony Danza, who had a boxing career in the seventies, hosted twice in the eighties, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who got his start as a professional wrestler, has hosted thrice.  I do not count Tony because it was his acting career that made him famous enough to host, and I do not count The Rock because professional wrestling is not really a sport … Most bizarre trend: the underutilization of capable hosts (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Blake Lively, Ryan Phillippe) in supporting roles … And in case you happened to miss it, the Black Eyed Peas performed on SNL this year.

SNL Season 34 (2008-2009) Recap

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Since I was out of the country last spring and SNL does not air regularly in Australia, I was not able to post my recap for last season right after it ended.  I was also unable to completely catch up on all the episodes I missed until September, and by that time, the next season was about to start and school was starting, so I just did not get around to it.  But now is as good a time as any to finally put it together.  The 09-10 recap will be up soon, so in the meantime, here is last year’s to tide you over while you wait.

(I would embed the videos, but this recap is long, and videos would make for even more scrolling.  So no embedding.  But I am providing the links.)

Most Valuable Cast Member
I wish I could give this award to Tina Fey for her several spot-on appearances as Sarah Palin, but she did not have to deal with the mix of good and bad material that all the regulars had to deal with week in and week out.  In a truly ensemble year, Andy Samberg ekes out the win, mostly thanks to a string of strong performances in digital shorts (“Jizz in My Pants,” “Everyone’s a Critic,” “I’m on a Boat”).

Best Sketch
Jizz in My Pants
“Jizz in My Pants” continued the sterling tradition of musical digital shorts with the standard practices of perfectly recreating a musical genre ripe for parody and employing lyrics that are legitimately clever by any standard.  It distinguished itself with the use of random celebrity appearances (Molly Sims and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who were currently doing … nothing else at the time) as well as a list of absurd examples of the premise that supplied a nonstop supply of chuckles.

Funeral Interruptions
A reworking of the interrupting wedding toasters sketch from the Hugh Laurie episode, this version propelled the concept to heights of hilarity.  The biggest difference maker was Will Ferrell as comedian and botanist Graham Yost (“like French toast but with a ‘y.’  There is no ‘a’”).  Will Forte as Hamilton, Fred Armisen as an obnoxious cousin (dressed like he’s in AC/DC), and Bobby Moynihan as the microphone-dropper also provided highlights. 

Celebrity Jeopardy
The insane Connery-Trebeck feud somehow never gets old, Tom Hanks as a dumb Tom Hanks was an inspired choice (and hey, a reference to a classic Wayne’s World bit!), and Kristen Wiig’s already-established Kathie Lee Gifford was an obvious choice.  Would a fourth contestant make the proceedings too crowded?  Not if that fourth contestant was Burt Reynolds.

Best Host
Will Ferrell
I would argue that Will Ferrell is the best SNL cast member of all time.  I would then say that any episode in which Will Ferrell hosts ought to automatically be a great episode.  I would offer the May 16, 2009, Season 34 finale as evidence.

Tracy Morgan
Maybe SNL should only book former cast members as hosts.  What tends to result when this happens is a veritable greatest-hits episode.  I enjoyed Tracy during his tenure on the show but did not realize his full potential until his 30 Rock days.  His stint as host led me to believe that I may have been missing something during his original time live from New York.

John Malkovich
The mark of a good host is the ability to imprint his personality on the show.  Is that ability not Malkovich in a nutshell?  This quality allows its possessor to make way-too-ridiculous concepts – like twin brothers obsessed with getting a calculator for Christmas, a mannish tween girl as the protagonist of a Judy Blume story, and a performance of Dangerous Liaisons set in a Jacuzzi – somehow memorable. 

Best Monologue
John Malkovich
A monologue is typically successful if the host can stamp his personality onto the monologue and if the host has a personality worth imprinting.  Malkovich is probably not the most suitable person to read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to a group of kids, but he can fulfill the role of dispensing disturbing real-life Christmas lessons quite well.  Credit also must be given to the kids featured in this monologue, and their prodigiously skillful blank staring.

Will Ferrell
Letting Will Ferrell run freely onstage for hours can be hit-or-miss, but letting him run freely for five minutes is always going to work out.

Tracy Morgan
You know you have a great celebrity persona when, in the course of deconstructing himself, he not only maintains, but adds to, the mystique of his persona. 

Best Musical Guest
Kings of Leon
Other than the oh oh oh’s in “Use Somebody,” Kings of Leon’s SNL performances did not stick with me right away.  A few months later, though, I was looking for some music to listen to, and I remembered that I did enjoy KOL when they were on SNL.  “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” have a sneaky ability to insinuate themselves into your brain, and the SNL stage was where it all began for me.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
When I saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the SNL guest bill, I wondered what they had been up to since their “Maps” breakthrough.  With “Zero,” Karen O’s vocals were more delicious than ever, complemented nicely by her clashing getup of dark hair/black leather jacket/loudly colorful shirt.  The Yeahs were having more fun than ever before and announced that they were planning on sticking around for a while.

