The 25 Best Sketches of ‘SNL’ Season 40

With SNL‘s 40th season wrapped up, we’re taking a look back at the past year to recall the highs, lows, and other memorable moments as the show ended its fourth decade on the air. Here, we list some of our favorite sketches from this season — both videos and live sketches.

Though many still criticize SNL of being in a creative slump, with sagging ratings and various anniversary specials reminding viewers how great the show used to be, the sketches we’ve seen on the show recently tell a different story. Yes, there are fewer stock characters fans can immediately identify with the show — the familiar personas we’ve seen from Cecily Strong or Taran Killam aren’t yet on par with the beloved icons created by Kristen Wiig or Bill Hader — and hardly any moments have possessed the viral potency of the Lonely Island. But the unspoken truth is that the film unit’s production quality has actually upped its game, with directors Rhys Thomas, Matt & Oz, and Dave McCary doing amazing work. This season’s live sketches have also seen improvement, with an increase in original material (recurring sketches are down to 20% from 25%), and at least a handful of truly inspired concepts routinely making their way into the lineup. And this season’s biggest success story has been Weekend Update, with hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che making a night-to-day transition into a pairing we now look forward to seeing. Critics tend to praise newer “underdog” sketch shows like Inside Amy Schumer and Portlandia, ignoring a hit-to-miss ratio that’s roughly equivalent to the easy-to-kick network TV goliath that’s in no danger of cancellation. But as hip as it may be to claim otherwise, some of the sharpest, cleverest, gutsiest sketch comedy we’ve seen in the past year has come from the same place it has for the past 40 years.

So below are 25 sketches — 13 videos and 12 traditional live bits, in order of appearance — that suggest SNL in 2014-2015 could be as funny as it ever was. As has been the case in recent years, pre-taped segments appear to have the comedic edge over live bits. That seems to be an industry-wide trend: it has become more practical for writers aiming for a polished product that can translate to YouTube to edit it with the best takes and perfectly-timed cuts, rather than letting actors read it from cue cards in front of an audience of tourists. That said, there have also been plenty of raw, visceral performances that have continued to make Saturday Night Live a show best watched live.

Video Sketches

Whites. Thank goodness Lorne kept Mike O’Brien on the writing staff after moving him out of the cast last season — he’s given us some of this season’s most interesting shorts. This PSA offered the bittersweet swan song of a demographic group on the decline. (Watch it here.)

The Group Hopper. SNL hit peak production value with this hilarious homage to post-apocalyptic young adult films like The Hunger Games and Divergent, with their weird shorthand and emphasis on sorting. (I’d be a Foodie.)

The Dudleys. Woody Harrelson’s episode was a high watermark for this season, with a mix of goofy character bits and cutting media satire — like this brilliant response to unsatisfiable TV viewers looking for reasons to be offended. (Sound familiar?) The script was written by Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, who were behind many of this season’s stronger sketches.

Grow-A-Guy. Another fun Mike O’Brien short saw James Franco as an artificial best friend grown in a fish tank, leading to one of the more delightfully bizarre visuals we saw this year. Introverts be warned: Beck Bennett’s cruelly perceptive bully was a little too close to what you’ll remember from high school parties. (Read this behind-the-scenes explanation with O’Brien and directors Matt & Oz.)

Christmas Mass Spectacular. Kelly and Schneider found the true meaning of Christmas with a promo that perfectly skewered the oft-forgotten tradition of sitting through church service, with Pastor Pat cracking Mapquest jokes to a congregation containing a surprising amount of Filipino women.

Asian American Doll. Yet another clever piece of media satire with a stepping-on-eggshells theme saw a toymaker nervously insisting their new ethnic doll was stereotype-free… down to bland anonymity.

Bushwick. This perfectly-executed short from the Kevin Hart episode was a brilliant take on urban gentrification underway in Brooklyn.

Wishing Boot. Despite a sense of humor that maybe wasn’t the best fit for SNL, Blake Shelton’s episode made the most of his rural spirit, with this catchy music video that hilariously combined all the best things about country music: long anecdotes, divine intervention, and cowboy footwear.

