How dare we even attempt to rank the best sketches of Saturday Night Live’s 40th season? Somebody’s gotta do it. So, in the immortal words of our muse, 1860s newspaper critic Jebidiah Atkinson (who did not make our list)...“NEXT!”
SNL40 was bound and determined to provide a little 40th anniversary fan service this season. Mike Myers’ Christmas episode appearance as Dr. Evil (who’s always been a parody of SNL producer Lorne Michaels) was a welcome surprise…and an appropriate way to comment on the North Korea/Sony Pictures hack of that movie we’ve already forgotten.
As late-show pre-tapes go, this is as strange and wonderful as they come. A trio of bank robbers (Beck Bennett, Kyle Mooney, Bobby Moynihan) and the most generous heist you’ve ever seen. Watch here.
Nearly every sketch on the Michael Keaton-hosted episode is worth a watch, but the David Lynchian “Easter Candy” is the one you simply have to see to disbelieve.
A parody of outdoor historical dramas, Kevin Hart plays a young prince feverishly trying to get his medieval companions (Kenan Thompson, Sasheer Zamata, Cecily Strong, Taran Killam) to stop breaking into dramatic song so they can escape an attacking dragon.
Presumably adapted from a young adult novel written entirely in the comments section of a Hunger Games trailer, “The Group Hopper” is one of many excellent SNL40 parody movie trailers. Of note, guest host Bill Hader’s performance as the dystopia’s androgynous ruler.
Cecily Strong and guest host Scarlett Johansson give us a pair of annoyingly snarky and self-possessed teenagers on a museum tour. “Okaaay, that’s normal, moving on, that’s random, uh that happened, oh so that just happened.” Watch here.
There’s something charmingly throwback about this commercial parody of “St. Joseph’s Christmas Mass Spectacular.” One easily imagines Phil Hartman handling the voice over instead of Beck Bennett. “Church” is one of the best cast sketches of the season, with each actor in exactly the right role.
In a sequel to the heartbreaking teen romance, a high school student (guest host Sarah Silverman) tries to find love despite her Ebola diagnosis. “Because you can’t quarantine your heart.”
“Asian American doll has no academic strengths or weaknesses” and “comes with two harmless accessories that went through forty focus groups: an adorable puppy and a chef’s hat. Because anyone can be a chef, right?” Watch here.
When the SNL cast dons sci-fi costumes for an in-studio sketch, buckle up—it’s going to be great. In “Spaceship,” an interstellar crew (guest host Chris Hemsworth, Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson, Sasheer Zamata) must sacrifice their captain…who is an actual, live-in-studio chicken.
Fans of YouTube comedians “Good Neighbor” will recognize Kyle Mooney’s earnest, unintelligible and socially awkward man-on-the-street interviewer. In “Circus” he interviews audience members and clowns during the Ringling Bros. pre-show. Watch here.
Disney’s latest live-action film stars guest host Dwayne Johnson as Bambi, Vin Diesel (Taran Killam, with a fantastic new impersonation) as Thumper, Tyrese Gibson (Jay Pharoah) as Flower and Michelle Rodriguez (Cecily Strong) as Faline. This trailer parody is the best-directed of SNL40.
Guest host Jim Carrey as “Helvis,” performing an ode to pecan pie, felt like the first big moment of the 40th anniversary season. And the episode that followed was one of the very best of the entire season. Watch here.
A welcome Bill Hader callback, “Puppet Class” features guest host Hader’s shell-shocked vet Anthony Peter Coleman and his look-alike puppet…versus a cheery puppetry teacher (Taran Killam) and classmates (Kenan Thompson, Cecily Strong).
We saw Bobby Moynihan’s new character Riblet three times as a Weekend Update guest during the last half of the season. Each time, Michael Che’s loser friend from high school breaks into the newscast, hellbent on putting Che in his place….because reading the fake news on SNL is “nort a hord jorb!” Watch here.
The best thing about the Chris Pratt-hosted season opener was this absurdist 90’s sitcom satire by Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney. Fortunately for us, the two were ever-present with similarly bizarre pre-taped comedies all season long.
Inspired by Starbucks’ “Race Together” campaign, auto parts chain store Pepboys launches its own initiative to encourage employees and customers to discuss gender and sexual identity: Genderflect. One of the very best social satires of the season.
In this 10-to-1 sketch, Kate McKinnon’s “Sheila” enjoys another messy hookup with a new paramour (guest host Woody Harrelson) during last call. One of many fine moments for McKinnon in what would prove to be her breakout season on SNL. Watch here.
McKinnon’s pop star repertoire is growing, but Bieber is her best. This send-up of those silly Calvin Klein ads may be custom-built for social sharing, but Kate’s meticulous performance makes it something special.
In her first stand-alone film, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson…who actually plays Black Widow in the Avengers film franchise) juggles an internship at Fashion Weekly magazine and a complicated relationship with boyfriend Ultron. Yep. The joke’s on ScarJo, Marvel, Hollywood, and all of us willing to accept this endless stream of “boys with toys” comic book adventure films.
This parody of a local Atlanta morning show appeared twice this season, once with Martin Freeman as Louis the handyman, and again with Scarlett Johansson as Daniela the Jersey caterer. Taran Killam’s hot for wifey (but way-gay) Cory and Cecily Strong’s put-upon, Southern debutante Gracelynn are hilarious new SNL characters. Watch here.