When I saw that Phoenix was the musical guest on SNL, I thought, “Hmm, another indie rock act?  And with that unimaginative name?  Are they even the first band to name themselves Phoenix?”  But then I watched their performances.  They made the rare wise choice of performing their top song (“1901”) second.  The combination of the less-pressure-filled situation and the repeats of “fold it, fold it” in the chorus made me realize that I could listen to Phoenix all day.

Best Commercial Parody
Whopper Virgins
I barely remember the actual Whopper Virgins commercials, but there is no way I can forget SNL’s sublime culture-clash parody.  Bobby Moynihan made his talents clear to the world with his performance as an insane Romanian villager.

Virginia Horsen’s Pony Express
This SNL commercial captures what a lot of actual low-budget local commercials are really like.  And it also appears to have captured a fever dream that Kristen Wiig had.  Go figure. 

Mom Celebrity Translator
The product that SNL’s writers came up with to handle the problem of ditzy moms was not itself very funny.  But it did not have to be, what with the format of this parody serving as a riff on the comedy of mix-ups and vagaries, which always works. 

Best Digital Short
Jizz in My Pants
If I had seen The Sixth Sense without knowing the twist, I probably would have jizzed in my pants as well.  I have pretty good control, so that fact actually makes “Jizz in My Pants” less effective.  But I stay clean when I eat grapes, so it works out in the end. 

Everyone’s a Critic
The concept of Andy Samberg and Paul Rudd painting each other in the nude in the Titanic pose was adequately hilarious, but this short was really distinguished by the mood-setting music whose hilarity cannot be explained.

The humor of “Cookies” was unusual, like most digital shorts, but it was unusual compared to other digital shorts, making its humor relatively normal in a larger context.  Thankfully, it was a more traditional form of humor that worked well, with Fred Armisen as a strange man distracted by his love of cookies and a twist ending in which the cookies turn out to be stool softeners.

Best Weekend Update Segment
Harry Caray (Will Ferrell) on Manny Ramirez and steroids in baseball
…otherwise known as Harry Caray rambles on about whatever he feels like talking about, and we are happy for it, because it has been too long since we have seen Will Ferrell’s iteration of the late, great broadcaster.  The Asian Pete Rose story was full of surprises, and the thoughts on the Predator monster as a ballplayer were logical.  (Also of note was the girl in the crowd who cheered when Harry said, “Waterboarding is torture.”)

Björk (Kristen Wiig) on the Icelandic economy
The Iconoclasts sketch a few seasons back featuring Björk and Charles Barkley is a modern classic and introduced SNL viewers to the fact that Kristen Wiig’s Björk should appear whenever Iceland is in the news.  All she has to do is come on, spout obscure (or fake obscure) references, and dispense absurd profundities.  This bit is also notable for starting a tradition of Weekend Update guests who get Seth Meyers’ name wrong (“Oh, Snarf”).

Hall and Oates (Will Forte and Fred Arisen) sing about their support for Obama and McCain, respectively
Not really about the election, and not really making fun of Hall and Oates either (except for their propensity to break up and get back together).  Just a chance for Fred Armisen and Will Forte to mess around in the framework of a Hall and Oates song, and how can you go wrong with that.

Best Episode
Will Ferrell/Green Day (5/16/09)
Will trying his hand out on the Lawrence Welk Show, the brilliant funeral sketch, a Charles Barkley appearance, a couple of solid Green Day numbers,  the returns of Celebrity Jeopardy!, Bush and Cheney, and Harry Caray, and the deliciously over-the-top “Goodnight, Saigon” nightcap – not a single misstep.  Fans would demand nothing less from a Will Ferrell-hosted episode.

Tracy Morgan/Kelly Clarkson (3/14/09)
An SNL episode hosted by a former cast member tends to work, even (perhaps especially) when that former cast member is Tracy Morgan.  The returns of Brian Fellow and Astronaut Jones were surprisingly gratifying, and then we got the Rocket Dog sketch at the end (“Houston, we have a dog”).  The other sketches were solid material that would have been fine without Tracy but benefited from his presence.

John Malkovich/T.I. (12/6/08)
I was not able to watch the John Malkovich episode when it aired live, so before I had caught it all, I was on NBC’s website, where “Jizz in My Pants” was highlighted in the video section.  I initially thought that it was Malkovich instead of Jorma standing next to Andy in the accompanying screen shot.  I was excited by the prospect of Malkovich in a digital short.  Alas, it was not meant to be.  But “Jizz in My Pants” was still great.  This is all to say that this episode featured some great non-Malkovich moments (Virginia Horsen and Obama keeping it cool as well) in addition to Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich.

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