Totinos Super Bowl Commercial. On the eve of the big game, this brilliant commercial cut to the bitter, sexist core of football culture, with the sad image of Vanessa Bayer as a neglected wife, obediently playing with a child’s activity pack so to not distract her husband.

Father Daughter Ad. One of the few redeeming moments in the Dakota Johnson episode was this controversial blackout that saw a father tearfully sending off his daughter on the next big stage of her life. It’s an easy twist that could have fallen flat, but the somber deliveries by all involved made this one a homerun.

Neurotology Music Video. Following the lead of the HBO Going Clear documentary, SNL went on the rare offensive with a gleeful takedown of the Church of Scientology (here called “Neurotology,” perhaps to give the writers a little legal flexibility) in the form of a music video with melody and visuals too eerily similar to the actual thing.

Blazer. This season’s “Dyke & Fats” moment saw Taran Killam as an 80s supercop being way too discriminating with which thugs he targets — a smart take on the Baltimore riots (by writers Michael Che, Tim Robinson, and Zach Kanin) that looked at the big picture of police culture.

Mr. Westerberg. Beck Bennett was in top form as a co-worker in denial imitating his employer, unknowingly revealing a dark truth.

Live Sketches

Pete Davidson on Weekend Update. Like Leslie Jones, Pete Davidson’s debut during Weekend Update set the bar a little too high for him to clear in appearances since. But you can’t blame a comedian for introducing himself to the world with one of his strongest bits: this hilarious take on homophobia and bro culture from the season premiere.

Vitamix. This peppy infomercial beautifully unravels into a deadly serious spat between friends over how much is too much to spend on a blender. Vanessa Bayer’s understated delivery is always a joy to watch in commercial setups. (See also: “Nest-Spresso.”)

Apples Song. Woody Harrelson’s catchy campfire song was just dumb-fun enough to emerge as the sleeper hit “10-to-1” sketch of this season.

Capitol Hill. Ever since Robert Smigel stopped making TV Funhouse shorts for the show, it’s rare to see SNL do political comedy that focuses more on concept than impersonation of politicians. One clever exception was this live-action parody of the classic Schoolhouse Rock cartoon that revealed the sad reality of the modern legislative process.

Kid Mayor. James Franco was very enjoyable as the guy who lost to an adorable 4-year-old in a mayoral race, using an attack ad to angrily smack-talk his rival’s bladder issues and love of Frozen.

One-Dimensional Female Character from a Male-Driven Comedy. Since stepping down from the Update desk, Cecily Strong’s character-work has been on overdrive, with this season’s breakout, long-named character that brilliantly mocked the way women are portrayed in studio comedies.

Brother 2 Brother. One of the best uses of a flat joke this season saw a teacher cruelly listing the physical shortcomings of one brother (Taran Killam) to his clearly sexier “twin” brother (Chris Hemsworth).

WWE Promos. One of those sketches where all the elements come together perfectly: the setup, the jokes, the casting, the costumes, the punchline. Also, a pretty great use of character names: Koko Watchout and Trashyard Mutt.

Escape from Jungle Island. Of all the hosts this season, Dwayne Johnson gave the most physically funny performance, especially in this silly Indiana Jones setup that paired him up with Pete Davidson in some impressive stunt work.

Hillary Clinton Announcement Video. As Hillary Clinton, Kate McKinnon has given SNL its funniest political caricature since Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush. Her second cold open as the cold, calculating presidential hopeful saw Clinton hilariously without empathy in a selfie campaign video.

Picture Perfect. Despite accusations that this premise was lifted from the Canadian sketch show This Hour Has 22 Minutes, the SNL version remains one of the better executed playing-with-fire moments on the show in recent years.

The Shoemaker and the Elves. Louis C.K. episodes are no stranger to controversy, with last weekend’s monologue daring to make light of child molesters. Arguably more sickening (but still hilarious) was what followed: this bizarre scene about elves who get off on physical punishment.

Erik Voss is a writer and performer living in Los Angeles. He performs at the iO Theater on the house teams Wheelhouse and It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way.

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