Saturday Night Live just ended its 47th season with a much-needed deck-clearing; longtime cast members Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Pete Davidson, and Kyle Mooney will not be back for season 48. This seems necessary, due less to creative stagnation (we love you, Li’l Baby Aidy!) than because season 47 was filled to bursting, to the point where it was a minor relief when cast members would disappear for a few weeks to film outside projects — anything to ease the burden of an ensemble that grew to 24 (counting the video-making Please Don’t Destroy trio). Yet there has been an upside to a cast so big that multiple players might sit entire shows out: an eclectic variety of character work, high concepts, and old-fashioned wackiness making up the show’s best sketches of the season. While there have been plenty of funny fake ads, music videos, and other pretaped pieces, a few of which are included below, SNL tends to be at its most thrilling when working within the confines of live sketch comedy. The show still has its weak spots (you will notice a grand total of zero political-comedy cold opens appearing below), but anyone claiming Saturday Night Live isn’t worth watching must have missed these sketches.
It’s no secret that Saturday Night Live can get a little ossified with some of its routines; it first did a parody of The View during Tina Fey’s era, and was still returning to that well as recently as 2019. So it was a particular delight that one of the first sketches of season 47 was this style parody of the View-like all-female talk show, with the freedom to get sillier and weirder. Outside the bounds of celebrity impressions, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, Heidi Gardner, and Ego Nwodim do master-class work with their interlocking absurdities, and host Owen Wilson’s deadpan is perfectly deployed as a doctor who starts picking off the hosts with live COVID test results, despite the fact that they’ve “all been vaccinated dozens, dozens, dozens of times.”
Rami Malek has a weird energy. That’s not a negative judgment — it’s arguably what makes him a compelling actor. But his airy intensity isn’t a natural fit for sketch comedy, and this piece pairing him with Aidy Bryant (who co-wrote, alongside Celeste Yim and the Please Don’t Destroy boys) nails the assignment. Richard (Malek) and Denise (Bryant) try out mattresses at a local store by running through a variety of too-real scenarios, powered by resentment, marital tension, and horniness-inducing violence. The game of the sketch feels both classical (it’s easy to imagine a version of this playing out during the show’s beloved first five years) and improv-informed (the emphasis on yes-and play-acting makes it feel like it could have originally killed as part of a Harold show), and the performers, including Bowen Yang perfectly underplaying his straight-man lines, make it all sing. Is this mattress melodrama Malek’s best work since Mr. Robot?!
There are times when SNL strains a little too hard for relatability, but this sketch consigning host Kieran Culkin to the modern hell of attempting to cancel a cable account is not one of those times. Though it starts off looking like a character showcase for Mikey Day, the sketch stays true to life by cycling Culkin through a seemingly endless chain of representatives, automated announcements, and abrupt hang-ups; anyone who has ever dealt with a cable company will laugh and/or shudder in recognition at the immutable fact that all roads lead to accidentally getting a landline installed.
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge how great Ego Nwodim has been over the last couple seasons of the show. Though she’s not often cast in show-offy roles, her delivery has an unfussy command that can turn a pretty good line into a pretty big laugh, especially when she slips in an unexpected “damn” for emphasis. In this sketch, she’s the pastor’s wife at “The First Damn Baptist Church,” standing up with her husband (Jonathan Majors) to serenely announce the opening up of their marriage, and in several cases she scores just by listing (or in the case of sexual positions, not listing) her marriage’s collective dating preferences with crisp poise. The in-studio audience didn’t seem especially enamored with this one, but it’s the kind of oddly warm character work that should be welcomed in the show’s final half-hour.
SNL was operating with a record-size cast this year, and while the sprawling ensemble could make it hard for performers to gain a foothold in screen time, one of the surprising delights of season 47 was the occasional attempt to mount sketches utilizing as many cast members as possible. In the past, this would typically involve sketches featuring army platoons or sports teams; this holiday-themed sketch is a lot more inventive, bringing out 14 regulars and two guests (host Billie Eilish and friend of the show Miley Cyrus) to bring a fridge door’s worth of holiday cards to life. They’re all here: weird cousins, elderly dogs, and your mom’s single friend who’s looked 52 since you were a baby! The Eilish episode also included an installment of another go-to full-ensemble bit, where everyone does pretaped micro-sketches as part of a fake TikTok scroll. It’s always funny and even more comprehensive, but corralling this many people into a live undertaking feels a bit more in the SNL spirit (and maybe a play for future holiday-compilation inclusion).
