This list includes sketches & a few Weekend Update segments that were, in my own opinion, 15 of the strongest highlights of the the first half SNL’s strong 40th season. I’m not going in any particular order this time around – after much toiling, here are 15 things that made me laugh, got me interested in the construction of the writing, or made me laugh really hard.
So, here we go!
1. Puppet Class (Bill Hader, Killam, Strong, Moynihan)
Anthony Peter Coleman may be one of Bill Hader’s best characters ever to air (or one of the best characters, period). I hope he hosts again sometimes and gives us a third installment. https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/puppet-class-071109449.html
2. Back Home Ballers (Diaz, Zamata, McKinnon, Strong, Diaz, Jones, Bayer)
Everything about this is pure genius. I’d be okay with a Mooney/Bennett early 90s sitcom knock-off every week in 2015. A little kid peer-pressures Chris Pratt into stealing Beck Bennett’s ball with a gun so they can play in the house for 4 seconds…what’s not to like about this? https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/bad-boys-081547652.html
5. Match’d (Harrelson, Strong, Bennett, Mooney, Killam) Great sketch writing example #1. I will laugh at this every time I see it. Also, everything about these executions are perfect. Cecily Strong is a perfect MTV voice/personality, and the reactions of each guy when Woody Harrelson’s host drops the bomb is solid. https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/match-39-d-091104169.html
Great example of good sketch writing #2. (I believe Michael Che wrote this?) I should’ve scored it higher on my scorecard, but it makes such a good point…why 39 cents? Seriously? Anyway, this is a good ‘evergreen sketch’ in that it brings an original idea to the table and could be enjoyed later on as a classic. https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/39-cents-070921029.html
8. Weekend Update: Leslie Jones (Jones, Jost)
Literally any time Leslie Jones is on Update is a true gift. I’m posting this one because Harriet Tubman. But seriously, she brings such life to the Update desk (and the show in general) and has been such a breath of fresh air in the world of comedy. It’s only a matter of time before she’s a big star. Finally, I’d watch a half-hour comedy show of Leslie flirting with Colin Jost. https://screen.yahoo.com/snl-current-season-skits/weekend-leslie-jones-085157061.html
10. Grow-a-Guy (O’Brien, Franco, Bennett, Zamata, Bayer, Davidson)
Mike O’Brien is without a doubt the most interesting SNL writer right now. He has this unique gift for making a mini-story that combines genuine sincerity & meekness with comedy and “what in God’s name am I looking at???” This is a prime example, as well as Monster Pals & Dragon Babies from last spring. Also, He and James Franco make a nice duo in these. https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/grow-guy-085157033.html
11. Wedding Objections (Freeman, Jones, Bennett, Bryant, Bayer, Thompson, Killam, Strong, McKinnon)
Another great piece of sketch writing that could have aired whenever. Everyone delivering their objections is great in this, immediately jumping to the absurdity of this couple being together (especially Vanessa Bayer). The sketch nearly jumps into 3rd gear when Kate McKinnon’s Evelyn stops by to SHUT IT DOWN. https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/wedding-objections-091746876.html
Pete Davidson has done a few ‘Resident Young Person’ appearances, and I believe his first one may have been the best so far. It didn’t even really matter what he was talking about – his charm and grin won over the crowd so quickly that everyone just wanted to see more of this guy. This could be why we started seeing him star shortly thereafter in a few pre-taped segments. But this has been some of his best stuff this fall. https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/weekend-pete-davidson-063116630.html
15. High School Theater Show (Diaz, Bryant, Killam, Bennett, Mooney, McKinnon, Thompson, Bayer)
Truly one of the best pieces of sketch writing this fall – maybe the best. This sketch was also entirely dependent on timing with each line, movement of boxes, choreography, etc. and it hit everything dead on. It’s so great when a live sketch can be this succinct and funny and great to look at. Plus, everything is true about this. I’ve been Kenan Thompson/Vanessa Bayer in the audience looking at these. 100%. https://screen.yahoo.com/snl-current-season-skits/high-school-theater-show-074944587.html
This was Martin Freeman’s first time as host, and I went into this show as open-minded as possible, not really sure what to expect from him. He’s certainly a talented actor who seems to have been game for a lot in his career, but how would he fare with this SNL cast? The answer: pretty darn well! Dare I say, this might be the best show of the season? Check on the scorecard and see if you agree….
