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10 Best ‘Saturday Night Live’ Sketches of Season 44

From Adam Sandler’s tribute to the late, great Chris Farley to Adam Driver’s vengeful oil baron

Will Heath/NBC (4)

You wouldn’t say that Saturday Night Live had an off year per se — any season that gave us the sight of Adam Driver crushing stuffed birds with a cane is not a complete flaming trash-heap of a failure. But there was a certain sense of SNL fatigue that started to hit around the halfway point of Season 44; you began to dread the inevitable big-political-story-of-the-week opener, the fake music videos, the surprisingly weak meta-monologues and beaucoup celebrity cameos. It was an odd year out, with the usual dominating forces (God bless you, Kate McKinnon) and a few new-player investments that finally started paying off. There was a little bit of offscreen drama involving a Weekend Update correspondent getting defensive — and offensive — over an online writer’s hot take, and a lot of offscreen drama involving Pete Davidson overall. Per our esteemed expert Ryan McGee, writing after the season finale this past Saturday: “Kenan Thompson was the MVP, Heidi Gardener was Most Improved … and dear God they need to stop putting Alec Baldwin in as Trump if they ever want a laugh in the cold open again.”

Oh, and there were sketches. Some of them were a good; a handful were great; and one in particular quickly ascended to becoming, in our humble opinion, an instantly canon-worthy classic. Here are our picks for the 10 best moments of Saturday Night Live‘s 44th season, from a few on-point game show parodies to a surprisingly moving musical number from one old SNL friend to another.

10. “The Actress” (Emma Stone, 4/13/19)
What could have been a flat, uninspired premise (person takes something far too seriously) turns into something almost tragic, as Stone’s actress goes from Method-fueled obliviousness into something approaching the sublime. She discovers the interior life of a one-dimensional character through a haphazard assortment of items in a throw-away prop bin, and as those disparate items form a coherent backstory, you can’t help but marvel at the magic trick this sketch pulls off. Did we mention that she is starring in a gay porn? The unexpected pathos reflects what digital shorts have often accomplished in the post-Lonely Island world: An examination of the ache under the laughter. RM

9. “Roach-Ex” (Don Cheadle, 2/16/19)
In the fine tradition of “Jar Glove” and “Almost Pizza,” here’s a fake commercial that goes the extra mile to create an entirely fleshed-out universe in under three minutes. The idea of human actors playing roaches? Fine. The idea of one of those roaches insidiously ingratiating itself into the lives of the family? TREMENDOUS, especially when Don Cheadle brings his A-game to investing that roach with the casual menace that would be right at home in an Elmore Leonard film. RM

8. “The Duel” (Sandra Oh, 3/30/19)
“Well, you’re definitely bleeding!” “‘Tis nothing compared to their suffering!” It starts out like an ode to the classic “Black Knight” sequence of Monty Python and the Holy Grail ultimately turns into one of the more subversive sketches of the season. There’s the dark comedy of seeing Sandra Oh’s bystander get shot in new and progressively violent ways. Underneath that, however, there’s a potent message about those that truly suffer when moronic men wage petty war against one another. Oh is not just a damsel in distress — she’s someone that continually has to placate the men while she loses pints of blood by the second. RM

7. “Millennial Millions” (Rachel Brosnahan, 1/19/19)
In which the baby boomers get the middle finger, millennials are reminded they’ve gotten the socioeconomic shaft and we get one of the better, more pointed SNL game-show sketches in recent years. Twentysomething contestants Rachel Brosnahan and Pete Davidson compete for social security benefits and debt relief. They’re then told that whoops, sorry, there’s no more American Dream left for them. Yes, it’s funny — nobody pronounces the phrase “avocado toast” with more slurred contempt than Cecily Strong’s obnoxious Jimmy Buffet fan, and how can you not crack up at Aidy Bryant’s near-breathless Boomers explainer song? But good lord, this is one angry-as-fuck bit. No one’s spared: Not the selfish materialistic olds, not the enraged youngsters (“Maybe you can tweet about it, that’ll solve everything”) and definitely not Generation X, who “just sit on the sidelines and watch the world burn.” Ha! And ouch. DF

