Here is a list of SNL‘s best 10 sketches from the calendar year 2015. This means that the list is compiled from the second half of SNL‘s 40th season (excluding the 40th anniversary special) and the first half of the 41st season. As a rule, only sketches that aired on the show were considered. (Which is probably a dumb rule that will maybe be changed in the future, but for now, that’s the rule.)
You will probably disagree with this list for a couple of reasons: a) We are different human beings with different tastes and, more importantly, b) it was tough to crib only 10 sketches because there weren’t an obvious 10 sketches. In past years, there have been a lot more no-brainer, “Well, obviously that’s on the list,” type sketches. This year, there were less of those and a lot bigger pool of “These are great, but is it a top 10 sketch?” type sketches. In other words: I usually whittle this list down from 15 or so sketches. This year, it was 25.
Anyway, here are your 10 best SNL sketches (okay, actually 11) of 2015.
A top 10 list is a great way to honor innovative and remarkable works of art — sketches that even could be considered short films that may have been overlooked between all of the “in the moment” cultural references. And it’s also a place that can highlight Chris Hemsworth acting opposite a live chicken. Here’s Chris Hemsworth acting opposite a live chicken.
9. “Prom Queen”
In lesser hands, this would come across as mean-spirited, or worse. Instead, the story of Mike O’Brien’s popular high school senior taking his teacher (Michael Keaton) to prom, in an effort to win a bet, turns out to be incredibly sweet. The weird thing about Mike O’Brien is that I get the impression he doesn’t particularly love hearing about the human emotion in his work, but his best work always has it. Maybe it’s for the best that he’s maybe not always trying to achieve that.
8. “High School Theater Show” (tie)
I’m hesitant to put recurring sketches on here (though, this isn’t the only one) and if either of these had been the first time this sketch was performed, it would have been much higher on the list. (The first incarnation of this sketch aired in 2014.) But, still, it’s impossible to ignore just how great these are comedy-wise and how remarkable it is that the cast can pull off the choreography with so little time to rehearse. I hope we get two more of these in 2016.
7. “The Jay Z Story”
Here’s Mike O’Brien as Jay Z. I’m not sure I need to write much more. O’Brien still contributes to SNL (once so far this season) and I realize O’Brien’s humor maybe wasn’t always the best fit for what the show was trying to do, but I do honestly feel the show misses him this season. Mike O’Brien was really flying, but he maybe flew a little too close to the sun.
Here’s how funny this is: Whenever I now see the real version of this commercial, I break out into laughter. When I watch the real version, I can’t stop wondering how George Clooney and Danny DeVito know each other. I can’t stop watching George Clooney bob his head back and forth. Is the real version even funnier than this? What is comedy? What is life?
5. “Laura Parsons”
“It’s when your whole body goes, ‘Oh, boy.’” There’s no possible way to put that line in any sort of context that will a) make sense or b) come close to doing justice what Vanessa Bayer did as Laura Parsons on “Weekend Update” this past November. Also: No one in the history of life has done a better “child acting voice” than Vanessa Bayer.
4. “Bushwick, Brooklyn 2015”
That first scene of Kevin Hart strolling into Martha’s Mayonnaise might be the single funniest second of SNL in 2015. Partially because your brain has caught up with the misdirect — then, by the end, the sketch turns everything inside out again.
3. “Meet Your Second Wife”
This is one of those, “Wow, they are really going for it,” sketches. It’s a sketch that pushes the limits right off the bat, then keeps going further and further. Then, just when you think there’s no where further to go, it finds a new place to go. (Also: this proves that there’s a lot that can still be done with the game show sketch format.)
2. “Family Feud: Extended Family”
Speaking of the game show format! Specifically, Family Feud had become worn out and tired. There were times two seasons ago when it seemed to only exist as a way to make fun of Brooks Wheelan’s lack of air time — but here, it’s completely reinvented into a dynamite piece of sketch comedy that redefines the name of the game show. And this also came during Tracy Morgan’s triumphant return to SNL after being involved in a horrific auto accident.
SNL has a tepid relationship with gun violence. While this story dominates headlines, “Weekend Update,” which theoretically skewers real headlines, has often ignored this issue completely. A line about gun control was removed from an Obama-Romney debate sketch after the Sandy Hook tragedy. And to be fair: Why should SNL have to address this? It’s a comedy show. In the past when SNL has become political, it usually makes a profound dent in our culture — but, such moments have been few and far between. The purpose of this show is not social change. But, when it does decide to make a statement, it’s still important. SNL is one of the last bastions of “old media” culture that’s still important. For the same reasons that letting Donald Trump host was such a mistake — in a way, indirectly legitimizing his positions — an SNL sketch about gun control is just as important.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.