10 Best 'SNL' Sketches of Season 43, From Natalie Rap to 'Black Panther' - Rolling Stone
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10 Best ‘SNL’ Sketches of Season 43, From Natalie Rap 2.0 to ‘Black Panther’

From a priceless Will Ferrell/Kate McKinnon team-up to a Migos-like rap group in therapy – the best of ‘Saturday Night Live’s past season

10 Best 'SNL' Sketches of Season 43

The 10 Best 'SNL' Sketches of Season 43 – from Natalie Rap 2.0 to a 'Black Panther' game show, a perfect Ferrell/McKinnon team-up to Migos in therapy.

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No one expected Saturday Night Live to deliver another 2016-2017 season – a standout run in which the show suddenly surfed the pop-political zeitgeist in a way that it hadn’t done for decades. Yes, you still got Alec Baldwin’s Trump pursing his lips and perversely reflecting back the administration’s boiling-frog slow erosion of American democracy, but it felt a little less urgent this time around … even as our IRL state-of-emergency increased with every breaking-news alert. 

Season 43 didn’t give us the scalpel-sharp satire we needed regarding our POTUS – but it did give us a Jost/Che “Weekend Update” that’s finally hitting its stride rapport-wise, some on-point #MeToo commentary and a handful of incredible digital shorts. (The show is beginning to rely on filmed bits the way it relies on movie-star drop-ins, which definitely hit peak quantity this year.) That, and a lot of tried-and-true surefire set-ups: Even the appearance of cast-members moms on the Mother’s Day episode meta-asked why the show relies on “talk shows and game shows” so much for sketch fodder.

Still, there were a ton of high points from the 2017-2018 SNL year; we could have filled most of this list with bits from the Will Ferrell episode alone. And once again, Kate McKinnon proves she is God. Here are our picks for the 10 Best Sketches from Season 43. (We’re leaving out monologues and “Weekend Update” character stuff, though a shout out to McKinnon’s sassy AF version of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Cecily Strong’s Claire from H.R. and Heidi Gardner’s moody teen critic Bailey Gismert.) 

10 Best 'SNL' Sketches of Season 43

‘Donald Trump Baltic States Cold Open’

It wasn’t surprising that SNL continued to lean hard on Alec Baldwin’s Trump impersonation for this season – nor was it surprising that these sketches felt painfully useless and completely unamusing as time went on, especially when our President’s proclamations, antics and overall release-the-Kraken method of “governing” have only become more worrisome. There’s an increasingly fiddling-while-Rome-burns vibe to these bits now, no matter how many cabinet members/peripheral political actors Kate McKinnon impersonates. “Weekend Update” provides the cutting political commentary; these POTUS vignettes are now just an excuse for celebrity cameos and Baldwinian schtick. To quote a slightly less problematic figure: That joke isn’t funny anymore.

In terms of humor-as-catharsis, however, there was one big Trump-sketch exception. Go directly to the 6:30 mark in this clip, where the commander-in-chief answers a question from the press corps about whether his immigration policies have threatened the nation’s standing in the world. “Here’s the thing … I don’t care about America. This whole presidency is a four-year cash grab … but I. Do. Not. Care. About. Any. Of. You.” Even the way Baldwin’s Broadway-style hand movements give the phrasing a musicality doesn’t lessen the impact. It’s somehow both a gag and not a gag at all – more like a cold, hard slap of truth embedded in an otherwise limp skit about Trump insulting his Baltic counterparts. We all know this is really what’s happening, the show says. You can hear a tinge of temporary shock in the audience’s laughter when he says it. And for a split second, in a season full of weak pokes at a morally bankrupt administration, you can feel SNL land a blow.

(In terms of non-“Update” administration jabs, judges would have also accepted the “What Even Matters Anymore?” game show, which was also worth its weight in righteous anger and Jessica-Chastain-guzziling-wine GIFs.)

10 Best 'SNL' Sketches of Season 43

‘Fresh Prince’

Anyone who’s seen Popstar could tell you Chris Redd is funny as hell – it was just a matter of whether this SNL newbie could find a lane and not be reduced to simply providing shocked reaction shots for other people’s jokes. (Which he does beautifully, but still.) This Fresh Prince theme-song parody is a perfect miniature showcase for him, as his Will Smith turns the sitcom’s opening credits into an epic tale involving house invasion, the Federal Witness Protection program, yakuza and warehouse shoot-outs. More of these, please.

10 Best 'SNL' Sketches of Season 43

‘The Day You Were Born’

It’s a simple premise: On Mother’s Day, a beaming mom tells her son about the day he was born, recounting how it was the happiest day of her life. Flashbacks reveal the literally messy truth, complete with profane screaming fits, involuntary defecation, pleas to not cut “my butthole open” and a montage of postpartum low points. It’s how guest host Amy Schumer and Mikey Day sell the manic, panicked experience of giving birth that makes this tribute to motherhood sing. “I’m not ready for this,” the dad-to-be squeals in the delivery room. “YOU’RE NOT A MAN!” she yells back. That shot of an exhausted Schumer, sitting on a toilet and wincing while breastfeeding, is a killer visual punchline.

