The Best of SNL Season 41

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snl_season_41_cast_photo

Most Valuable Cast Member
Kate McKinnon
Runner-Up: Cecily Strong
Honorable Mention: Larry David

Best Sketches
For my full thoughts on the best sketches, click here.
1. Yo, Where Jackie Chan At Right Now?
2. Mafia Meeting
3. FBI Simulator
4. bern your enthusiasm
5. Dead Bopz
6. Chad and Mrs. Douglas Show
7. Oprah Winfrey: A Life of Love
8. Screen Guild Awards
9. Close Encounter
10. Farewell, Mr. Bunting

Best Dress Rehearsal Cuts (AKA The “Kyle ‘Cut for Time’ Mooney” Award)
For my full thoughts on the best dress rehearsal cuts, click here.
1. Establishment Shuffle
2. New Studio
3. Not Scared
4. March Madness
5. Bieber Concert

Best 10-to-1 Sketches
1. Dead Bopz
2. Oprah Winfrey: A Life of Love
3. Miley Wedding Tape

Best Hosts
1. Larry David
2. Fred Armisen
3. Ariana Grande

Best Monologues
1. Fred Armisen
2. Elizabeth Banks
3. Tracy Morgan

Best Musical Guests
1. Disclosure
2. Courtney Barnett
3. The 1975

Best Weekend Update Segments
1. Drunk Uncle
2. One-Dimensional Female Character From a Male-Driven Comedy
3. Bruce Chandling

Best Episodes
1. Tracy Morgan/Demi Lovato
2. Fred Armisen/Courtney Barnett
3. Larry David/The 1975
4. Ariana Grande
5. Brie Larson/Alicia Keys

Best Lines
For my full thoughts on the best lines, click here.
13. “Why do we have to labia everything?” – The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party (Cecily Strong), on Weekend Update
12. “Happy Birthday to Mitt Romney who today turns 69. Which for Mormons is a sin.” – Colin Jost, on Weekend Update
11. “We’re at the point where we’re-” “finishing each other’s sente-” “pedes. Human” ““centipedes. Favorite Christmas movie!”” – Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, in their monologue
10. “Am I dating a girl, or am I dating … a pop quiz?” – Bruce Chandling (Kyle Mooney), on Weekend Update
9. “How far along are you, Theresa? You look like you’re about to pop.” “We think 2 months, we haven’t been keeping count.” “What?” “We don’t really know how it works, and we don’t believe in doctors. We’re just kinda winging it.” – Baby shower guest (Sasheer Zamata) and Theresa (Vanessa Bayer), in Baby Shower
8. “Jackie Chan was in movies as well as karate.” – Kenan Thompson, in Yo, Where Jackie Chan At Right Now?
7. “My tongue’s not as long as Gene Simmons, but my penis is even shorter.” – Ace Chuggins (Larry David), in Last Call
6. “All of you knuckleheads are getting cars.” – Oprah (Mike O’Brien), in Oprah Winfrey: A Life of Love
5. “God bless you.” “He never has and he never will.” – Colin Jost and Olya Povlatsky (Kate McKinnon), on Weekend Update
4. “Quick, somebody give that hologram a Holo-Grammy. Not my joke, guys, I’m just laser beams.” –Bing Crosby hologram (Beck Bennett), in Dead Bopz
3. “Paul Robeson of Porgy and Bess fame was one of the great singers and civil rights leaders of his day. We used a computer to make him sing ‘Trap Queen.’” –Bing Crosby hologram (Beck Bennett), in Dead Bopz
2. “Poetry should not be fun. It should be oppressive and the reader should hate it. Poems are from a hundred years ago. They were written by a bunch of dead men to punish children. The arts in general are for women and homosexuals. When you read a poem you should never feel emotion. In summary, poems stink.” – Mr. Kellogg (Beck Bennett), in Farewell, Mr. Bunting
1. “Can a bitch get a donut?!” – Kevin Roberts (Larry David), in FBI Simulator

SNL Recap May 21, 2016: Fred Armisen/Courtney Barnett

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SNL: Courtney Barnett, Fred Armisen, Bobby Moynihan (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

 

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in May 2016.

It hardly feels like Fred Armisen, one of the longest-tenured “SNL” cast members of all time (11 seasons), has ever left 30 Rockefeller Plaza. He has returned to cameo 7 times in the 3 years since departing, and he regularly collaborates with other “SNL” vets on his current regular gigs, “Late Night” and “Portlandia” (both produced by Lorne Michaels). But he has shown restraint this season, only appearing once before (to memorialize David Bowie). So while his first time as host is in no way long overdue, it is also not overkill. Speaking of cameos, several other alums also stop by, as befitting a season finale. This means that there is some squeezing out of the regular cast, but not of the good ideas. Year 41 ends on a high note.

