It was the show’s best of times, it was the world’s worst of times – going into its 42nd season, Saturday Night Live knew it had plenty of fertile comic ground to till. To throw a few more metaphors into the mix: The show also had a chip on its shoulder over the accusations that it had helped normalize a certain noxious, campaigning candidate when it let him host SNL back in 2015, which made folks wonder whether they writers’ room might have something to prove. And – let’s keep going with those metaphors, shall we? – they also had an ace up their sleeve, in that they had recruited a frequent guest host/bona fide movie star to play The Man Who Would Be(come) POTUS when it returned in October.
The rest is history: off-the-charts ratings, Op-Ed pieces, angry Trump tweets, viral clips galore, surprise special guests and the occasional genuinely devastating bullseye. Political humor with the volume turned up to 11 snuggled up to David S. Pumpkins. Blistering monologues bled into gentle love taps at some public figures and scorched-earth takes on others. Those 90 minutes happening right in the middle of the weekend had unprecedented cultural currency, Leonard Cohen sing-alongs and a podium that could attack press corps at will. And, right in the center of it all, there was a man with pursed lips and a bright orange glow. It was the season of the Smart Alec.
Looking back at the agony and the ecstasy that was Saturday Night Live in Trump Year Zero, three things became clear: Despite the fact that “live” remains a key element, this was the year that the post-Lonely Island era pretaped bit really came into its own. You didn’t have to be a cast member to have a recurring key spot in the show every week. And Kate McKinnon is God. Here are our picks for the 10 best sketches of SNL 42. Any questions?
(We’re not counting any “Weekend Update” segments or monologues here – though it should be noted that the incredible monologues by both Dave Chappelle and Aziz Ansari will be pored over and discussed long after their episodes have been forgotten, and long after the man whose presidency fueled their remarks has left the building.)