With the show adding eight new cast members, season 39 was a rebuilding year for Saturday Night Live. Yet in spite of this, they were able to produce one of the show’s most consistent seasons in recent memory. Much of that consistency can be credited to a noticeable rise in pre-taped sketches. While there have long been pre-taped commercial parodies and Lonely Island Digital Shorts, this season saw a wide-range of video sketches, from songs like “Dongs” to short films like “Monster Pals” to the dozen or so sketches from the Good Neighbor guys. The result is that 75 percent of the list below features at least some pre-taped element.
10. Tie: “The Beygency,” from the Andrew Garfield episode; “New Horror Trailer,” from the Edward Norton episode; “Ooh Child,” from the Lena Dunham episode
I’m aware it’s kind of a cheat to have a three-way tie in a top-ten list, but there were so many high points. By grouping these three together, it further makes the point of how diverse and successful the show’s use of video was this season. Film and TV parody is not a new arena for the show, but video gave the “New Horror Trailer” Wes Anderson sketch something special, allowing Anderson’s style to be so precisely mimicked.
The high production value of “The Beygency” contrasted wonderfully with its incredibly silly premise. There they are on the roof, in a shot that feels like it could’ve been in any major Hollywood action movie, and Taran Killam tells Andrew Garfield to “put his hand up” — then proceeds to do the single ladies dance. It’s not impossible to imagine a much more flaccid live version of this sketch.
“Ooh Child” is a testament to how editing — something you can only do on video — can help deliver something memorable. “Ooh Child” is very low-concept — during a car sing-along, every time one passenger (Lena Dunham) sings, the GPS cuts out the music — but by doing it on video and not live, the sketch’s rhythm could be locked in. (Then, of course, there’s that fantastic kicker.)
9. “Romantic Speech,” from the Louis C.K. episode
“Romantic Speech” is a very simple sketch with a very simple premise — man gives weird romantic speech — but it’s really just super funny. It’s the type of sketch that gets lost when people look back at a season of SNL, but it’s why the show is worth watching every week. The writers, even with lesser premises, can just write freaking great jokes, mane.
8. “Delaware One,” from the Melissa McCarthy episode
When you have a host as good as Melissa McCarthy, it’s best to just give her something in her wheelhouse and let her knock it out. Not unlike “Outside the Lines,” which we voted the third-best sketch of last season — hell, not unlike The Heat — it’s just incredibly funny to watch McCarthy violently beat up people in increasingly absurd ways. Things don’t get much better than Melissa McCarthy hitting poor Brooks Wheelan in the head with a camera and then throwing it like a discus. And the sketch kept up momentum through the use of a framing device in which different cameras kept picking her up along her tirade.
7. “Tourists,” from the Charlize Theron episode
This blend of character sketch and real-person interaction is brilliant. It’s reminiscent of Borat, due to the subject matter, but thankfully, there’s not the same cynical approach. “Tourists” is able to capture that feeling of being lost through the lens of bizarre foreigners of
ambiguous race. And where Borat sought to point out the ugly prejudices of our culture, “Tourists” wants to show that people are genuinely good.
6. “Flirty,” from the Anna Kendrick episode
When the guys from the sketch group Good Neighbor were hired by SNL, people called them the next Lonely Island. And though they seem to have taken Lonely Island’s weekly time allocation, stylistically, they are quite different. Lonely Island made big buzzy videos that were focused on blowing up one ridiculous concept. Good Neighbor videos, at least so far, are much more understated and character-focused. Though they had a few hits, like “Sigma” and “Ice Cream,” there’s just something extra-special about “Flirty.” As they both have shown in other sketches, Kyle Mooney and Vanessa Bayer are great at playing awkward, which makes them sort of an adorable couple here. Beyond that, “Flirty” best captures and articulates the exploration of the benefits and shortcomings of masculinity — a theme that ran through much of Good Neighbors videos this season.
5. “(Do It on My) Twin Bed,” from the Jimmy Fallon episode
First let me say that, if it weren’t for Jimmy Fallon’s “rap,” this could’ve been No. 1. Besides that, it’s a great concept, perfectly executed. The song has a ton of great jokes — X-Files on VHS, “if you want an old cat to watch you bone,” the poster of JTT — but personally, my biggest single laugh of the season came from Aidy Bryant talking about her sick mom, “She got a cough/She got it from Jean/And now it’s a whole thing with Jean.”
4. “Black Jeopardy,” from the Louis C.K. episode
Years removed from “Celebrity Jeopardy,” SNL once again revisited the quiz show, but this time to achieve something less broad and more poignant. After it aired, Seth Meyers tweeted, “‘Black Jeopardy’ is just a wonderful piece of sketch writing.” The sketch’s writer, future Daily Show correspondent Michael Che, deftly tackled race and the portrayal of black people in media without distracting from the comedy. It’s the spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down; that is what can be so great about sketch comedy. Or, simply, as Questlove tweeted, “#BlackJeopardy is an INSTANT classic.”
3. “Monster Pals,” from the Seth Rogen episode
Mike O’Brien, who also wrote last season’s No. 2–ranked sketch “Sad Mouse,” knows how to write a touching yet still very funny sketch. Like “Tourists,” “Monster Pals” blends man-on-the-street stuff with sketch to create a beautiful short film. It’s a silly idea, but taken seriously, which makes the big payoff even that more satisfying. Comedy snobs like to make fun of SNL for using celebrity cameos, but here, it is absolutely on point.
2. “Dyke and Fats,” from the Louis C.K. episode
Not long after it aired, Kate McKinnon told Vulture the story of the sketch’s humble beginnings. “We were both really tired one night,” McKinnon explained, “and I just said to Aidy [Bryant], ‘Man, dyke is tired,’ and Aidy said, ‘Fats is tired, too.’ And then it became our beautiful thing that we had together and we wanted to make something out of it.” You can see that in the sketch, which has a silly, let’s-put-on-a-show feeling that has always been a part of SNL. There are few things as wonderful as Aidy Bryant slipping her number to a sandwich.
1. “Office Boss,” from the Josh Hutcherson episode
Let’s all agree to ignore that the second time they did the character, it was kind of lame, and remember how exciting it was to first watch “Office Boss.” Sketches like this are why the show is live. It’s the danger and surprise of a very funny person trying something very strange and very physical, with just enough concept and writing behind it to give it some heft. Sure, it’s a little rough around the edges, but it’s a more visceral comedic experience than you’ll get from basically every other sketch show. If this season is any indication, the future of SNL might be in video, but it will always be moments like “Office Boss” that make SNL SNL.