6. “To Have and Have Not” (John Mulaney, 3/2/19)
We could have assembled a best-of list that was made up almost completely of sketches from this Mulaney-hosted episode; like the Will Ferrell episode from Season 43, the whole thing was an embarrassment of riches. But we’ve narrowed it down to two stand-outs, including this recurring bit about revisiting classic movies. In this case, it’s To Have and Have Not, with the host playing Bogie and Kate McKinnon as a young, sultry Bacall. The line about whistling, i.e. “you just put your lips together and blow,” is justifiably famous … and after McKinnon purrs the dialogue then makes a sound that resembles a farting elephant, you’ll never hear it the same way again. (Even better: The curious, slightly confused look on her face right after she does it.) Things just get more sublimely ridiculous from here. If you ever needed to make a case for how invaluable Her Kateness is to saving this show’s bacon circa 2019, this is exhibit A. DF

5. “Kavanaugh Hearing Cold Open” (Adam Driver, 9/29/18)
Give the show credit: It may rely way too much on famous drop-ins and weak-tea political mockery for its cold openings these days, but it kicked off this episode — and the season — with its best Beltway beatdown sketch. There’s something about the way Matt Damon captures the entitlement, frat-boy nostalgia, rage spirals and thin-skinned defensiveness of the perpetually sniffling Supreme Court nominee that goes beyond the prosthetic nose and oh-look-it’s-a-movie-star novelty of his take. And there’s something sharper-than-usual about the show’s attack on the toxicity of the whole proceedings — especially since, like so much in the Trump era, it was already so over-the-top that satirizing it initially seemed useless. It’s long (a little over 13 minutes), and never flags. It’s worth its weight in gallons of violently guzzled water. DF

4. “Chris Farley Song” (Adam Sandler, 5/4/19)
It wasn’t a sketch — but how could you not highlight Adam Sandler’s tribute to his fellow cast member and friend Chris Farley? He’d previously performed the song on his Netflix special, but there was something poignant and undeniably powerful about seeing him sing it live in Studio 8H. The show put this in the only slot it could, the final one — a wise choice, since there wasn’t a dry eye in the house once Sandler had finished. It marked an elegant finish to an episode that balanced the old and the new quite well, and demonstrated the lasting power this show has. RM

3. “The War in Words” (Claire Foy, 12/1/18)
It felt like the war-inspired child of the David S. Pumpkins sketch, with Mikey Day’s WWI soldier serving as the increasingly befuddled observer of his wife’s exasperating actions. Any questions? MANY, apparently. Margaret Merchant is a war wife with a penchant for short letters, a fetish for baby photos, a potential criminal mastermind and ultimately a traitor to her country. That is a metric ton of plot for a five-minute sketch, and yet the letters written between herself and her husband James succinctly convey an entire world of experience. Day’s frustrated husband does a lot of the overt lifting, it’s Foy that really makes this one sing. Her calm refusal to provide any context about her life contains no malice. She’s just a straight-up sociopath. RM

2. “What’s That Name?” (John Mulaney, 3/2/19)
Ah yes, this old Bill Hader chestnut of a sketch — which found the Barry star returning to his old job and delivering his single best interpretation of smug, smarmy, alpha-male game-show host to date. The premise remains the same: superficial questions about celebrities are easily answered; ones that involve remembering the names of your friend’s girlfriend or the bridesmaids at your wedding, however, resulting in deserved humiliation. But wow, does Hader sell this beautifully. It’s some of the best acting we’ve seen in a sketch all season (next to what’s on display in our No. 1 choice). Even the way he says the name of the hapless contestant — “Doug …” — just brims with a world of comeuppance and contempt. And Mulaney makes a perfect foil for him. The moment Hader widens his eyes ever-so-slightly after ripping into the guy for a sexist comment … it’s genius. Just genius. DF

1. “Career Day” (Adam Driver, 9/29/18)
If we’re lucky, there’s at least one sketch per year that sort of transcends it — the kind of little rough nugget of comic perfection that edges its way into being a brilliant best-of-show hit that you talk about long after the season is over. Dan Akroyd’s bleeding Julia Child sketch is one of those; “David S. Pumpkins” is, obviously, a more recent version. Viewers can add the legend of one Abraham H. Parnassus, decrepit oil baron and a man hellbent on dominating his rival H.R. Pickens — those names! — to the list. (You can read about the history of this insane riff on both school career days and There Will Be Blood here.) To say that Adam Driver commits to this gravel-voiced titan of industry is putting it mildly, and his near-Biblical response to Melissa Villaseñor’s wish to be like him when she grows up — “AND SO YOU SHALL!” — is capable of reducing you to tears no matter how many hundreds of times you rewatch it. Not even Pete Davidson breaking into giggles can ruin it. This is the bar that future SNL sketches will attempt to reach in terms of over-the-top inspired lunacy, or at least when it comes to bits involving a super-intense celebrity host whacking and skewering a stuffed raven with a cane. DF

 

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