So, 2016 was an extremely interesting year for SNL. The whole ‘Trump hosting” black eye from 2015 nagged the show from a critical standpoint, but it sure didn’t hurt the ratings. Here’s what’s interesting: With Trump hosting, SNL kind of handicapped itself when it came to its political humor. So what did they do? They found better and more unique ways to do political humor. SNL couldn’t just rely on the debate sketches as they did in the past. (Which now, in retrospect, are very dated. I can’t imagine watching these like we all still watch the Gore-Bush SNL debates and the Tina Fey as Sarah Palin stuff.) Instead, they did things like take a recurring sketch, “Black Jeopardy,” which was already brilliant, and turn it into one of the best satires of the 2016 election.
Anyway, yes, it was (kind of quietly) a pretty great 2016 for Saturday Night Live, at least quality-wise. And here are the ten best sketches from this calendar year:
10. “Golden Globes”
I hadn’t thought much about this sketch until I started rewatching a lot of sketches in preparation for this piece. All I remembered was, “I liked it.” What a slow burn of, “Where in the world is this going?” By the time Liev Schreiber shows up, while a shattered Golden Globe carpets the floor, I laughed out loud. Again. Alone, just me in an empty room, watching SNL sketches. Anyway, Tim Robinson, Kent Sublette, and Zach Kanin wrote a pretty amazing piece of comedy here. And Vanessa Bayer and Adam Driver’s escalating intensity sells it. Also, I like to think this is pretty much what happens after someone wins a Golden Globe.
9. “Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base”
Rewatching this now, I forgot how good it is just on a pure comedy level – away from its Star Wars references. The fact it’s actually Adam Driver playing Kylo Ren is the reason this works. It plays a strange brain trick, making me think at times, “Yeah, I could see him doing this.” And the look on Driver’s face when Bobby Moynihan calls Kylo Ren a “punk bitch” is just the greatest thing. Also, the effects and set design are some of the best I’ve ever seen on SNL.
There are like five layers to this sketch that are all amazing, but for the life of me I laugh so hard every time I hear “CHONK!!!” I can’t help it. Sometimes funny words can do that to a person. And everything is so serene, then comes, “CHONK!!!” Long live Chonk.
“7. Diego Calls Home”
This plays better now than it even did when Lin-Manuel Miranda hosted. (Here’s a tip: Never watch his monologue ever again. It’s, let’s say, a little outdated.) But Diego Calls Home is an amazing piece of satire. It probably won’t make you laugh. Heck, it’s almost a drama. But, boy, does it pack a wallop.