Saturday Night Live: the 10 best sketches from the 44th season

Zach Vasquez

Saturday Night Live finished its 44th season this past weekend – which means it’s time to look back at the period’s best moments. If there’s anything to be gleaned from this highly subjective list, it’s that the show is at its best when avoiding political and pop culture headlines (which, to be fair, no one seems up to the task of adequately satirizing any more), and instead focusing on weirdness and idiosyncrasy.

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So here are 10 of the best sketches from this past season:

10. Colin Jost and Michael Che swap jokes

Much of the critical ire aimed at the show these days is directed specifically at Weekend Update hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che – and for good reason. At best, Jost and Che come across as bland and indifferent; at worst, as smarmy frat boys. But when the duo wrote jokes for one another and forced each other to read them on air, sight unseen, they showed they have the potential to use that same unlikability to their advantage. The malicious, envelope-pushing humor they display here is funny beyond its shock value, especially the edgy racial material written by Che for Jost.

 

9. Paranormal Occurrence

Of all of Kate McKinnon’s recurring weirdo characters, there’s none so consistently hilarious as Coleen Rafferty – the unflappable, chain-smoking southern schlemiel who finds herself on the disgusting end of some paranormal mischief. The character made two appearances this year, and while both were excellent, the first gets the edge thanks to its particularly creative references to genitalia.

 

8. Bodega Bathroom

This high-concept parody of Broadway and movie musicals – everything from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to Rent – set around a filthy New York bodega bathroom manages to make excellent use of almost the entire cast while juggling a series of difficult songs and impressive costumes, props and staging.

 

7. HSN

This deranged and profane sketch about a guest on the Home Shopping Network who leaves her wares in the Uber she took to the studio and then proceeds to verbally immolate herself on live TV is a masterclass of ratcheting hilarity. Cecily Strong is wonderful as the sympathetic but psychotic loser at its center, and things get even better when Aidy Bryant shows up as her monstrous mother and pulls everything into full-blown southern Gothic territory. Credit as well to host Claire Foy, whose subtle reactions are as good as the others’ histrionics.

 

6. Opera Man Returns

When it was announced that Adam Sandler would be returning to SNL for the first time since he was fired over two decades ago, hopes ran high that he’d bring back some of his memorable characters. While Canteen Boy was nowhere to be found, Opera Man did make a glorious return to the Weekend Update desk. Sandler showed he still has the chops to pull off the character, while reminding us of what a great performer he can be when his heart is in the material.

 

5. Charmin

James McAvoy was one of the best hosts of the season, and this sketch – which finds a focus group made up of idiots answering questions about a Charmin toilet paper commercial – was the clear breakout from his episode. His scatalogically obsessed Philly meathead proved an instantly classic character, and if SNL is smart it’ll find an excuse to bring him back every couple of years to reprise the role.

 

4. Weezer

From thinkpieces to Reddit forums to entire podcasts, the question of when (or more generously, if) Weezer went downhill has given music nerds plenty to debate. SNL managed to capture this very specific argument beautifully in the standout sketch from its Christmas episode. While viewers unfamiliar with the alt-pop-punk icons might have been left scratching their heads, this was a true gift for fans (and detractors) of the group.

 

3. What’s That Name?

Already a sharp takedown of deeply ingrained cultural misogyny, what truly elevates this sketch is the psychological game of cat-and-mouse that develops between sinister talkshow host Vince Blake (Bill Hader) and “dumb donkey” contestant Todd (John Mulaney). Given their history as creative partners, it’s no surprise Hader and Mulaney displayed the best chemistry to be found anywhere within this season.

 

2. Chris Farley Tribute

Adam Sandler’s homecoming provided one of the most moving moments in the history of Saturday Night Live when the comedian performed a tribute to fellow SNL alumnus and best friend Chris Farley, who died in 1997. The show had paid tribute to Farley on previous occasions, but none felt truly adequate until now. That Sandler’s tribute was allowed to close out the show made it all the more powerful.

 

1. Career Day

The funniest, most gonzo, most rewatchable sketch of the entire season came during its first episode. As decrepit but fiery oil baron Abraham H Parnassus, Adam Driver turned in a character for the ages – a cross between The Simpsons’ Monty Burns and There Will Be Blood’s Daniel Plainview, all by way of Vincent Price (Driver’s impression even managed to eclipse Hader’s). Everything in this sketch is pure gold – every line of dialogue, every choice Driver makes, every interaction he has with the rest of the cast. Even Davidson’s breaking adds to the electricity of it all. Parnassus could probably carry an entire movie, but for now we’ll have to settle for this perfect five-minute sketch.