Would you risk drawing a picture of the prophet Muhammad for a cool million dollars? Um, no. Would you risk making a satirical sketch about this nonsense, Saturday Night Live? Yes. A fine moment for the show…both socially and artistically.
These two Weekend Update appearances may be Cecily Strong’s best work of the season. “A girl from work who eats burgers and wings but has the body of a salad girl? Confusing, right?” Watch here.
Starring Mike O’Brien as Jay Z, surprise guest Jason Sudeikis as Kanye West and guest host J.K. Simmons as Nas. Enough said.
Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Sasheer Zamata, Vanessa Bayer, Leslie Jones, guest host Cameron Diaz and Lil’ Baby Aidy Bryant rap about coming home for Thanksgiving and living the good life in this send-up of home-for-the-holidays college kids.
A reality dating show where a group of women (Cecily Strong, Vanessa Bayer, Kate McKinnon, Sasheer Zamata, Aidy Bryant, Leslie Jones) compete for the affections of a hunky farmer (guest host Blake Shelton). One of the happiest surprises of SNL40 was the excellent Blake Shelton-hosted episode.
Cecily Strong’s boozily adamant party girl appeared three times this season giving us her take on the Ebola outbreak, living in a post-facial society, how Americans only use 10% of her brain, Boko Haram and ISIS joining forces, and (with guest host Reece Witherspoon) the San Francisco police department’s review of previous arrests. Watch here.
Is public access television a thing anymore? Who cares? Casey (Beck Bennett) and Todd (Kyle Mooney) discuss why Rigoberto’s no longer serves red salsa and how art can be baller on their public access talk show. But the real star of this pre-tape is art critic Sean (guest host Bill Hader): “Blue, yellow, green. Colors in art. But how, how baller can art be? I’m here at a f-cking a museum to find out.” Watch here.
Aidy Bryant’s insecure eighth-grader Morgan is one of the show’s more fascinating (and heartbreaking) comic creations. Lost in the shadow of the more socially adept Kyra (Cecily Strong), Morgan’s meltdowns with the dance squad (musical guests One Direction) and prom queen Camden (guest host Scarlett Johansson) are both hilarious and touching.
A strange Scientology parody that manages to give a more definable shape to the bizarre 90’s-style musings of Beck and Kyle…and Mike O’Brien. Also Colin Jost’s finest moment on SNL40.
Sadly, there was plenty for Saturday Night Live to parody and satirize about racial relations this season. But it wasn’t until the pre-taped “Blazer” appeared later in the season that the show really hit a homerun. In the film-within-a-film-within-a-film dark comedy, Detective Blazer (Taran Killam) always gets his man. But it’s the body cam footage that does him in.
Guest host Kevin Hart’s seemingly stream-of-consciousness monologue about the raccoon problem in his neighborhood and why he wouldn’t rescue his fiancée from a mountain lion attack blew better comedians Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock and Louis C.K. out of the water. Hands down, the best opening monologue of SNL40.
Guest host Jim Carrey as Matthew McConaughey ponders the important questions of life. A perfect parody of McConaughey’s brilliant (self-parodying?) Lincoln campaign.
Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) return during SNL’s 40th Anniversary Special to share their “Top Ten Things About SNL.” This was lovingly written, brilliantly performed sketch that was a perfect way to wrap up the landmark, mid-season show.
There was a national obsession with NPR’s Serial podcast when this parody was released, and it doesn’t disappoint. Serial host Sarah Koenig (Cecily Strong) investigates the story of Kris Kringle (Kyle Mooney), an elf who allegedly leaves presents in people’s homes. Guest host Amy Adams is a highlight as a suburban mom baffled by this Christmas miracle.
Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton captures everything we don’t like about Hillary—that sweaty, Tracy Flick ambition, her offbeat animatronic charisma—in a way that ultimately humanizes the would-be first female president. We watch, simultaneously empathizing and pitying her. No doubt, McKinnon will be gone from the SNL cast before the November 2016 elections, but her Hillary will live on…as Will Ferrell’s George W., Darrell Hammond’s Bill, and Dana Carvey’s George H.W. have.
After saving Middle-Earth, Bilbo (guest host Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Bobby Moynihan), Gollum (Taran Killam), Legolas (Kyle Mooney) and Tauriel (Kate McKinnon) take up office jobs. A spot-on send-up of the British version of The Office, and an incredible accomplishment for SNL writers, cast and designers, as well as the outstanding out-of-studio production unit.
This sketch isn’t streaming on either Youtube or Hulu, probably because of music licensing issues.
Bill Hader hosting the third episode of SNL40 settled everyone’s nerves, but it was Jim Carrey hosting the fourth episode who reminded the show’s writers and cast that they could be great. This sketch, featuring Carrey and Kate McKinnon in a “Chandelier” music video dance-off, was a sublime moment of live television. On par with anything Saturday Night Live has ever done.
The mother of all Celebrity Jeopardy sketches, custom-made for the 40th Anniversary Special. Unflappable Alex Trebek (Will Ferrell) tries his best to keep contestants Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond), Justin Bieber (Kate McKinnon), Tony Bennett (Alec Baldwin), Burt Reynolds (Norm Macdonald), Christoph Waltz (Taran Killam), Matthew McConaughey (Jim Carrey) and Bill Cosby (Kenan Thompson) in line.
“It’s hope in the form of little ol’ dirty boot.” Parody of quasi-religious country music platitudes or paean to old school television sketch comedy itself? Either way, what a beaut.
Chris White writes and directs independent feature films. His latest, a showbiz comedy about looking for Bill Murray, is called
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