Pete Davidson, who ended his surprisingly long SNL tenure with season 47, filled a highly specific slot on the show: the “goofy or wait is he kind of handsome?” young comedian whose limited range is supposed to be part of his charm. Davidson pays tribute to the arguable originator of this role here, doing a clear Adam Sandler voice as Ron Lacatza, co-owner of the Formal Emporium with his wife Donna (Sarah Sherman). It’s not just Davidson who indulges in cartoonish caricature in this sketch; it’s also an ideal vehicle for Sherman’s brash gesticulations and the geeky energy of Andrew Dismukes, who plays the couple’s son Donovan. Donovan is made available to anyone buying a winter-formal dress for their daughter as a potential date and safeguard against teen sex, because he (as Davidson and Sherman explain in perfect pitchman’s unison) “wouldn’t know where to start!” Sherman’s amped-up energy, Davidson’s guttural nattering, and Dismukes’s baleful awkwardness (interrupted only by his enthusiasm for “Get Low”) make an unexpectedly perfect cocktail of performances.
“Dream Home Cousins”
A contingent of SNL writers clearly love weird makeover-show sketches, and this filmed piece has a terrifically horrifying premise: Dream-home plans for Lillian (Heidi Gardner) and her recessive husband Pat (James Austin Johnson) need to be radically altered by the household addition of Pat’s mother Bea (Kate McKinnon), along with her 27-year-old cat Charles-David. It’s especially funny to see some ostentatious cold-open political impressionists tamp their energy way down: McKinnon murmurs her opinions and insults as Bea, while Trump-in-residence Johnson plays so meek he seems ready to simply disappear. The sketch also makes productive use of its non-live production, with frequent cutaways to the revised blueprints for Lillian’s living nightmare.
Real ones had been waiting for a Will Forte hosting gig more or less since he left SNL a dozen years ago, and while the all-Forte episode that finally happened in January 2022 could probably only disappoint, it produced at least one instant classic. Forte plays the host of a Nickelodeon-like kids’ game show who reveals himself as a stern taskmaster when Tatum (Aidy Bryant) fails to find a tiny flag hidden in a giant whipped-cream pie. It’s an inversion of the typical Forte character with a flailing, childlike sense of masculinity; here, Forte maintains cruel, iron-fisted control over game-show-contestant children: “The whipped cream is adversity and the flag is your unfulfilled potential,” he admonishes poor Tatum. The dynamic is enhanced by Bryant, perhaps the best portrayer of child neuroses the show has ever seen. It would make a great one-off, but don’t be surprised to see this sketch recur if Forte hosts again someday.
John Mulaney has ascended to the five-timers club with Steve Martin–esque speed, and every Mulaney hosting gig should come with at least one sketch that feels like something he was dying to do during his original run on the show but never got the chance. This year’s model is an appropriately writerly piece where Mulaney plays a monkey judge named Tango, who speaks with lofty, Mulaney-voiced pronouncements from a monkey point of view (“The court recognizes the shape in the blue with the gray”; “I’m gonna throw a little sand to show dominance”). The clean execution of such a high-concept premise feels like a throwback to the best moments of SNL in the early ’90s.
Some SNL fans are on the internet weekly, registering their discontent that short, punchy videos from writing-performing collective Please Don’t Destroy (Martin Herlihy, John Higgins, and Ben Marshall) are often relegated to the internet. Given the already swollen cast size and sometimes formulaic nature of the PDD videos, though, it’s not shocking that they wouldn’t always make the cut (and it’s worth noting that plenty of other PDD material has made it to air; they co-wrote multiple sketches on this list!). “Good Variant” qualifies as a season highlight for tapping into something that goes a little beyond the group’s usual writing-room mess-arounds: a desperate desire for some good news during a time when COVID (among other disasters) keeps knocking around our hopes of a relatively normal life. Ridiculous as it is, there’s a joyous wistfulness in the thought experiment of a highly contagious disease that makes you feel cool, confident, and sick … at playing synths! The show went understandably lighter on COVID-themed sketches this year, maybe in part because this one so concisely accesses our increasingly absurd hopes.
Readers of the children’s spooky-story book In a Dark, Dark Room will know to be suspicious when they see Sarah Sherman wearing a prominent green ribbon around her neck as this sketch begins, and students of Sherman’s pre-SNL work as Sarah Squirm might suspect that mere decapitation would be too simple for her favored mix of gross-out comedy and body horror. Indeed, Sherman’s character is concealing a group of singing meatball people, surprising and disturbing her date (Chris Redd). In a casting coup, the lead meatball is played by Oscar Isaac, and musical guest Charli XCX jumps in with a keytar. In a crowded season, it was especially refreshing to come upon a sketch that feels like such a clear expression of its star’s sensibilities (by which we mean Sherman also gets to play a meatball-person who spits up black bile).
“Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Blue Bunny”
These two fit together because they’re both tour de forces of sketch-comedy performance, and both play like two-handers by sheer force of will. In “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Bowen Yang plays a man who completely takes over a casual music-recommendation session at brunch with his fervent evangelizing for a marching-band version of Journey’s most famous song (despite seeming to not know very much about said song), which manages to convert exactly one person, played by host Zoë Kravitz. Kravitz rises to the challenge, but Yang shows why he’s destined for SNL stardom as he monologues about the song syncing up perfectly to triumphs on the battlefields of Mario Kart 8.
