With an unprecedented election cycle and political turmoil occupying nearly everyone’s mind this past year, it’s no surprise that Saturday Night Live’s yuge ratings were rewarded with a yuge number of Emmy nominations. (The show garnered 22 nods, a number tied only by HBO’s Westworld.) Alongside nominations for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series and five guest hosts, four of SNL’s performers will contend for Outstanding Supporting Actor or Actress: Vanessa Bayer, Leslie Jones, honorary player Alec Baldwin, and last year’s Outstanding Supporting Actress winner Kate McKinnon. Though their competition star in more traditional serials — Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Transparent, Veep, Baskets, and Modern Family — any of these SNL performers has a shot at walking off with a statue. Here are the best sketches from each nominated performer, which will be worth watching (or rewatching) before the Emmys on September 17.
The bubbly Bayer, who left SNL this summer after seven seasons, had been on the show longer than any other female player in the current cast. This season, she continued to prove her essential role, playing a series of memorable comedic foils as well as several sunny characters on Weekend Update. Bayer’s sketches this year may not stick out above and beyond her past seasons, but her work was as supportive, consistent, and charged with peppy energy as any in previous years. Plus, it’s nice to see the Emmy voters nominate a stalwart who’s a big hit with fans. (It would have been nice if they’d considered Kenan Thompson for this kind of slot, too.)
With Bayer’s most recent character, weatherwoman Dawn Lazarus, tone conquered thrust. As the nervous forecaster tried to fight off her stage fright, she kept the cheerful tenor of the local news personality while tripping over standard weather tropes: “And … that’s that sky!” Eventually, she devolved into a monosyllabic affirmative that sounded something like “Hap!” This sketch let Bayer play in the giddy, grinning mode that anchored so many of her SNL characters, while employing it in a slightly different way. Along with an appearance as “Rachel from Friends” alongside Jennifer Aniston, Bayer’s appearances as Lazarus were the highlight of her Update season.
In this deconstruction of a specific sort of ad played during football games, Bayer plays a smiley wife ready to feed her sports-loving husband and all his friends — or, as she puts it, “my hungry guys” — with pizza rolls. While they wait on the couch, eyes glued to the set, Bayer goes to the kitchen and is shocked by the arrival of the sexy Sabine (Kristen Stewart). Bayer’s wife character, who confesses that she has no name, is drawn into a love affair with Sabine while the hungry guys cry out to be fed. Sure, there are a painful number of Totino’s mentions, but it’s worth watching Bayer’s transformation from anonymous, perky housewife to the French-speaking lesbian who was just waiting to be unlocked.
Though she wasn’t able to delve into her Hillary Clinton impersonation in the way she would have if Clinton had become president, McKinnon still cranked out another season of truly excellent performances. Pretty much any of her characters could make an argument for her second Emmy: the saucy Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her gee-whiz Jeff Sessions, the staid Angela Merkel, or the loopy, wide-eyed Ecce Homo restorer Cecilia Giménez. It’s tough to say if McKinnon could win two Emmys in a row, but these performances make a strong case.
A Day Off With Kellyanne Conway
With Clinton spending much of the season out in the woods, McKinnon’s biggest performance became Trump mouthpiece Kellyanne Conway. In a loosely connected series of sketches, McKinnon and the SNL writers made light of Conway’s aggressive need for attention, her ideological sleight of hand, and her wont to defend Trump in seemingly any unsavory situation. In one scene, Conway announced her ambitions with a song from Chicago; in another, she stalked Jake Tapper. Both are great, but the sketch in which the beleaguered Conway tries and fails to enjoy a day off while Trump tweets horrible things shows that McKinnon had Conway’s number (and dead-eyed stare) from the outset.
