The Best SNL Sketches of the Last 10 Years

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The post The Best SNL Sketches of the Last 10 Years appeared first on Consequence.

Because Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels has actively avoided the kinds of major cast shake-ups that the show weathered in the ’80s and ’90s, it’s become harder to define recent eras of the show.

The Aykroyd/Belushi/Radner/Murray era is easy; 1975 until 1980. The Carvey/Hartman/Myers era is easy; 1986 until 1995. But Kenan Thompson has been on SNL for 19 seasons. Kate McKinnon was on for a solid decade. More than ever, large chunks of the ensemble don’t disappear; instead, casts bleed into one another. When McKinnon started on the show, Kristen Wiig was still there. At the same time, some of her other early cast members will still be around next fall when the show returns for Season 48.

Well, maybe. The departure of McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Pete Davidson, and Kyle Mooney does feel like the end of some kind of era — a feeling that will be even more pronounced if anyone else leaves before the start of Season 48 in Fall 2022. (Cecily Strong appeared poised to leave a year ago, so it’s a little surprising that she hasn’t yet made a decision about what will be her 11th season.)

Now that several mainstays have left, we can go back and call Season 39 (2013-2014) through the just-completed Season 47 (2021-2022) the Kate/Aidy/Cecily era of the show. McKinnon, Bryant, and Strong were hardly the only major talent of this period, but their work apart and together helped to define the sensibility of SNL for the past 10 years —while plenty of their co-stars from early on are long gone, Season 39 was also the approximate dawn of Kyle Mooney, Beck Bennett, and the on-camera presence of Colin Jost; Pete Davidson and Michael Che both followed in Season 40.

So let’s toast this newly defined Kate/Aidy/Cecily era with an overview of its best sketches. Cast members who started earlier (Bobby Moynihan), left earlier (Vanessa Bayer), or are presumed to stick around next year (Heidi Gardner; Ego Nwodim) will appear, but the sketch choices will be rooted in the core of McKinnon, Bryant, Strong, Bennett, and Mooney.

“(Do It On My) Twin Bed” and “Back Home Baller”

When the show lost Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island pals back in 2012, SNL music became more of a free-for-all with Chris Redd, Pete Davidson, and Mooney/Bennett all trying their hands at the form, mostly to good effect. But it’s hard to top this pair of bangers from the show’s female cast members, where they apply pop-diva swagger to twenty-and-thirtysomething rituals of returning home for the holidays. Like the best Lonely Island numbers, they marry funny visuals to genuinely catchy tunes; “Twin Bed” in particular will stick in your head for weeks on end.

“Diner Lobster”

Granted, John Mulaney was probably always fated to do multiple SNL hosting gigs, what with his beloved stand-up act, facility with live performance, and ties to the show where he worked for years as a writer. But it really feels like “Diner Lobster” is the sketch that created his lightning-fast rise to five-timer status — an immediately beloved epic that pairs the inexplicable act of ordering lobster off a diner menu with a song score modified from Les Miserables.

At the very least, it inspired Mulaney to mount a Broadway-centric musical sketch for every episode he’s hosted since. By mixing and matching songs from other musicals, and choosing broader topics than “ordering lobster from a diner menu,” Mulaney has helped to craft some enjoyable musical revues. The thing is, none of them match the single-minded zeal of this New Yorker’s delight. The original “Diner Lobster” is a full-on tour de force — and includes just one example of how perennial Weekend Update guest Pete Davidson was actually pretty funny in sketches, too.

“America’s Funniest Cats”

One of the most delightful revelations about Adam Driver’s remarkable career: As it turns out, the man is simply excellent at sketch comedy. Many fans prefer the sketch where he plays a deranged old-timey oil man, but “America’s Funniest Cats,” wherein Driver plays a dorky cat-video commentator who meets a couple of blasé French women (Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon) who attempt to reproduce his video commentary with stereotypically French results. As Driver goes broad and goofy, Strong and McKinnon underplay perfectly, attempting to reproduce American sound-effects comedy with accented utterances of “boy-yoy-yoing.”

“Romano Tours”

Adam Sandler returned to host SNL multiple decades after his original run, and this low-key showcase takes great advantage of his middle-aged energy, as his pitchman (based on a real guy) extols the virtues of a vacation in Italy while also making himself clear about its limitations: “If you’re sad now, you might still feel sad there.” It’s not just funny; it’s genuinely wise.