COLD OPEN: CHARLIE ROSE (Killam, Moynihan, Mooney)
Some of the individual jokes behind this one are pretty good. (TWC phone calls are my least favorite thing.) But I don’t know…I just didn’t laugh out loud at any of them. Comparing CIA torture methods (terribly uncomfortable labors) with things every day people go through just seemed a little weird though…eh, maybe I’m thinking about it the wrong way. Autocorrect does kind of suck. But I digress: technically, this was still funny and better than the average 2014 SNL cold open. Mooney & Moynihan are pretty great together! Blackometer: 6.5/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/charlie-rose-cold-open-091746560.html
MARTIN FREEMAN MONOLOGUE (Freeman, McKinnon, Killam)
You know, Martin Freeman has some real nice charm. This monologue was just him relaxing, being his charming self, and I really enjoyed watching it. It’s always good to see Alan Rickman on SNL too. It was just fun to see him being himself, and having a jolly good time doing it! Blackometer: 7/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/martin-freeman-monologue-091746395.html
SUMP’N CLAUS (Pharaoh, Davidson, Thompson, Strong, Zamata, Bayer, Mooney, Moynihan, Freeman, Bennett, Bryant)
Oh man. This sketch made me miss Kenan’s “What’s Up with That?” sketches from a few years ago. I usually tend to give things like this more points than they deserve…this may be one of those times. But I mean, come on – from seeing Martin Freeman choke a guy to Sump’n Claus’ back story (which wasn’t as risque as I thought it was going to be but still great) – this was just too much dang fun. More of this, Kenan Thompson. Blackometer: 7.5/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/sump-n-39-claus-091746322.html
WEDDING OBJECTIONS (Freeman, Jones, Bennett, Bryant, Bayer, Thompson, Killam, Strong, McKinnon)
Everyone is concerned about this couple who just met five days ago: a short British guy who own White Castle and a statue-esque WNBA player. The premise is funny, the individual jokes are funny, just…just watch it. If Martin Freeman wants chocolate, who are we to deny him of it? Blackometer: 9/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/wedding-objections-091746876.html
THE OFFICE: MIDDLE EARTH (Freeman, Moynihan, Killam, McKinnon)
Just plain clever. BBC’s The Office crossed with The Hobbit: why not? Good lord, Killam’s Gollum is just tremendous. Also, the makeup department deserves a huge Christmas bonus – it took me 30 seconds into the sketch to realize it was Killam under there, and I still can’t figure out who the orc is (it’s Colin Jost, for all I know). Blackometer: 8.5/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/hobbit-office-091748617.html
RIGHT SIDE OF THE BED (Killam, Strong, Freeman, Mooney, Bryant, McKinnon)
You know…I don’t get it. I don’t get how sketches like last week’s great Ferguson/Morning Talk Show sketch gets cut…but then we get talk show sketches like this, where they randomly throw in a woman whose son was just tortured next to a confused dancing Martin Freeman… (that almost sounded funny saying it, but watching it, I didn’t laugh.) This wasn’t about anything, but Kate McKinnon’s Keith Urban was pretty good. Blackometer: 1.5/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/side-bed-091747760.html
CHURCH (Davidson, Moynihan, Pharaoh, McKinnon, Bryant, Mooney, Strong, Bennett, Killam, Jones)
Between a church upbringing and visits to a good few masses, I have experienced ALL of this. This felt similar to Jason Sudekis’ Underground Film Festival sketches in the past…but for a mass! Blackometer: 8/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/church-100137785.html WEEKEND UPDATE (Jost, Che, Zamata, Strong, Bayer)
What a fun Update this was. First of all, we got Sasheer Zamata front and center! I’ve been waiting for her to have her own breakout-kind of thing this year, and this was great material. As someone who doesn’t like the fact that the black power fist isn’t black, yeah…this was for me. #BabyCharlesBarkley. Cecily Strong’s new one dimensional girl kind of felt like a character Tina Fey would have killed at, and without sounding like I’m making an unfair comparison, Cecily was great in this. Finally, Jacob the Bar-Mitzvah Boy is always fun – not the best rendition of these, but Che was good with him.
