It began with Miley Cyrus singing about the summer scandals of 2015 and ended with Fred Armisen doing a scathing, straight-faced piss-take on performers' one-man shows. In between, Saturday Night Live's 41st season gave us Larry David as a dead-on Bernie Sanders, both Trump avatars and actual Trumpfoolery, a bunch of unforgettable musical performances, loads of cameos from alumni (Maya Rudolph, your drunk take on "12 Days of Christmas" is worth its weight in two toodle-toos) and a handful of genuinely wonderful sketches. If you've been tuning into Ryan McGee's "3 Sketches You Have to See" posts every week, you've had the chance to catch up with the show's best every Sunday. Now here are the season's best, from Presidential impersonations to an oh-my-god game show skit that belongs in the SNL hall of fame.
Sometimes, you tune in to Saturday Night Live to watch the issues of the day get a smart, sharp takedown. And other times, you just want to watch Tracy Morgan yell "Yo! Where Jackie Chan at right now?!?" over and over while glaring at the camera. The definition of a 10-minutes-to-one-a.m. skit, this exercise in free-form absurdity simply featured Morgan and Kenan Thompson hosting a call-in show that demanded to know the titular question. ("Don't tell us Asia!" "We checked with Asia, and he ain't there!") Dropping a ridiculous, ah-fuck-it sketch near the show's end is a time-honored tradition, and few of them have made us laugh as hard as this one. Every time we watch Morgan declare "People need to respect this show! We won a Peabody!", we just lose it.
These recurring goofs on Jeopardy have been consistently well-written and funny as hell since the get-go, as well as a great excuse to watch Keenan Thompson do his best rebuking "No!" when a contestant gives a clueless answer. But this particular one stands out thanks to Banks' overly earnest Cacausian "who doesn't see race" because hey, she dated a black guy once. The show has not shied away from race as an issue (never mind its own past issues with race), yet these sketches have always pointed out the difference between the black American experience and the white one in what feels like the gentlest manner possible. But when Banks' frustrated contestant blurts out, "It's just, no matter what I do, I can't win!" — thus winning the game because "that is the blackest thing you've said all day" — you can feel the sting behind the cross-cultural ribbing.
Because it takes a superpower to save a Thanksgiving dinner from turning into a familial brawl, and that's why you need Adele. If this highlight of the Matthew McConaughey episode feels somewhat familiar, it's because the show did something similar with the pop star's song "Someone Like You" and its ability to reduce every man, woman and child to tears. But placing the healing powers of "Hello" within the context of the holiday event most folks dread — and replicating the hit's melodramatic arthouse video to a tee — was a smart move. Bonus points added for Beck Bennett's near-orgasmic lip-syncing and the sight of Jay Pharoah in Adele drag.
Jay Pharoah has spent the last six years on SNL as a key utility player — you probably couldn't name a Pharoah character, though you can almost certainly think of a handful of sketches that he's either anchored, helped or outright saved from disaster. And he's always had a few go-to celebrity impersonations, notably his Obama, a great Jay Z and a killer Denzel Washington. But this rapid-fire showcase for his takes on a who's-who of comedians — Katt Williams, Kevin Hart, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle, Tracy Morgan, Chris Tucker, Hannibal Buress and Bernie Mac — during a Weekend Update appearance felt like a genuine starmaking moment. It's not just the spot-on mimicry but the speed at which he switches between all of them. The segment just crackles with energy. From now on, when people "do" Chappelle or Buress, they'll be doing impersonations of his impersonations.
Let's take a moment to recognize how incredible Kate McKinnon's Hillary Clinton has been over the past year and some change — she plays the Presidential hopeful as a combination of impatience, brittle entitlement and pure forward-momentum ambition ("Why won't the people let me lead? Just give me the hammer and the nails and I'll fix it aaaallllll!") without making her a one-note caricature. And as an SNL cameo has become a de facto campaign stop now, assuming the show does not have the candidate on as a full-on host, we knew that Ms. H.R. Clinton would be dropping by eventually. But having the faux-Hillary and the real one — playing a bartender named Val — talk shop over "a scalding hot vodka" could not have been a better set-up. Kudos to our potntial future POTUS for gamely playing along. And also, this exchange:
Clinton-as-Val: "It really is great how long you've supported gay marriage."
