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.
6. “Mafia Meeting”
Jon Rudnitsky missing his cue here has grown on me. I love that Bobby Moynihan seems legitimately upset that he has to improvise dialogue about Rudnitsky’s late arrival on live television in front of millions of people. SNL is such an oiled machine, something as major as a cast member not showing up could have been a disaster. Yet, not only does the sketch recover, it became one of the most memorable of 2016. A lot of that has to do with Peter Dinklage going “all in” on his “Space Pants” song. Also, now I will have “Space Pants” stuck in my head for the rest of the day and I’m okay with that.
5. “A Day Off”
All Kellyanne Conway wanted was a day off, but she still had to appear on television and defend a million things Trump said. Well, the good news (if you’re Kellyanne Conway) is that it all paid off. She has a job! In the White House! Wow, this really did all happen. And this is the sketch that started to define how Kate McKinnon would play her for the considerable future. In an alternate universe, McKinnon is playing President Hillary Clinton over the next four years. I know McKinnon would rather be living in that universe. (I’d rather be living in that universe.) But, this is a better character for McKinnon as she brings her edge to playing it. Oh right, it’s not an accurate representation of Kellyanne Conway. So what? This is the character McKinnon envisioned and she’s killing it right now.
“4. FBI Simulator”
This might be Larry David’s finest moment, standing there as Kevin Roberts in his orange suit, old huge cell phone in hand, asking if a bitch can get a donut – and kicking off the Streeter Seidell/Mikey Day trilogy of weird characters who just repeat their names a lot. I hope this means, one day, we can get a sketch that includes Kevin Roberts, Jonathan Comets, and David S. Pumpkins. This needs to be a shared universe. I would watch that movie. I would watch that movie right now. They all have catchphrases; it’s perfect. I know this will never happen and I’m making myself sad just thinking about it not happening.
3. “Haunted Elevator”
Could you imagine David S. Pumpkins, Jonathan Comets, and Kevin Roberts all fighting crime together? It’s all right there. Come on, this needs to happen. (Don’t pretend you’re not reading this, Mikey Day.) Okay, so the three of them are chasing down a criminal. Kevin Roberts distracts the criminal by asking if a bitch can get a donut. Then, Jonathan Comets unleashes the power of his space pants on the criminal. (I don’t know what that power is. That’s not for me to decide. But I bet it’s great.) Then, of course, David S. Pumpkins asks if there are any questions before the criminal is hauled off to jail.
I don’t see the problem here. This could be bigger than The Avengers.
2. “Farewell Mr. Bunting”
Two things I’ll never forget about this sketch: The first is, while dress rehearsal was being performed, getting a heads up there was a “crazy” sketch that just played for the studio audience (there’s a little more to this story because the ending of “Farewell Mr. Bunting” was a little different at dress – I won’t get into the details here, but let’s just say the version that aired on the live show was the right choice). And the second is while watching this live and watching Twitter go full “Oh my God!!!!” once that moment happens. It felt like a true communal event. It was nice.
1. “Black Jeopardy”
This is just an amazing piece of writing. For as much grief SNL has had over the last year for the decision to let Trump host, they really have had a lot of great political writing. (And, again, a lot of it is away from the traditional political sketches.) It’s really amazing what’s being done here. I was rewatching Warren Beatty’s Bulworth and there’s a scene near the end where Jay Bulworth says a similar thing: that blue collar white voters and black voters have a lot in common, including a distrust of the government, but they just don’t realize it. This sketch does a perfect job of encapsulating that idea – to the bewilderment of everyone involved. Look, I know, in its essence, SNL is only there to get some laughs. If a fart joke will get laughs, so be it. SNL isn’t about the Aaron Sorkin, Studio 60, “We are here to change the world!” idealism. But, having said that, sometimes it does happen. And this is SNL at its best and its most important.
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