As far as our hosts: Jost continues to grow on me a little more each week. And Che…sigh. Poor FDR. Deep cut, man. Individual jokes aside, still waiting on them to something as a duo to really stand out. The individual stuff is good! I just think they need to break away a little more from what Update has been in the past decade to be, more or less, themselves. Stuff they tried last week and in their first two weeks was the strongest for this, in my opinion. I think the Che-Jost Update has all the potential in the world, it just hasn’t broken away from “here’s a joke, here’s a segment” all that much other then the occasional rant. We’ve still got a year, and I’m sure no changes will be made before May, so I’m holding out. These guys are funny, as their non-Update work has proven. But anyway, let’s wait and see. Blackometer: 7.5/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/weekend-part-1-091746938.html https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/weekend-part-2-091746535.html
ASSEMBLY LINE (Killam, Freeman)
This was a fun sketch that felt like an Abbott/Costello routine. However, I’m not sure why it cut off where it did – what does happen now that the light is blue? What’s he gonna do?! Anyway. Blackometer: 7/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/assembly-line-091746862.html
HOLIDAY GIG (Thompson, Freeman, Mooney, Bennett, Bayer, Killam)
Even more What’s Up With That?-esque than Sump’n Claus! Man, this was weird. But weird is fine! This one worked, and I somehow hope it becomes a recurring sketch. I really want to be a part of a performance like this in real life. Kenan saying ‘red boots’ over and over until it became funny is a good example of how SNL relies on him to elevate material in execution. Also, at first I was scared the sketch would leave me in a cliffhanger…but Taran Killam’s Roman fixed all of that curiosity, somehow. It’s worth noting Taran Killam was everywhere tonight. Also, I miss What’s Up with That? Blackometer: 7.5/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/holiday-gig-091748359.html
WATERBED COMMERCIAL (Freeman, Bryant, Killam, Pharaoh)
This was more Aidy Bryant that I think most people can handle. The props dept. definitely win it this week! I hope Aidy gets to keep all of that stuff with her face on it…including the giant face. Blackometer: 6.8/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/waterbed-commercial-091746466.html
Best Sketch of the Night: Wedding Objections Worst Sketch of the Night: Right Side of the Bed Jokes of the Night: “He just adopted the Wu Tang Klan” – Thompson “If there’s one wrong move…JENGA!” – Killam “Of course [running for President is] not an IQ test. It’s also not a lie detector test…or an ethics exam…or a foot race.” – Che Observations: Another solid show in the SNL40 canon! With a first-time host and being one show away from the big Christmas episode, this one could have been lackluster as in recent years…but it’s evident that the writers worked hard to provide good, legitimate sketch comedy for the cast + Freeman to take to the next level. Freeman was good, playing more front-and-center roles than James Franco got last week, and didn’t seem to hold anything back in the process. All around, a fun show!
Last night, James Franco ushered in the first of our SNL Christmas shows! SNL has been pretty solid thus far in season 40, but there was something interesting about last night’s episode. They seemed to really be trying to experiment with new things in a way that gave the show more of an edge here and there – which was great! There was still plenty of room for good comedy, with only a couple of the usual “how did this make it to air” sketches. Also, Nicki Minaj was in a lot of sketches! She was mostly playing other renditions of herself, but who knows…maybe she keeps coming back and turns into the new Lady Gaga of SNL…or even Timberlake down the road? (I think I’m getting ahead of myself.)
