With the departures of cast workhorses Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig prior to the 2012–13 season, Saturday Night Live writers had some big shoes — and quite a bit of airtime — to fill. Not every sketch was perfect, of course, but they and the remaining cast members still managed to knock out a pretty solid season, especially for a transition year. Here are the sketches and shorts we enjoyed the most.
10. “Dylan McDermott or Dermot Mulroney” from the Jamie Foxx episode
A game show in which contestants simply have to tell Dylan McDermott from Dermot Mulroney might not seem like the freshest sketch idea, considering both guys have been around for a while. But if anything, that just boosted the irreverence of it. The sketch does a great job of heightening and heightening what is funny about the premise (Derbel McDillet!). The twist of having Dermot Mulroney (Wait, or is it Dylan McDermott? No, it’s Mulroney) show up and also be confused was just perfect.
9. “Undecided Voter” from the Joseph Gordon-Levitt episode
Political satire hasn’t particularly been a strength of the show recently, usually coming off flat and relegated to the cold open. And the 2012 presidential election wasn’t the fountain of comedy the previous elections have been. There just wasn’t anyone silly enough to constantly poke fun at. However, “Undecided Voter” might’ve found the silliest people of them all: voters who couldn’t decide between two very different candidates. A fake political ad in which undecided voters ask questions like, “We hear a lot about our dependence on foreign oil, but just what is oil?” nails how bizarrely smug the uninformed can be.
8. “Puppet Class” from the Seth MacFarlane episode
“Puppet Class” is a solid enough premise for a sketch: What if a grizzled war veteran attends a puppet-making class? But Bill Hader’s performance makes it one of the best of the season. It’s just such a great visual: Hader, with a matching puppet, vividly describing the destruction of a small village. The highlight is when Hader’s character is asked to choose a new voice for his puppet and, like that, Hader starts talking like a southern rube. When pressed to tell us more about him, Hader instantly switches back to the first voice and growls, “He was another grunt in my platoon.” Hader will be missed.
7. “Lincoln” from the Louis C.K. episode
Of course it helps to have the man himself there, but it’s impressive just how pitch-perfect this Louie parody is. This was right about when Lincoln came out and the pairing was a slam dunk. To have President Lincoln awkwardly try to start-up a conversation with a recently emancipated slave, because he doesn’t have any black friends is brilliant. Considering how often in the movie the president told jokes, it’s like seeing what could’ve been.
6. “Swarovski Crystals” from the Jamie Foxx episode
The Swarovski Crystals girls were the season’s only real breakout new characters. And what weird, surprisingly crass characters they are. Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong nail these two dead-eyed ex-porn stars whose brains don’t function because they were “banged off its axis,” but can still notice the sparkle of Swarovski crystals. Because it’s SNL, these two will continue to appear over and over again until we are sick of them, and then probably another two times. However, three times in (including an impressively vulgar one with Ben Affleck), we still love these dumb idiots – even with one losing part of her foot in someone’s butt.
5. “History of Punk” from the Vince Vaughn episode
The morning after this episode aired, Seth Meyers tweeted: “Fred Armisen was born to play Ian Rubbish in ‘History of Punk.’” That is an accurate assessment. It’s amazing we hadn’t seen Ian Rubbish or a character like him before in Armisen’s eleven seasons on SNL and three seasons of Portlandia. It took the passing of Margaret Thatcher to produce this spot-on version of a first-wave British punk, who surprisingly has very conservative politics. The songs were really good and featured lyrics like “Sweet iron lady/I want to kiss your iron fist/You crushed the Argentinians/You killed a few, they won’t be missed.” The sketch worked because behind the satirical elements was a sweetness in making the point that, in a bizarre way, Thatcher was so important to the history of punk.
4. “Maine Justice” from the Jamie Foxx Episode
Sometimes with SNL, people will talk about concept-driven sketches versus character-driven sketches. Broadly, it’s the difference between a strange character in a normal world and a normal character in a strange world. “Maine Justice” is both. It might be because, according to Jaime Foxx, Jason Sudeikis has been pitching it for a long time, so he figured out how to walk that fine line of not just being crazy town. It’s not a surprise it took so long to get on the air; it’s not the simplest premise: a courtroom in Maine in which, for some reason, everyone but the defendant acts like they’re from New Orleans. It works because Bobby Moynihan nails the “what the hell is going on here?” guy, who acts as the audience surrogate voicing confusion. The character at the center is Sudeikis’s flamboyant Cajun judge, who gets more and more fired up, to the point that Jamie Foxx breaks. They tried to do the sketch again during the Justin Timberlake episode, but it didn’t work. The key is just how disorienting it is the first time.
3. “Outside the Lines” from the Melissa McCarthy episode
Melissa McCarthy’s episode was hands down the season’s best and this was the best sketch of the evening. It’s a simple idea – a mean division-three women’s basketball coach – but McCarthy is so, so, so funny in it. Whether it is making her player eat bread she threw on the ground or throwing a toaster (because the player was toast), the sketch just escalates and escalates as McCarthy grows more hilariously terrifying. As is often the case, sometimes you just need to get out of the way and let one of world’s funniest humans be super funny.
2. “Sad Mouse” from the Bruno Mars episode
With Andy Samberg gone, SNL had to fill the digital short void. “Sad Mouse” was the most successful of the season, by being basically the antithesis of the Lonely Island. (In an interview, its writer Mike O’Brien, joked about the difference: “So instead of those hilarious raps, we’re gonna have a really depressing thing about a guy who got broken up with!”) Instead of big, broad, and goofy, “Sad Mouse” is stunning in how minor and simple it is. Its ability to tell a brief story that is both really funny and really poignant makes it feel like something from an earlier era. It’s a classic.
1. “Darrell’s House” from the Zach Galifianakis episode
There’s a part of Saturday Night Live that gets less credit than it once did, now almost 40 seasons in: the whole “live” part. Watching the show on Hulu removes some of the anticipation that watching the show live on TV offers. “Darrell’s House” highlights exactly that. It operates on the super-weird premise of Zach Galifianakis as a real Zach Galifianakis–type who wants host a talk show in his house, but constantly messes up and asks someone offscreen to edit things in post. On TV, the sketch ends and you’re mostly left wondering if they’re actually going to show the edited version. If you watch it on Hulu you’ll see “Darrell’s House II” and you wouldn’t think twice, but live there is an excitement over finally getting the payoff later in the episode. Beyond being hilarious, it’s great to see the show still able to play with its form so long into its run.