Been 12 episodes of Saturday Night Live so far this season. The cast has really balanced since Wiig, Samberg and Elliott left. There have been more new and one shot sketches and a wide range of interesting hosts. Overall I have enjoyed this seasons, the sketches have not all been hits, political humor definitely wears out but it has definitely yielded some winners and been a great showcase for some great comedic talent. Here is the best of season 38.
Real wide range of hosts this year. The worst would have to be last week's Jennifer Lawrence, a great actress but she really is not wired for sketch comedy. Following her Joseph Gordon-Levitt left very little impact earlier this season. Daniel Craig and especially Jeremy Renner got to show off their rarely used comedic chops. They did not stray too far from their action personas and the episodes weren't the best written, but they got in a few memorable bits. Adam Levine and Christina Applegate proved to be pretty reliable, they blended in with the cast well and held there own. They would be candidates to host again. Jamie Foxx gained some controversy, but he is experienced in sketch comedy and SNL for the most part used that to their advantage. Martin Short and Anne Hathaway are veterans at this point, both did well (although nothing that matched Anne Hathaway's Katie Holmes impression). Louis C.K. was a smart choice on the producer's part. He brought a different feel and different comic sensibilities to the show, as well as a different audience. Bruno Mars was the biggest surprise of the year, proving to be very enjoyable and versatile.
Which leaves the season opener, Seth MacFarlane, as the host of the year. One of the best hosting jobs in recent years as a matter of fact. MacFarlane has what Melissa McCarthy did last year: the ability to be on the same level as the SNL cast. The Family Guy creator could start off the show right, make an impression in small characters and take the lead of a scene. Throughout his monologue, Ryan Lochte impression, and four great sketches (Lids, Puppet Class, Drill Sargent and First Date) MacFarlane pretty much secured an invite back.
MacFarlane's was fun, he got a chance to showcase a winning personality we don't usually get to see from the voice actor. Anne Hathaway featured a clever spoof on Les Mis's One Day More (ending perfectly with Tim Robinson waving the Mexican flag). Adam Levine played along with the celebrity cameos well in a spoof of the voice. I personally laughed a lot at Jamie Foxx's monologue, it was a basic pattern that worked. Martin Short had a fun cameo-filled Christmas musical opening along with one of the best jokes of the season about how between him and musical guest Paul McCartney they've sold "millions of records." But the best monologue has to go to Louis C.K. Props to SNL for understanding a host's strengths. Instead of forcing him into a cast interview gag or generic song he just did fifteen minutes of stand-up, a nice change for the show.
Best of Weekend Update
Seth Meyers has seemed off to me this year. Not a lot of his jokes has stuck with me, maybe I am just burnt out of political humor. Of the walk-on cameos Seth MacFarlane's Ryan Lochte is the best. Even if you didn't follow the Olympics it is a great character. The Update character of the year comes from newcomer Cecily Strong as Girl You Wish You Hadn't a Started Conversation with at a Party, which is posed to be this year's drunk uncle. Strong has developed this character fully with her party girl posture and well timed non-sequitirs. Girl at a Party has been used sparingly and I look forward to see more of the character.
Best Digital Shorts
Lonely Island left SNL so they don't have Digital Shorts in the traditional sense anymore (although Lonely Island did a YOLO video with Adam Levine on Saturday, which I found to be pretty forgettable). But there were a number of prerecorded sketches that worked. Kenan Thompson debuted a great new character in Tree Pimps as a pimp who struggles adjusting to selling Christmas Trees. A great one gag joke sketch The Stand-Off that Jeremy Renner, Bobby Moynihan and Taran Killam fully committed to. Louie Lincoln is probably this season's biggest viral hit placing Abraham Lincoln as the lead of C.K.'s sitcom. Mokiki, a great vehicle for Killam's physicality and Kenan's vocal talents. It is a mesmerizing song with an absurd premise and weird production design. I can't get the song out of my head. My favorite prerecorded sketch of this year has to be Bruno Mars' Sad Mouse. I would like to see SNL play up tragedy and sincerity more. It was great that there was no real gimmick, it was just a really sweet, quality short film.
The fake commercials haven't been winning me over this year. I don't know if they count as commercials, but cast impression showcases: Sopranos High, Bond Girls and You're a Rat Bastard, Charlie Brown (with Martin Short's perfect Larry David) have been fun. Human Vacation was a good premise, albeit forgettable short. The best commercial though is easily G.O.B. Tampons perfectly combining political satire with spoofing female product commercials. Best political bit of the year too.
Best Cast Member
Cecily Strong has been used the most out of the new additions, Tim Robinson and Aidy Bryant have not seen much screen time. Armisen seems to be appearing less, conversely Pharaoh who replaced him as Obama is getting far more appearances than he did in his previous two seasons. Jason Sudeikis is dependable and still creating some winning characters. I always look forward to seeing Nasim Pedrad, but she has been struggling for airtime. Killam is continuing to make his mark on the show as is Moynihan. Vanessa Bayer is getting used much more which is great. Kate McKinnon was clearly added last season to replace Wiig, but she brings her own stamp to those type of roles. Her Long Island Psychic, Ann Romney and terrifying Jodie Foster are welcome additions. Bill Hader seems to be the star and MVP. He has not reprised many former characters but he has added a few like Vietnam Vet and Bryce the Fireman. My favorite though is actually Kenan Thompson. He has been the lead in more sketches, appearing in supporting more often and having less talk shows. He can often anchor a scene in a smaller role such as in Lids, Puppet Class, First Date, Construction Workers, Last Call and Homeland. He can be the straight man who speaks for the audience. His best work on the show in his run that has almost lasted a decade.
There are a lot of sketches I've enjoyed this year. Lids, Drill Sargent, First Date, Long Island Psychic, Hotel Fees, Coroner, and Firehouse Incident have all been of note. Here are my top five favorites:
I really crack up at Daniel Craig's weird New York accent. He is playing the character really genuine and earnest, it is a nice take on a screw up character. The good cat calls from Thompson, Sudeikis, Moynihan and Robinson are funny and the bad cat calls from Craig are well written. Lines like "yabba dab dum," "a side of hoo-woo-woo," and "pooperize all over the place" are just funny. Also Bill Hader's old timey pantomiming in the perfectly timed flashback is hilarious as well.
This is so simple, but Cecily Strong and especially Vanessa Bayer really elevate it. They both play dumb well and their delivery is perfect for these airhead characters. There are great lines about their former adult film careers. I just like how short and uncomplicated they kept this odd premise and it is just funny.
SNL usually struggles with finding ways to highlight the talents of their hosts that aren't obvious. Last season Channing Tatum stripping in several scenes for instance. But they used Bruno Mars perfectly and in a surprising way here as he is a Pandora Intern who has to fill in when a Pandora station goes down with perfect impressions of the likes of Michael Jackson, Green Day and Louis Armstrong. Just really high energy with a clever set up and a great showcase for Mars.
This is rare for SNL, they don't give away the joke right away. They build to the reveal of Bill Hader's character and they escalate it each time they cut to him. Everything in this sketch is a surprise, that has to do with it being a particularly unique premise. MacFarlane, Thompson and Bayer all have funny characterizations as well that add to the scene rather than subtract. Just a great one shot scene.
The twist in this sketch is perfect. It begins as an average SNL talk show but it turns out to be topical, clever and extremely smart. This sketch got me thinking. Highly suggest you watch it.