“Haunted Elevator”

There’s not much more to be said about David S. Pumpkins at this point. This instant classic will be inspiring Halloween costumes until the end of time.

“Girlfriends Talk Show”/ “Waterbed Warehouse”

Within Aidy Bryant’s impressive range as a performer are two particular types she excels at playing: The insecure women (or girls) just trying their best and still overwhelmed by the world, and grand dames of nonsense. “Girlfriends Talk Show,” one of the best recurring sketches of this era, develops Bryant’s more vulnerable side as the perpetually flustered Morgan, nerdy and serious-minded best friend of Kira (Cecily Strong), who seems to be forever seeking out cooler girls to hang with.

The flip side of this character did not have quite so much screentime: Janine, the boundlessly self-confident entertainer of “Waterbed Warehouse,” only appeared once more, in a sketch that was cut for time, but vaguely implies Janine is marrying her way around various local businesses and steamrolling her various husbands in hopes of jump-starting a showbiz career. Regardless of her backstory, Janine’s hilariously bombastic jingles (“our waterbeds are the beehhhhhhhst!”) have Bryant’s inimitable flair.

The Totino’s Trilogy

SNL has become somewhat less dependent on commercial parodies in recent years, with other types of filmed pieces jostling for airtime, and their fake ads just as likely to take the form of a ridiculous direct-to-camera live sketch, advertising a product or service that makes no sense.

Their slow-building trilogy of Super Bowl-themed ads for Totino’s Pizza Rolls, however, actually take satirical aim at a particular type of commercial, exploring the psychological life (and sometimes physical horrors!) of a cheerful wife (Vanessa Bayer) who’s all too happy to keep feeding snacks to her “hungry guys” — until she’s not.

“Gemma”

This era of SNL pulled back on recurring characters, something Michael Che has attributed to the rise of YouTube and the ease with which previous iterations of a character or sketch can be accessed. Characters from this era still pop up again, but they tend to be more spaced out and less attention-grabbing — like Gemma, Cecily Strong’s character who’s also kind of a side player in her own recurring bit.

She’s a British pop singer who accompanies a series of loud, uncouth men (always the show’s host: Dwayne Johnson twice; Benedict Cumberbatch, Jason Momoa, and Keegan Michael-Key other times) who profess to know mild-mannered Gene (Kenan Thompson), usually embarrassing him in front of his wife (Vanessa Bayer).

What’s funny about the sketches is the interplay between the host’s hamming, Strong’s clipped British rhythms, the haplessness of Thompson’s straight-man routine, and secret weapon Bayer, whose growing dismay approaches a kind of transcendence. All five Gemma sketches are funny, but the two that feature Johnson are the purest version of this strange concept.

“The Cut”

Perhaps because of the recent domination from female cast members, SNL has found a great groove with mom-related comedy over the past decade. Sometimes this gets overly sentimental, as with the recent series of filmed pieces that contrast picture-perfect nostalgia with messy realities, only to tag the whole thing with sickly-sweet sincerity at the end.

But sometimes they’re able to stay sharp, even when affectionately spoofing mom culture, as with this sketch about “the cut,” the haircut that appears on mothers to signify their changing status in the world. The ensemble’s increasingly cult-like intonations (Aidy: “What has been put in motion cannot be undone”) really sell the hell out of an already well-written sketch.

“Wells for Boys”/ “Papyrus”

Julio Torres wrote a lot of great stuff for SNL, but for a while his zone seemed to be filmed pieces that could give a globally famous host some space to really obsess over a particular sociocultural corner. “Wells for Boys” with Emma Stone is a masterpiece in miniature, and “Papyrus” will certainly be recirculated when Avatar 2 finally drops.

“Weezer”

Leslie Jones combined several different modes of old-school SNL star: She came from stand-up like a lot of the ’90s guys, and she didn’t indulge in the late-breaking trend of staying on the show for seven to 10 seasons. Her sheer force of personality was such that she often played herself, even in sketches, and could will plenty of rote bits to life with her boisterous delivery.

But she could play against her presumed type, too; in this face-off with Matt Damon, she spouts off as a hardcore Weezer originalist who won’t acknowledge anything the band did after their 1996 classic Pinkerton.

