Please permit me one sports digression to explain the concept of this article.
At the end of each NBA season, all the prominent writers and broadcasters who cover basketball vote for what are called the “All-NBA” teams. Each “team” consists of 5 players at different positions, like a real basketball team. The “first team”, then, represents the five best players in the NBA at their respective positions (at least according to the voters). The “second team” would be the second-best players at each position, and the “third team” would be the third-best. Generally, when you look back at the All-NBA teams for a given season, you get a pretty complete picture of what was going on in the NBA at that point in time.
‘Saturday Night Live’ recently completed its 38th season, so what better way to wrap up the year by introducing the “All-SNL” team! One twist: instead of singling out specific cast members (something that would go against the communal spirit of ‘SNL’, especially in a year like this without a single breakout star), we’re going to be talking about sketches.
In other words, this is my attempt to answer the question, “What would this season’s perfect ‘SNL’ episode look like?”
To do that, I’m not just going to count down the best 10 sketches, because like an NBA team, an episode of ‘SNL’ consists of many distinct parts. Here’s what I’ve settled on:
2 Pre-Recorded bits (“Digital Shorts”, as it were)
1 Weekend Update
2 Musical Performances
For the purposes of keeping this under 5,000 words, let’s just do a “first team” and toss in some honorable mentions as we go. Feel free to chime in with your own favorites in the comments!
Without further ado, here are my SEASON 38 ALL-SNL selections!
HOST: Christoph Waltz
Honorable Mentions: Justin Timberlake, Melissa McCarthy
While Timberlake’s episode was probably my favorite of the season, I’m giving the nod to Waltz for the sheer joy he brought to the proceedings. Not only is Waltz supremely talented and up for anything, he was positively gleeful throughout the night, bringing so much positive energy that you couldn’t help but smile. While Timberlake is an ‘SNL’ institution at this point, you do have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting when he hosts. With Waltz, the only thing you know you’re getting is 100% commitment.
Honorable Mention: Nuva Bling
Not a big year for commercials on ‘SNL’, but this one probably made me laugh the most. Basically, Tim Robinson has a “Z-Shirt”, and Kevin Hart starts going letter-by-letter through the alphabet trying to guess the letter (“IS IT AN A-SHIRT?!”). It sounds terrible when you write it out, but Hart’s insane energy sells it, and Robinson’s “You are dead behind those eyes” is one of the lines of the season.
PRE-RECORDED/DIGITAL SHORT #1: Lincoln
If I was giving out an “MVP” award for the single best thing ‘SNL’ did this year, “Lincoln” would probably be the favorite. An absolutely brilliant premise – a ‘Louie’-style show about Abraham Lincoln, with Louis CK as Lincoln himself – is trumped by even better execution. From CK on stage doing a perfect recreation of what his act would look like if he was actually Lincoln, to his uncomfortable interactions with his wife and recently freed slaves, ‘Lincoln’ knocks it out of the park from start to finish.
PRE-RECORDED/DIGITAL SHORT #2: Djesus Uncrossed
Honorable Mention: Sad Mouse, The Sopranos Diaries
Tough competition for this spot, but I’ll go with ‘Djesus Uncrossed’, a pitch-perfect Quentin Tarantino parody starring Christoph Waltz as Jesus himself. “The H is silent.”
WEEKEND UPDATE: Drunk Uncle / Peter Drunklage
Honorable Mention: Stefon’s Farewell
The final Stefon appearance is certainly the most memorable thing to happen on ‘Weekend Update’ this season, but the funniest was Peter Dinklage’s legendary appearance as “Peter Drunklage” alongside Bobby Moynihan’s ‘Drunk Uncle’.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE #1: Frank Ocean, “Pyramids”
Heartfelt, ethereal arrangement of Ocean’s magnum opus, “Pyramids”, the 10-minute long centerpiece of his triumphant ‘Channel Orange’. Capped off with a John Mayer guitar solo, because why not. The entire thing is kicked up a level by the unintentional comedy of Mayer standing around doing nothing for 90% of the performance.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE #2: Kanye West, “Black Skinhead”
Still not sure I’m comfortable enough with this performance to talk about it, but my goodness. Kanye brought the energy and did not disappoint.
SKETCH #1: Introduction to Puppetry
The consensus best original sketch of the season (certainly the best non-recurring live sketch), and for good reason. This is a Bill Hader tour de force from start to finish, and even more than Stefon this serves as a reminder of just how much Hader will be missed next fall.
SKETCH #2: Reformed Porn Stars
Probably the breakout new recurring sketch, Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong absolutely nail it as former porn stars filming their own low-budget commercials for products. These sketches mostly serve as a vehicle to deliver the DIRTIEST jokes ‘SNL’ can get away with, but I’m not complaining.
SKETCH #3: Maine Justice
Are they…living in Maine? Is Maine in New Orleans? Are these displaced New Orleans natives who have moved to Maine? What’s going on here? It’s all total nonsense, but that’s the point. A delight from beginning to end.
SKETCH #4: The Jamarcus Brothers
I don’t know, man, this one just gets me. Waltz is so, so goofy.
SKETCH #5: Pandora
Honorable Mentions: Royal Family Doctor, Donnelly’s, What’s Up With That?, It’s a Date, Darrell’s House
Gotta give Bruno Mars some love for an out-of-this-world performance in this sketch, where Pandora Radio goes down and Mars, playing an intern, steps in to sing the songs. Not particularly funny, but a great, memorable performance.
So there you have it! My first-ever “All-SNL” Team. Hey, let’s go ahead and fill out an MVP ballot as well, for my THREE FAVORITE THINGS ON SNL this season:
2) Introduction to Puppetry
3) Peter Drunklage
Until season 39!