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. Below, we reexamine the 21 episodes of Season 40.
Like any lineup in showbusiness — whether it's a summer movie schedule or a season of Saturday Night Live — tentpoles are crucial. An SNL season may feature a plethora of first-time hosts enjoying their moment in the sun, but it never goes too long before bringing in a seasoned veteran host who can guarantee a win. Recent seasons have been tentpoled by the likes of Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, Tina Fey, Justin Timberlake, Jimmy Fallon, and Will Ferrell — tried-and-true SNL hall-of-famers who know how to deliver the goods. That left room for a few duds, as well as wild cards like Jon Hamm, Zach Galifianakis, and Melissa McCarthy to sneak in without expectations and join the ranks of all-time great hosts.
That's what made Season 40 such an odd case. Rather than structuring the season with several tentpoles, we were given one big one: the 40th Anniversary Special in February, which showcased all of the aforementioned regulars, and then some. The anniversary was a thrilling and emotional climax for the show, but its magnitude cast an inevitable shadow on the season that contained it. SNL watchers always let our nostalgia for past generations blind us from the present, but here was a three-and-a-half hour highlight reel of everything we once loved about the show, with hardly any of those highlights coming from the recent era. There was plenty of retrospect, but little prospect. For example, it's hard to credit Colin Jost and Michael Che with the undeniable progress they've made behind the Weekend Update desk after a parade of greats like Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Dennis Miller, Kevin Nealon, Norm Macdonald, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Seth Meyers. It's like college basketball player having a solid opening game, with Jordan dunking at halftime.
The star-studded anniversary also dried up the pool of tentpole hosts (with no Five-Timers Club members this year), leaving well-liked but less-proven regulars Bill Hader, Jim Carrey, Dwayne Johnson, and Louis CK to prop up the season. They did… mostly. Between a few pleasant surprises from first-timers (Martin Freeman) and old-timers (Woody Harrelson), the episodes this season rarely left people buzzing in the days that followed.
Below is a ranking of the episodes this season (not including the 40th Anniversary Special, which was less an episode of SNL than an extended circle-jerk). As with last year's ranking, we measured episode quality by asking ourselves a few questions: What, if anything, was memorable about this episode? Were the sketches clear, funny, unique concepts, or were they the same predictable bits we're tired of seeing? Did the host complement the cast, with sketches that made good use of his/her skills? And finally, did the episode contain any awful sketches about a bickering old couple waiting for an Uber? READ MORE