On to an edgy SNL Scorecard!
COLD OPEN: POLITICS NATION (Thompson, Pharaoh, Moynihan)
You know, right before this show I was talking to someone who felt (like many others) that SNL isn’t funny anymore “like it used to be back in the good ol’ days.” I always defend this opinion…but I can only assume that those people turn on their TVs and see sketches like this when they make these claims. Politics Nation, as a whole, has just never been that great – it’s just Kenan’s Al Sharpton making goofy mispronunciations, and it’s not like Al Sharpton is known for being that goofy. (The little Pharell Williams joke did get me.) At least it tried to end with a point about things getting better in the future starting with each of us…I dunno. Maybe I’ll feel differently about this thing later. For now… Blackometer: 3/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/politics-nation-cold-open-085544107.html
JAMES FRANCO MONOLOGUE (Franco, Rogen)
I would watch the heck out of Seth Rogen teaching James Franco how to read. This was shorter & left me wanting a little more of Franco’s leaked secrets before the pictures, but it was still fun & a good way to bring in the Sony leaks (although the real incident with the email sent to Sony employees was pretty terrifying). Blackometer: 7.8/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/james-franco-monologue-085156485.html
PETER PAN LIVE (Mooney, McKinnon, Bennett, Strong, Bryant, Franco, Killan, Thompson, Moynihan)
I should’ve seen two things coming: A Peter Pan Live parody, and the return of Tonkerbell. This was somehow more of a mess than the first time we saw Tonkerbell on Jim Parsons’ show last season – mostly because the Tonkerbell stuff made it feel like there were multiple sketches at one time. Also, James Franco does not do a good Christopher Walken. The written material for everything aside from Tonkerbell was fine, but everything all together was too much. I really want to know what Taran Killam’s eager pirate had to say. Blackometer: 4/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/peter-pan-live-085157444.html
STAR WARS TEASER (Killam, Pharaoh, Moynihan, Franco, Thompson, Jones)
This was great – everyone in it was great, and it’s just tremendous to see Killam’s Harrison Ford + Moynihan as Leia. Great production values, good jokes…what else can I say? Nice piece of entertainment. Blackometer: 7.5/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/star-wars-teaser-101343393.html
JINGLE BALLERZ SPECIAL (Davidson, Zamata, Killam, Franco, Thompson, McKinnon, Minaj, Pharaoh)
Kate McKinnon’s Justin Bieber is a national treasure. Furthermore, Jay Pharoah’s Kanye West is just the best thing ever. Kudos to Nicki Minaj who was solidly more committed in this role than the last time she was on the show as the bride of Blackenstein (which I still find funny). Blackometer: 7.5/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/jingle-ballerz-special-085544868.html
GROW A GUY (O’Brien, Bennett, Bayer, Zamata, Davidson, Franco)
After appearing in Mike O’Brien’s great Monster Pals sketch from last season, James Franco co-starred in another broadly esoteric sketch from the strange, strange mind of the most interesting SNL writer on staff. This is one I really would have liked to watch at the pitch meeting – it probably sounded so simple on paper, but took off to insane limits once it was put into motion. Everything is actually so specifically complex once you break it down, from the imagery of the grow-a-guy in its’ pre-human stage to how seriously everyone takes this. Execution is what sells this one here the most, and it’s great enough to where I could watch a movie of this premise if given the right atmosphere. Blackometer: 9.5/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/grow-guy-085157033.html
MAGIC BRIDGE (Bryant, Mooney, Franco, Strong)
Not really sure what that was, but James Franco and Kyle Mooney shared a long kiss. I think that was the point, other than Cecily playing another “funny voice” character. The audience was pretty quiet, except for her quick jab at Bill Cosby that no one was expecting. Anyway, there just wasn’t a lot going on here. Blackometer: 3/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/magic-bridge-085158204.html
WEEKEND UPDATE (Jost, Che, Moynihan, Jones, Minaj)
Yesterday, I read an article by Entertainment Weekly about how ‘Update’ has been missing a lot of things, but mainly a ‘bite’ to it in the last year. Millions of people compare Jost & Che’s current Update to the previous installments by Fallon, Fey, Poehler and Meyers, who all had more rants and interactive pieces to make it gel more memorably. I hope those who feel this way watched Update last night, because a somber Che and Jost opened up immediately tackling the recent failures of juries to indict policemen in the Eric Gardner and Mike Brown cases. These rants were fearless, sincere, had a little comedy tastefully thrown in, and just felt truly genuine from these two. This was the perfect thing that Update has been missing, and I’m so glad it was there. (It did seem to just up and stop rather than end, however.)