Bernie and Hillary – “SNL” wraps up one of its wackiest political years with its two all-star impressions: one that broke big exactly as expected and the other a delightful surprise. The dance between Kate McKinnon’s Hillary and Larry David’s Bernie is as testy as the real deal. As they really explore the studio, there is a celebratory air that the show reserves only for times when it knows it has something special to celebrate. But wisely, it is not all just kissing and making up, because there is plenty of tension in this primary that the last call setting brings into focus. This is a summary of the fictionalized version of a slice of this campaign that “SNL” has managed to have its pulse on. B

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SNL Recap May 14, 2016: Drake

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SNL: Drake, Leslie Jones (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in May 2016.

Drake now finds himself in a select crowd of entertainers who have not just pulled “SNL” double duty as both host and musical guest, but done so multiple times. His first double threat gig was a highlight of Season 39, so in terms of potential hosting quality, he is a fine selection. But what about timeliness? He certainly remains big in the music world, but he is not quite as huge in the culture at large the way other repeat double dippers (Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus) have been. But he has the acting chops, so when it gets down to it, who cares? As for the material he is given, it represents a whole range of ideas, some of which work quite well, and others that only work sporadically. All in all, the expansive effort is appreciated.

Donald Trump Vice President Selection – There is not much to make fun of Donald Trump this week (at least, not much new), although the “Joey Pepperoni” quip points to a goofy path that could hold up for the future. So instead, the focus is on the mogul’s VP selection, which could offer new targets for humor, save for the fact that most of the candidates floated are casualties of this election cycle and thus have already been mocked. But sneaking George Zimmerman’s name in there is sharp and the right sort of dangerous. Otherwise, this is just putting down Chris Christie for being nakedly opportunistic, which is way too obvious and not pathetic enough to really make an impact. C+

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SNL Recap May 7, 2016: Brie Larson/Alicia Keys

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SNL: Alicia Keys, Brie Larson, Taran Killam (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in May 2016.

“SNL” has a tendency to book recently anointed Oscar winners and nominees as hosts. Last year, it was J.K. Simmons a few weeks before the ceremony, and Michael Keaton a couple months after. This season, it is Brie Larson’s turn, with the holiday serving as a tie-in to her award-winning role. It is a sound strategy, as that Academy recognition generally guarantees that these people can act. They do not necessarily have to be funny, so long as they fulfill their roles just as the writing asks them to. Brie proves herself perfectly capable, and the writing lives up to her level.

Church Chat – As Trump Judgment Day has finally come to pass, the cold opening for this episode would of course be political. But it is not the normal cable news parody. In a fit of inspiration, and a wink to the past, Dana Carvey drops by to revive his most prolific and iconic (solo) character. Church Lady’s tsk-tsking of the Donald makes perfect sense (she’s done it before), but her hectoring of Ted Cruz feels a little like kicking an ally while he’s down. Not that Enid Strict wouldn’t do that – it is just a slightly different mode for her. Anyway, it is nice to see an old favorite, but it is tricky for her to find some really good putdowns, as Trump is too cartoonish and Cruz is too pathetic. Not all is lost, though, as Trump’s mangling of Bible facts is chuckle-worthy (though standard issue) and Cruz’s resurrection as a demon – though it may not hit as hard as it might like – is a worthwhile experiment. B-

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SNL Recap April 16, 2016: Julia Louis-Dreyfus/Nick Jonas

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SNL: Nick Jonas, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Aidy Bryant

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in April 2016.

This episode marks Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ third time returning to “SNL” as host, but in a way it feels like her first. She never hosted while “Seinfeld” was on the air, and this is the first to coincide with her run on “Veep.” Her last two times were during the age of the decidedly less heralded “New Adventures of Old Christine.” This is all to say, she has never more been one of the undisputed reigning queens of comedy. The writing had better not fail her.

Democratic Presidential Debate – The time in between Democratic primary debates is long enough such that Larry David’s cameo appearances can be spaced out enough to not feel like overkill. By multiple accounts, this round was more contentious than most, which this parody makes sure to confirm. But overall, there is not really an overriding theme to this sketch. The most prominent moment is JLD’s appearance as Elaine Benes, which allows Larry’s Bernie to go full George Costanza (“you break em up!”). This bit becomes increasingly untethered from reality, but “Seinfeld”-inspired bits still hold up so well. Vanessa’s Rachel Green, meanwhile, while clever, is so irrelevant to everything else. B-

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SNL Recap April 9, 2016: Russell Crowe/Margo Price

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SNL: Margo Price, Russell Crowe, Kenan Thompson (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in April 2016.

It has been a while since Russell Crowe has been making headlines for throwing phones at people, so his personal life does not provide much fodder for his “SNL” debut. Instead, he has to rely on how well he can fit into the show’s routine, which he seems pretty confident about after seeing his “Nice Guys” co-star Ryan Gosling pull it off. It is hard to say how hosts who do not have much live performing experience will do, but Russell can follow the precedent of Alec Baldwin, Christopher Walken, and Jon Hamm, who repurpose their intensity from drama to comedy. In this episode, he ultimately does know how to deploy his acting chops as needed, but he could be utilized more frequently.