McKinnon-as-Hilary: "Yes. I … I could've supported it sooner."
Clinton-as-Val: "Well, you did it pretty soon."
McKinnon-as-Hilary: [staring right as Clinton] "Coulda been sooner."
We're stumping now: Kate McKinnon for President, 2020.
Our SNL recapper Ryan McGee singled this out as one of the entire season's laugh-out-loud highlights, much less one of the finale's best moments, and we're not inclined to disagree with him. It's best if you know as little as possible about this Pythonesque sketch going into it — only that it takes place within an oppressive prep school, complete with a fascist headmaster (way to sell the old-school dickishness, Bobby Moynihan), a beloved teacher on the way out and the students he inspired. And then just when you wonder where this Dead Poets Society parody is going, it drops its bombshell. Bravo, good sirs. Bravo.
"Maybe that song isn't for us…"
"But usually everything is!"
For those of us — Beyoncé fans, people who aren't idiots — who had to suffer through the headscratching over the artist's incredible "Formation" video and the handwringing over her Super Bowl halftime performance, this was the "no, you are not crazy" sketch we needed. The show can do send-up of horror-movie trailers in its sleep at this point (even ones regarding Queen B; see their Beygency skit) but this sort of sharp little take just beautifully cut through the crap regarding all the Bey-related brouhaha. All those folks who think "I mean, I love black artists/actors/writers, but do they have to be so, you know, like black black?" SNL and someone who has hot sauce in her bag swag would like a quick word with you.
It took exactly one guest appearance from the Seinfeld co-creator as the good senator from Vermont to forever meld the performer and the politician together in the public's mind — at this point, Larry David's recurring Bernie Sanders impersonation has become as iconic as Tina Fey's devastating Sarah Palin. Though his first drop-in (pictured at the top of this list) gave viewers that glorious "oh my god, yes!" moment and David's cranky jousting with Kate McKinnon's Machiavellian Hilary Clinton in the season finale were indeed stand-outs moments, we're going with this bit as David's ultimate Feel His Signature Bern moment. It's the perfect seamless melding of Greatest Larry Hits and the closest we may ever get to a new Curb episode. Also, Cecily Strong's foul-mouthed Susie Greene deserves her own show opposite the actual Susie Essman. Call it Going Greene. Make it happen, you %$#@&!
SNL's fake ads were on fire this season — remember that jaw-dropping Guns bit from the Amy Schumer episode, or the premiere's "Abilify" drug commercial for hopeless presidential candidates? This political spot, however, was the year's MVP, as well as one of the show's few Trump-related skits with teeth. Look, it's no secret that the likely Republican party's nominee has been tapping into a collective sense of hate as campaign fuel, which has resulted in some straight-up racist bullshit at his rallies. (That doesn't even take into account some of his questionable associations, either.) But the manner in which this ad calls all this out while deftly sending up the "morning in America" style of most campaign ads is, in a word, brilliant. That moment when Taran Killiam lifts his arm and the swastika armband comes into view still makes us gasp, even after two dozen viewings.
There are SNL game show send-ups, and then there's this sketch: a hilarious, jaw-dropping, yes-we're-going-there bit that felt instantly canon-worthy. We knew that the Christmas episode would be top-notch once we heard Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were hosting, but we didn't expect something that would hold up with the best of the Fey-run writers' room from back in the day. The premise is simple: Contestants (all male, all unsuspecting) get a chance to meet their future second wife. The joke, of course, is that the new spouses are all still young … uncomfortably so, in fact. "I thought this was a home makeover show," one of the current wives say. "In a way, it is," Fey cheerily replies. From the delivery of the lines to the gasps in the audience, everything about this is perfect. It's angry without being righteous, and it's genius without skimping on the laughs. It is Saturday Night Live sketch-comedy at its best.