The walk-on segments were great: the return of Anthony Crispino! More Leslie Jones! And even Nicki Minaj came on as Kim Kardashian. It wasn’t much, and it was for a joke that I think is almost on its’ way out…but she was having fun, so whatever.
Best Update of the season so far. Blackometer: 9/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/weekend-part-1-085157060.html https://screen.yahoo.com/snl-current-season-skits/weekend-part-2-085545843.html
BRAIN SPACE (Davidson, Franco, Strong, Killam, Bryant, Mooney, Pharaoh, Minaj, Moynihan, Bennett, McKinnon, Bayer)
“WHO REMEMBERS A BILLY ZANE LINE FROM TITANIC?!” = my favorite thing of the night. Pete Davidson is a guy trying to clear space in his brain, and James Franco does his best to clear out his old memories, including his old teacher, movie quotes and song lyrics. This was a great sketch idea, and I can definitely say I’ve thought of my brain functioning as beings representing information. I was pretty bummed when the Fresh Prince theme and the “Bye Bye Bye” dance had to leave. Finally, by now it was notable how strong of a presence Nicki Minaj had had on the show thus far tonight. Anyway, this sketch was funny. Blackometer: 7.5/10 This sketch doesn’t appear to be online, likely because of song copyright issues. A lot of throwback songs were in this.
KID MAYOR (Franco)
This Tad Rankin monologue was just hilarious. I laughed harder at this than almost anything else all night, save Anthony Crispino. Good lord, I laughed harder at this. James Franco yelling about how he’s more of a man than a kid who crapped his pants is my new favorite thing. My score is based purely on how much I laughed. Blackometer: 8.6/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl-current-season-skits/kid-mayor-085156932.html
SUNSEEKER YACHTS (Bayer, Strong, Franco, Rogen)
Franco & Rogen are the perfect kind of guys to be in a sketch like this, but I agree with some twitter opinions that Nicki Minaj would have fit in with this one. Or then again, maybe letting her play other variations of herself (basically) in previous sketches was enough. Anyway, this sketch gets better every time I see it based mostly on individual jokes, which is what this one is all about. Blackometer: 7.6/10 https://screen.yahoo.com/snl/porn-stars-101341473.html
Best Sketch of the Night: Grow a Guy Worst Sketch of the Night: Magic Bridge Joke of the Night: “WHO REMEMBERS A BILLY ZANE LINE FROM TITANIC?!” – Franco (Also: everything in “Kid Mayor” – Franco) Observations: Another solid show! James Franco both blended well into the cast as well as serving as the standout/lead when the material needed him to do so. Weekend Update led the way for SNL to really run the gauntlet in a fearless kind of way that seemed to transfer into the energy of other sketches, which while not new, still seems newer for this cast as of late. As such, I hope the writers and cast continue in this direction! It’ll definitely help to make the show stand out more positively than some want to admit right now. But anyway…yeah! This was funny! Go find little Tommy and make him your major!