10 Best 'SNL' Sketches of Season 43


In which a Migos-like group goes to therapy, guest host Donald Glover gets to show off his comic and hip-hop chops simultaneously, and the bluster behind rap braggadocio gets some Sopranos-style couch time. (“Every time I bring up emotional conflict, he wanna talk about the Lambou.”) What could have been a one-joke sketch stretched to the breaking point keeps delivering the longer it goes, right down to Keenan Thompson’s perfectly timed hype-man shout-outs. Worth it just for the “breakthrough/breakthrough/breakthrough!” bars alone. And once again, Chris Redd just kills it.

10 Best 'SNL' Sketches of Season 43

‘Black Jeopardy With Chadwick Boseman’

This recurring game show go-to sketch gave us one of the single greatest SNL sketches of all time last season – and while this installment is nowhere near that level of genius, we do get Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa in the clueless-guest slot. The king of Wakanda tries to figure out the ins and outs of the African-American experience; check out Keenan Thompson’s reaction to the idea that “our ministers of law enforcement are only here to protect us.” The Black Panther starts to catch on, however, culminating in a breakdown of a Cacausian tendency to not properly season food and the immortal line “Aw hell no, Karen, keep your bland-ass potato salad to yourself!” We’re praying Boseman gets to utter this line in character again in an actual MCU movie one day.

10 Best 'SNL' Sketches of Season 43

‘Natalie’s Rap 2’

Of course Natalie Portman would reprise her wild-child rap from 2006, one of the highlights of the early Lonely Planet era of digital shorts. We just didn’t think a sequel would be this funny. “Portman, Portman, Portman, Portman/I fucked your husband/and his best friend/just for sport, man” – and we’re off. Sure, the short itself acknowledges that it just sounds like “exactly the same, only with current references” and a new Cardi B-like cadence. But it still works, right down to Portman telling Beck Bennett he can “juggle these nuts” and some choice Jar-Jar Binks jokes. No more questions.

10 Best 'SNL' Sketches of Season 43

‘Film Panel’

Does anybody still need to be convinced that Kate McKinnon is not just the best thing to happen to SNL in years, but has already ascended to G.O.A.T. status? We’ve gone on record regarding our love for these recurring “Women in Film” sketches, in which McKinnon’s old-school Hollywood starlet recounts tales of studio-era horror stories. Dropping the daffy, dementia-suffering Debette Goldry into a middle of panel on sexual harassment just as the Harvey Weinstein scandal was at full boil, however, produced some real standout gems on Tinseltown toxicity, male complicity and how this has been going on for decades. “Sexual harassment is Hollywood,” she exclaims, followed later by “We had a secret code among actresses to warn each other about creeps. The code was: ‘He raped me.’ That way, if any men were listening, they’d tune us right out, easy-peasy!” Ouch.

10 Best 'SNL' Sketches of Season 43

‘Commercial Shoot’

“Baked in a kissy cat puss.” Even if you didn’t know that this sketch was based off real bloopers from a regional restaurant commercial, this McKinnon/Ferrell two-hander is one beautifully demented, deadpan duet. (Seriously, how has no one put them in a movie together yet? Pairing Will Ferrell with a top-tier female comedian doesn’t always automatically equal a home run, but still.) We don’t know what kills us more: the look on Kate McKinnon’s face every time she and/or her screen husband screws up the line “baked in a crispy buttery crust”; the declaration that this shouldn’t be so hard because they “raised five boys, and some girls”; or when the two of them simultaneously yell out “Yahtzee Isis Quiff!” It’s a masterclass.

10 Best 'SNL' Sketches of Season 43

‘Welcome to Hell’

It starts with “all these big, cool, powerful guys are turning out to be … what’s the word? Habitual predators?” And from there, this bright, shiny, K-Pop–style video about how sexual harassment has always been a part of a woman’s daily existence – that just because people are paying attention now that things are “button-under-the-desk bad” doesn’t mean this is new – just starts slaying across the board. From the “it’s like a maze here, all full of boners” line to the montage of Melissa Villaseñor as incredulous feminist icons, it’s tough to pick a highlight here. Personally, we’d nominate the list of stuff that’s long been hazardous for women: “parking, and walking, and Uber, and ponytails, bathrobes and nighttime, and drinking, and hotels, and vans.” SNL took on what felt like daily revelations of famous men behaving badly a number of ways, but this ditty hit the most bullseyes. It’s simultaneously a bubbly #TheReckoning cri de couer and an angry eyeroll.

10 Best 'SNL' Sketches of Season 43

‘Dinner Discussion’

How do we love this sketch about the minefield of modern dinner conversation in the #MeToo era? Let us count the ways: the use of camera movement and lighting for dramatic effect is spot on; the escalating absurdity of reactions as everyone gingerly tries to avoid saying the wrong thing, peaking in Kate McKinnon pulling a mini-theater curtain (complete with proscenium!) over her face; the way that Aidy Bryant says “Care-fulllll” like an old-timey 1930s character actor and Heidi Gardner says “Watch it” like she’s had emergency jaw surgery; that Pizza Rat insert in the everything-falls-apart montage after Keenan Thompson brings up race. 

Pound for pound, this was one of the single funniest bits of the past season, one that would have worked even if Will Ferrell didn’t bring his death-defying deadpan to the table. But he does – boy, does he! – which seems to force the rest of his scene partners to up their game as well. It felt like an old-fashioned SNL highlight in the best possible way: a great ensemble piece, a well-written bit of commentary, a sketch that understood exactly how to use its guest host and all of its various players’ strengths to a tee. We’ve watched this one a dozen times since it first aired. It’s one of the few Season 43 sketches that, years from now, we could imagine watching a dozen times more.

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