“Blue Bunny” also sees two lost souls forging an unlikely connection more melancholic in tone: The taste of new ice cream flavors teases out vivid American West–inflected sense memories from two stoic strangers, played by Heidi Gardner and host Benedict Cumberbatch. Gardner, who co-wrote the sketch with Will Stephen, imbues her best characters with the soul of a seasoned character actress, heightening her work just enough to push it into comic territory while somehow staying true to an innate believability.
Last season, Andrew Dismukes seemed like he might be in danger of becoming the show’s next Jon Rudnitsky or Luke Null — affable guys who got lost in the shuffle of a big ensemble, failing to pop out with a beloved character or hooky persona. Instead, Dismukes became a reliable clutch player in season 47, more akin to a nerdier version of Beck Bennett. In a standout Dismukes-led sketch, he commits a Bennett-esque act of undercooked hubris: gambling his financial future on a shelf half-full of Beanie Babies (one of the funniest details of the sketch is that his beloved collection appears to be no larger than a couple dozen). Luckily, he has his Mario-drawing skills to fall back on. That host Lizzo can’t quite keep it together opposite Dismukes seems like a testament to her good taste.
“Chuck E. Cheese”
When the Chuck E. Cheese animatronic band goes down, they’re replaced by Reflection Denied, the restaurant manager’s favorite British band from 1983, played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Bowen Yang. Though Yang amusingly flirts with a “Sprockets” sensibility (as well as recalling the more obscure “Smile Masters”), he and Cumberbatch do an admirable job of sticking to the script (and its refrains of “games and sauce, games and sauce”); SNL assembles a lot of fake bands, but they’re not always carried off with this exacting sense of discipline. No wonder the mom played by the wonderful (if underused this season) Chloe Fineman starts to vibe with it.
“A Peek at Pico”
Melissa Villaseñor’s comic voice hasn’t always come through clearly during her six seasons on SNL, but she finds a charming groove in this pairing with a deadpan Selena Gomez. It hits a lot of SNL sketch-structure standbys: a fake talk show with local-news elements, a like-minded comic duo, and a repeated catchphrase (actually, a matching set: staccato, Spanish-accented utterances of “that’s good” and “that’s sad”). It should wear thin, but there’s a regional specificity to this sketch about Pico Rivera, California, that feels affectionate while still finding room for good old-fashioned silly blocking: At one point, Chris Redd’s rapper stands in the foreground while Villaseñor and Gomez pop out from behind him to augment his song with their catchphrase. Sometimes the show’s repetitions can be maddening; here, “that’s good” and “that’s sad” take on a kind of expressive rhythm reminiscent of “Bronx Beat.” Is it tempting fate to say this sketch should come back next season?
“Grey Adult Pigtails”
Yes, Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon both received touching farewell moments on the season-47 finale, and Natasha Lyonne proved herself a game and skillful sketch comedian in a pinch. So why not finish off with a sketch that manages to combine one more Kate-and-Aidy team-up with some of Lyonne’s energetic character work? It may not have any teary good-byes, but there’s something undeniably sweet about the loopy sight of McKinnon, Bryant, and fellow departing cast member Kyle Mooney swaying together in a polyamorous, pigtail-based clinch.
Honorable Mention: Cut for Time
SNL’s YouTube-enabled habit of putting up one or two extra sketches per week that were ready to run after dress but had to be cut from the live broadcast for time has been manna from heaven for fans of the show’s more idiosyncratic moments. Perhaps owing to the vagaries of live reactions and running times, it’s not unusual for a Cut for Time sketch to be funnier than at least half of what made it to air. These three sketches would have easily been episode highlights had they actually appeared in a proper episode.
Some of the sketches on the Willem Dafoe–hosted episode capitalized on his comic weirdness, but none of them top the inspired daftness of his character stumping for “Nice Jail,” a facility that’s “like regular jail, but nice,” advertised with a litany of clarifications, personal anecdotes about being called a “vampire-head ass,” and questionable testimonials.
Forte fans who were slightly disappointed in his hosting gig should check out this cast-off, where Forte, Bowen Yang, Kate McKinnon, and special guest Kristen Wiig perform an extended musical pitch to revitalize the city of San Francisco with space roller coasters and thousand-foot guitars. Head writer Colin Jost is more often associated with the show’s milquetoast, labored political sketches, but he apparently worked on this one, indicating that he’s retained how to write toward Forte’s talents.
“Weirdos bedevil normal people that include Mikey Day” has not always been the most productive SNL sketch format of recent years, but Cecily Strong and Rami Malek are impeccably cast as weirdos with a specific and ultimately terrifying goal of becoming Airbnb “superhosts,” lending their weirdness an increasing air of menace.