This year’s season of Saturday Night Live was a good one to look at because there were moments when the show was at its best, but also at its most mediocre (the show never got as bad as the terrible Jean Doumanian 1980-1981 years). Some of the guests were strong – in particular Tina Fey, Kerry Washington, and Melissa McCarthy, while others disappointed (I’m looking at you, Mr. Jim Parsons). So, here’s a look at some of the high and low lights of the 39th season.
Best Host: The best host this year is a neck-in-neck between Kerry Washington and Melissa McCarthy. Washington’s job was all the more profound because she performed at the height of the SNL diversity issue when cast member Kenan Thompson opined that the reason behind the paucity of black comediennes on the show was that no black comedienne was “ready” yet – Washington proved that if Scandal ever got boring she could jump ship and join the cast. In the show’s excellent cold open, she skewered the show’s inability to spoof Beyonce, Michelle Obama, or Oprah Winfrey by having the TV star play all three women, running out of breath.
McCarthy’s performance was less buzzy only because it was Seth Myers’ last show. Still, she predictably killed, outshinding all of the cast members, who knew it best to just step aside and let a pro like she take over.
Honorable mentions: Tina Fey, as always, was great, though her episode featured some “eh” sketches. Louis C.K., like Fey, was brilliant, but again, was stuck in a show that may have had a couple funny sketches, but a lot of so-so stuff, too…Drake was excellent, too – and if the scripts were more consistent, his episode would’ve been a classic.
Surprisingly competent hosts: Miley Cyrus proved that she’s a pretty resourceful comedienne, though she knew it best to let the cast carry the episode. Lady Gaga, like Cyrus, showed that she was more than just a pop star.
Surprising disappointments: The biggest disappointment was longtime SNL host, John Goodman. He’s a great guy – a really funny comedian, who normally rules when he hosts SNL, but on his last hosting gig, he seemed a bit tired, thought he could coast on his considerable charm.
Jonah Hill’s episode was also surprisingly dull and safe as was Lena Dunham’s, which didn’t take advantage of her quirky intelligence.
Worst host: Worst host had to be Jim Parsons. A normally wonderful comedic actor who is tremendous on a weekly basis on The Big Bang Theory, showed that the live sketch format may not be the best vehicle for Parson’s interesting talent. He’s a much-respected theater actor (he got good notices for his stage work in Harvey and The Normal Heart), but showed at this point, he’s only too willing to coast on his iconic Big Bang persona.
Cast MVP: Even though the season was just ho-hum, one cast member proved that she has the chops to stand proudly alongside Darrel Hammond, Will Ferrell, Kristin Wiig, and Amy Poehler. I’m talking about the comedic chameleon: Kate McKinnon. Not only is she good with impressions, she’s also a master at creating characters, finding the weird idiosyncrasies in the people she plays on television.
Honorable mentions: Taran Killam, Aidy Bryant, and Cecily Strong were great, and if McKinnon wasn’t on the show, one of them would’ve been MVP.
Cast members that should be benched: I think Noel Wells and Brooks Wheelan are both talented performers, but haven’t been able to do much. Wells had her 15 minutes with her Lena Dunham impression, but poor Wheelen didn’t even have that.
Which of the new guys are safe: Beck Bennett, Colin Jost, Kyle Mooney, Mike O’Brien, Sasheer Zamata.
Bennett’s good and has a classic-in-the-making recurring character of the grown up baby man…I didn’t like it so much, but reviewers loved it.
Colin Jost is the head writers, so even if he’s not great Weekend Update anchor, he’s not leaving. Zamata’s staying – though she’s not been given the opportunities she deserves (the lady’s very funny and is due better material).
Mooney and O’Brien are too creative and distinct to be let go – and they’re just the sort of comedian that SNL needs – bright, inventive voices that go against the convention.
Best appearance of former cast member: Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Adam Samberg all hosted, but the best appearance has to be Maya Rudolph’s show-stopping cameo as Beyonce on Charlize Theron’s show. Amy Poehler also soaked up much audience love when she showed up to celebrate Seth Myers’ goodbye. And though all he did was crash Samberg’s monologue, I loved seeing Martin Short – who should host again.
Best sketch: Not surprising, the best sketch of the season came from McCarthy’s excellent episode. During a women’s group over white wine and inspirational collages, McCarthy’s creepy mafia hitwoman was tops. She wisely underplayed the role, which could’ve gone crazy overblown. McCarthy’s a brilliant actress on top of being a consummate sketch actress, but she’s supported by a great cast of comediennes set the tone, each playing a variation on the glazed-eyed suburban wife.
Honorable mention: I gotta admit the “Dykes and Fat” sketch almost made it as best – Bryant and McKinnon star as the Cagney & Lacey-like duo who appropriate slurs that some may have thrown against them. The sketch was only a fake opening credit – and should be expanded into a full-blown sketch.
Worst sketch: Jim Parsons starred in a shitty sketch – literally, a shitty sketch about a business exec who’s trying to get out of the building as soon as he can because he shat his paints. Yup. Emmy winning comedian Jim Parsons had to suffer through a shit-in-his-pants sketch.
Best recurring character: Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong give incredible performances as Morgan and Kyra, respectively on “The Girlfriends Talk Show” – I love the poignant drama surrounding their unequal friendship, particularly how Bryant’s Morgan is grasping at their relationship as her sole source of a social life. And her immaturity in face of Strong’s more stable Kyra is beautifully played.
Honorable mentions: Taran Killam’s Jebidiah Atkinson is very funny. Killam always plays his characters with a heavy dose of queeny bitchiness, but Jebidiah’s appalled reviews on Weekend Update are great.
Vanessa Bayer has a few recurring characters that are strong, surprising, since she’s often not used terribly well. She and Strong play the ex-porn stars is good, and she’s also hilarious as the world’s worst child actress, Laura Parsons, who acts in child-parodies of movies. And I love, love, love Jacob, the Bar Mitzvah Boy, and even though Seth Myers is gone (he and Bayer had great chemistry on Update), Jacob’s adorably awkward around Strong.
Worst recurring character: Bobby Moynihan and Strong play Niff and Dana – the two abusive retail workers who berate their coworkers with progressively more elaborate and hurtful insults. A one-note joke that failed two talented performers.
Best faux music video: On Washington’s episode, she headlined a wonderful parody of “What Does the Fox Say?” with “What Does My Girl Say?” in which she plays the possessive, nagging girlfriend to Jay Pharoah’s player. In an episode of amazing surprises, she ups the ante with a great, poker-faced performance in the on-point parody.
Honorable mentions for best faux music video: Cyrus’ episode was very hit-and-miss, but she was great as Michele Bachmann, with a very tan Killam who plays John Boehner, in a lascivious parody of her pop hit “We Can’t Stop” referencing the government shutdown.
Drake, Zamata, Killam, and Pharoah are hilarious in “Resolution Revolution” that has the performers sing about their failed New Years resolutions.