Damon, meanwhile, holds his own as a Weezer fan so dedicated that he calls “Pork and Beans” better than “Buddy Holly.” It’s fair to say that neither Jones nor Damon likely give much of a damn about Weezer in real life, yet their sparring is hilariously convincing. The performers bring what was obviously some kind of writers’ room dispute to delightfully nerdy life.

“The Last Fry”

Though Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney made videos clearly intended to serve as heirs to the Lonely Island “Digital Short” throne, they rarely attained the Digital Shorts’ crowd-pleasing virality — which in retrospect feels necessary, both as a scaling-back of expectations and as a means of giving them more freedom to get weird, awkward, off-putting, and frequently hilarious. Sometimes they’d sneak in at 12:50AM, occasionally they’d score a prime slot on the show, and just as often they’d be cut from the broadcast entirely.

So it’s only appropriate that the ultimate Bennett/Mooney video would be one that never actually aired on SNL. This quasi-throwback music video, pushing pettiness and nostalgia while the world panics about a genuine looking disaster, is not only a funny concept, but a fairly devastating self-critique of how Good Neighbor (the Mooney/Bennett equivalent of Lonely Island) fixates on pop-culture detritus from a very particular time period.

“Best Buy”

It’s the rare SNL sketch premise that might get funnier with repetition: In job after job, a meeting is called, at which point two employees played by Cecily Strong and Bobby Moynihan immediately assume that they’re about to be fired, and engage in pre-emptive scorched-earth shit-talking before finding out, well, you can probably guess the ending.

These characters appeared multiple times early in Strong’s tenure on the show, and while they generally have an unusually high hit rate, this particular installment gets the nod for its Baby Jessica reference.

“Singing Sisters”

“Do we look like what we’re supposed to?” Amy Adams syncs up perfectly with McKinnon and Strong in this holiday-themed weirdness that almost feels like it could be a Kids in the Hall sketch.

“Study Buddy”

McKinnon and Bryant frequently brought out the best in each other, and while sometimes that involves going very silly (see the cop spoof “Dyke and Fats”), it’s most gratifying to see them really dig into their talent for character work. This sketch has them playing two nerdy teenage boys strategizing in real time as one of them gets an unexpected chance at love, and they’re shockingly convincing despite playing across age and gender lines. It’s a great reminder that sketch-comedy acting can be as complicated and thrilling as more serious endeavors.

“100 Days in the Jungle”

This Survivor spoof feels like a standard “one weirdo a group of three” set-up (something the show ably deconstructed just a few weeks ago) but Russell Crowe does exemplary work as Terry, the “uncle’s friend” serving as an unexpected loved-one visitation to survival-game-show contestant Pete Davidson. The fact that the crowd didn’t really vibe with Terry either makes it all the funnier.

“Dino Bones”/ “Corporate Retreat”

A couple more for the weirdos, and if you’re a world-famous actress who wants to play a weirdo with a vocal affectation, there is apparently no better scene partner than Cecily Strong.

“Winter Formal”

This recent favorite is much heavier on the newer class, with juicy parts for Sarah Sherman and Andrew Dismukes. But again proving his sketch bona fides, Pete Davidson anchors the whole thing with a surprisingly credible Adam Sandler voice, playing the patriarch of a dress emporium that will also rent you a rigged limo, or a date with their hapless son (Dismukes), who by his very nature guarantees that any girl will go untouched at the school dance.

For the Real Ones: “Flight Attendants”/”Chocolate Man”

When Amy Schumer hosted in 2015, she did a sketch with Vanessa Bayer about flight attendants attempting to communicate the safety routine via a Spice Girls-scored dance routine. Presumably due to music rights, this sketch has been more or less scrubbed from the internet—and it’s a shame, because it fuses the satirical absurdities of Inside Amy Schumer with the broadness of live TV comedy. (In her memoir, Schumer called it one of her favorite things she’s ever performed.)

Music rights may have also scotched Beck Bennett’s intentionally off-putting and absolutely hilarious “Chocolate Man” sketch (though it seems bizarre that a couple of brief, unaccompanied bastardizations of “One Week” and “The Pina Colada Song” wouldn’t count as allowable parody), so it will have to live forever through the good graces of other sources.

The Best SNL Sketches of the Last 10 Years
Jesse Hassenger

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