Debette Goldry, Hollywood Legend
In this premiere of a sketch that recurred several times this season, McKinnon introduced Golden Age movie star Debette Goldry. While the modern ladies of Hollywood complain about lack of female writers and the number of roles for women, the dotty Goldry talks about the studio paying her in brooches and forcing her to marry a chimp (who eventually runs off with her reserve of brooches). Like the “Mrs. Rafferty” alien abduction sketches, this one gives the audience a sense that McKinnon could break a cast member in any scene. It makes perfect sense as McKinnon fires off gems such as, “Long story short, I ended up flapping my toots for a bunch of Krauts. That’s Hollywood, baby!”
Though Jones’s tenure on SNL has been relatively short — she’s been a featured player for three seasons — her outsize presence has clearly made an impact. When hired as a writer in 2014, Jones was not a green, 20-something but a veteran stand-up with a honed comedic voice. She is unapologetically herself onstage, and she brings that lusty, combative, boisterous persona into any SNL role. She often employs her stand-up mindset directly in Weekend Update monologues, and even while talking sensitive or taboo subjects, she sweeps the audience along for the ride.
Weekend Update: Leslie Jones on Vacation
Jones holds court on Update to flirt with Colin Jost and talk about whatever subjects she has on her mind: dating, pop culture, or even the hack that published nude photos on her website. In this monologue, Jones announced that the “national crisis is over” and described being seduced by a man in Jamaica. Her monologue is full of funny specifics, but there’s a palpable delight in Jones’s performance here. When she muses about “what he did to me in the shower,” the blissful look that crosses her face is something to behold. If Emmy voters were awarding based on personality alone, Jones would be the front-runner.
Shanice Goodwin, Ninja
Given the right circumstance and enough room to play, Jones’s physicality is an incredible asset. In a sense, this recurring sketch — in which Jones plays a part-time ninja who has been training to become a deadly shadow at the Y every other week for the last few years — is one long visual gag playing on Jones’s six-foot frame and less-than-silent demeanor. All of her terrible cartwheels and various would-be ninja stunts are the right kind of preposterous.
A win for Alec Baldwin would seem to be a reward for his Donald Trump impression. In truth, though, his Emmy nod is recognition of the role SNL played in analyzing the whirlwind of Trump headlines, tweets, and sound bites every Saturday night. Baldwin’s pouty, preening caricature was a big part of SNL’s attempts to make sense of it all. While his Trump isn’t the most nuanced take on the commander-in-chief — it’s a cartoon of an already cartoonish figure — it’s good for communicating the childish, temperamental, and ignorant aspects of Trump’s character.
It’s also worth acknowledging that Baldwin’s nomination, which elevates him to the level of featured player, is pretty odd. But just as Trump sucks all the air out of the room, Baldwin’s impression sucked up the imaginations of viewers. Some comics think Trump is too hard to satirize, but Baldwin and the SNL writers found ways to make a stunned electorate laugh.
Donald Trump Versus Hillary Clinton Third Debate
There are too many Trump SNL moments to choose from in season 42, but this Third Debate cold open highlights the best of Baldwin’s early impression. By late October, Baldwin had already donned the wig a few times, so he had a solid sense of Trump’s staccato speech patterns and he relaxed into the broad mugging that defines his take. This sketch also gives Baldwin an awful lot of face time without extended cutaways or physical bits; every flamboyant hand gesture, every flattened squinch of the face, every sniff into the mic is on display here.
The O’Reilly Factor With Donald Trump
When Baldwin hosted his own episode of SNL this season, none of his individual performances in new sketches were particularly memorable. A few weeks later, though, during the Louis C.K.–hosted episode, Baldwin shined as yet another bloviating right-wing figure, Bill O’Reilly. Baldwin’s O’Reilly communicates the smug, self-satisfied pundit as slightly oblivious to the true nature of the trouble he’s facing. (The sexual-harassment accusations about O’Reilly were in print, but at that point he had yet to be fired.) In the Year of the Trump, it’s nice to see Baldwin come up with a subtler portrait of a different target. Of course, this sketch is a twofer insofar as Baldwin also appears as Trump, via video.