Looking back at what I personally think are the best Saturday Night Live sketches of the 2017 calendar year, I found myself, surprisingly, eschewing a lot of the political stuff. I think there are a couple of reasons: first, even though they happened just this year, a lot of it already feels terribly dated. Second, Alec Baldwin’s Trump impression has more than played itself out, for a whole host of reasons, and even the earlier stuff just doesn’t seem quite as pointed anymore. The Trump sketches just aren’t holding up as well as, say, Will Ferrell’s Bush sketches or even Darrell Hammond’s Clinton.
And this is just a reminder that this is a subjective list and you can have your own list that looks nothing like this list. And that’s okay. We’ll all muddle through, somehow.
(Also, on a quick personal note — so feel free to skip this parenthetical — I won’t be doing the weekly SNL Scorecard piece any longer. Though, I do plan on still writing about the show from time to time and will continue the podcast. I truly appreciate the people who have been reading those — honestly, I still can’t believe anyone ever did — and some who go way back to when it started at Movieline in 2010. I do truly believe SNL, in itself, is a minor miracle that it happens at all the way it does. I am always so impressed by what the cast and crew pull off. And the more I study the show, or witness how it’s built in person, it becomes even more unbelievable that it’s even possible. But, in mid-November, my dad wanted me to fly back to Missouri for what would have been this past weekend, even offering to pay for the flight. I told him I had to work that weekend and I didn’t think it would work out. Two days later he died. That was our last conversation. That’s been difficult to reconcile. I love writing about Saturday Night Live on a weekly basis, but I need to re-prioritize my free time. I hope this makes sense.)
Here are the ten best SNL sketches of 2017.
This felt like a do-over, of sorts, from the sketch that previously portrayed Kellyanne Conway as Glenn Close’s character from Fatal Attraction. Something about that didn’t feel exactly right. But portraying Conway as Pennywise feels a lot more on the mark. (And, everyone immediately got the It reference, as opposed to the people who didn’t quickly pick up on the fact that a pet bunny was boiled in a movie that came out 30 years ago.)
9. “Take Me Back”
If someone randomly comes across this sketch in, say, five years, I’m not sure the punchline is going to land. Jimmy Fallon plays a man so desperate to get his girlfriend (Cecily Strong) back he serenades her with Savage Garden’s “Truly, Madly, Deeply.” Actually, that’s pretty funny on its own, but the whole thing is a set-up to discover Fallon’s character is the man who dragged a passenger off of an overbooked flight and that’s why his girlfriend dumped him. It’s a great set-up and a great punchline. Then it reveals that Beck is playing the same character he did in “Pepsi Commercial,” speaking of…
8. “Pepsi Commercial”
“Isn’t that the like the best ad ever?” The look on Beck Bennett’s face as he’s on the phone with his sister, after explaining the idea for his ill-fated Pepsi commercial, listening to her long and, for us, unheard, response should win him an Emmy. Then the sense of desperation builds as Bennett starts explaining it to more and more people who give him worse and worse reactions. I predict someday this sketch will be taken as a standalone, in that people will have no idea that this was a real commercial that somehow was actually made. it’s insane this happened and no one will believe it.
7. “SWAT Recon”
There’s not a lot to say here other than this just looks like pure, unfiltered, joy. I kind of forgot about this one before I was going back through everything, but rewatching it, it just made me so happy. Also, Kenan Thompson’s deadpan description of what he’s watching just sells the whole thing. He seems so annoyed he can’t join in. At one point he says, “Remember when you could have fun like that?” This feels like a line describing everything about 2017.
6. “A Sketch for the Women”
This sketch is set-up as something written by Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney to make up for the fact that women weren’t at work that past Wednesday for A Day Without Women. The set-up continues that it’s a sketch that includes the entire female cast and will be about women’s issues. Then of course it’s just Kyle and Beck talking the whole time about how difficult it is for women and how it makes them so upset, never letting the women say anything.
5. “Career Retrospective”
A few days ago, YouTube recommended a video for me. It’s an NBC promo from 1982 that features Casey Kasem letting us know what’s coming up on Real People, The Facts of Life, Love Sidney, and Quincy. When Kasem gets to Quincy, I immediately thought about this sketch about a man getting a lifetime achievement award for slogans that are retroactively offensive. I can’t help but think what phrases we say now that will be considered terrible in 20 years. (I hope it’s “pitch perfect.”)
4. “World’s Most Evil Invention”
Honestly, I still can’t believe this is a real sketch that made it past dress. Its set-up is benign enough: At a meeting of the International Mad Scientist Society, the mad scientists take turns showing off their new evil inventions, like a shrink ray. But then Dwayne Johnson’s invention is truly an evil thing and I still can’t believe this sketch went there. At a time when it feels like it’s much easier just to play things safe, because who needs the headache of being yelled at, this sketch really goes for it. Also, the way Dwayne Johnson plays this guy, just so calm and matter of fact, but also convinced he’s won the contest, adds so much to this.
There’s a part in this sketch, when Vanessa Bayer and Kristen Stewart are embraced in the heat of passion, when the camera smash cuts to a wide angle showing all the “hungry guys” lamenting about an upcoming punt during the big game, but we can still see Bayer and Stewart in the background, still in their own world, drenched in sweat. This is the best pure shot of the year. Also, we don’t talk enough about how much Vanessa Bayer is missed from the show right now. There’s no one else who can really do her brand of humor. I think time will be very kind to her tenure on the show.
Half TGIF parody (which Bennett and Mooney do so well), half a parody about the time Tom Hanks’ Uncle Ned visited on Family Ties, this goes a lot of places we probably didn’t expect. First of all, just the sight of Larry David acting is something to behold. And then when he flings a chair across the kitchen in a drunken rage has to be one of the most shocking moments of the year. Well, at least until Larry David stabs Kyle Mooney in the chest.
This is insane on a lot of levels, but the fact it makes us believe that we could watch an entire feature-length film about Ryan Gosling’s obsession with the papyrus font of the Avatar logo is stunning. Over three minutes, we watch this obsession grow to a point where it completely takes over his life. I truly hope Gosling’s character, and writer Julio Torres, find the peace they are desperately seeking.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.