A Message from Hillary Clinton – Hillary’s recent stretch of primary losses allows Kate McKinnon’s impression to be even more desperate than usual, though it is worth questioning the soundness of this premise. With her delegate lead remaining quite high, do these losses matter all that much? That is the nature of a comedy show covering each bump in the election cycle instead of just the overarching narrative. Besides, this skid is enough fodder to ramp up Hillary’s freakouts, and the upcoming New York primary provides enough culture (New York “Meats,” “tumblr parties”) that she can use to struggle to connect with voters. B

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“Space Pants” Lyrics

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For your reference purposes.

Begin transmission.
(That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for-)
My pants!

Boys and girls!
I think you’ll find
That my pants
Will blow your mind.

Look at my pants
With the eyes in your face.
My legs are covered
In outer space.

Space pants!
Space pants!
I
Am wearing
Space pants.

Space pants!
Space pants!
My pants are
Space pants.

Do you see my pants?
No wait! You missed them.
My pants are a tour
Of the solar system.

When I say “space,” you say: “pants.”
Space! (What?)
When I say “space pants,” you say:
“are intergalactic space pants.”
Space pants! (Are intergalactic space pants.)

Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Hey! You there in front!
Stop talking
During my song.
It’s very rude.

Now joining me on stage
for my grand finale
Is my extremely close friend
Gwen Stefani.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I’m happy to report
My friend Gwen Stefani
Is wearing space shorts.

People on Earth.
Hear what I say.
My shorts are from a galaxy
Far, far away.

Asteroids, comets,
Meteors.
My shorts boldly go
Where no shorts have gone before.

Space shorts!
Space pants.
Space pants!
Space shorts.

Space pants!
Space pants.
Space pants!
Space pants!

SNL Recap April 2, 2016: Peter Dinklage/Gwen Stefani

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SNL: Gwen Stefani, Peter Dinklage, Kate McKinnon (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in April 2016.

When Peter Dinklage is in a comedy setting, the two most obvious sources of humor are “Game of Thrones” parodies and cracks about his height. There are already plenty of examples of the former, and there is always the risk of being hacky or insulting with the latter. So in his “SNL” debut, the Westeros jokes are rare and have a whiff of exhaustion, while his size is basically only utilized for one visual gag. As for the rest of the episode, he is uniformly competent, but – with a few exceptions – he deserves more memorable roles.

CNN At This Hour – A modern habit of “SNL’s” political material is the variety of its news show parodies. Where 90’s “SNL” featured plenty of “Nightline” sketches, and “Hardball” dominated the early 2000’s, the 2010’s seem intent on taking on every CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News program. It is hard to understand why. “At This Hour” has hardly broken into the zeitgeist, nor is there anything about it that makes it especially fit to elucidate Donald Trump’s foibles. As for this sketch’s actual hook, it points out Trump’s misogyny and tendency to attract violence, but it does not do anything surprising with those qualities. C

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SNL Recap March 12, 2016: Ariana Grande

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SNL Promo: Taran Killam, Ariana Grande (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in March 2016.

Musical guests may have limited range compared to most “SNL” hosts, but they are still entertainers. On top of that, Ariana Grande is also a veteran of Nickelodeon, which – while excessively hacky – tends to make professionals out of its kid stars. If Grande is given good material, she will know how to hit her marks. So it should not be considered shocking that her hosting debut is mostly a success. But who would have guessed that in the pantheon of great “SNL” hosts, she would be most similar to Kevin Spacey?

CNN America’s Choice 2016 – Once again, the cold opening is a political catchall, but this one works better than most thanks to a more streamlined focus, with only the best impressions of the season (sans Hillary, though her moment comes later). Darrell Hammond and Jay Pharoah have sufficiently creepy chemistry as Trump and Carson, but the real twist is Larry David’s latest Bern-ing cameo. He rants delightfully on and on about the latest foibles of the primary, reserving special disdain for superdelegates (“I’ve met some of these superdelegates. They’re not that super”). B

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SNL Recap March 5, 2016: Jonah Hill/Future

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SNL: Future, Jonah Hill, Future (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in March 2016.

Jonah Hill does not proclaim “I’m six!” during any part of his fourth stint on “SNL.” This is not the sort of episode that relies completely on steady favorites, nor is it the sort of episode in which the host is clearly promoting something. (Hill’s last movie was “Hail, Caesar!,” which he appeared in for all of five minutes.) Also, Future is the musical guest. He is one of those artists who is really hot right now even though a significant portion of the “SNL” viewership have surely never heard of him.

CNN America’s Choice 2016 – After a few weeks off, “SNL” gets back in the groove of cold openings that run down the latest electoral goings-on. This is a low ceiling/high floor venture: it is too scattered to have a real selling point, but nothing lasts long enough to stink up the joint and the individual parts are all decent. The highlight, such as there is one, is a returning favorite: Jason Sudeikis’ reprisal of his Mitt Romney. The material is predictable (he’s a vanilla Mormon milquetoast), but refreshing, as there are only so many incisive jokes that can be squeezed out of the current candidates. B-

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