Saturday Night Live was never a controversial show. If anyone took offense to the comedy being presented, then they have to be one of the most sheltered people on the planet. You can feel the punches being pulled at every turn when it comes to politics. Or when they want to take jabs, it’s entirely superficial rather than writing clever political comedy (see everything Armando Iannucci has done). The 2010s were, for me, the sign that SNL was becoming a piece of processed cheese, it looked okay, but you weren’t craving it. The people involved were always much funnier outside the show than in it. The perfect example is 2011’s Bridesmaids, which showed Kristin Wiig being much more entertaining than I ever found her on SNL.
This period of SNL has these episodes as the highest-rated on IMDb. I bet you notice a pattern here, hm?
Season 36 – Justin Timberlake
Season 37 – Jimmy Fallon
Season 38 – Justin Timberlake
Season 39 – Jimmy Fallon
Season 40 – Bill Hader
The cast coming into Season 36 saw the departure of Will Forte and Jenny Slate. Abby Elliott and Bobby Moynihan were moved into the main cast. The featured players grew to include Vanessa Bayer (my SNL MVP), Paul Brittain, Taran Killiam, Nasim Pedrad, and Jay Pharaoh. There had been increasing criticisms in the media of the decision to keep Fred Armisen playing Obama, and with Pharoah’s hiring, he was given that regular part. With the Season 36 finale, we have Justin Timberlake returning to host. The cold open is a sketch about Dominic Strauss-Kahn being jailed for crimes related to his position with the International Monetary Fund. The more the time passes, the less I think people revisiting this episode will even know what event it’s talking about.
After Timberlake’s monologue, we get a Herb Welch (Bill Hader) sketch where they parody the viral Fox 5 New York exchange between a local news anchor and veteran reporter. I like the Herb Welch skit, particularly the first one they did, but then it became something that SNL just did variations of until it wasn’t funny anymore. Next, we get a digital short with Timberlake and Andy Samberg as the 90s R&B singers. This time they end in a three-way with Lady Gaga (the musical guest), and it’s basically jokes about straight dudes having homosexual sex. It’s another case where I’m not sure if the joke is two dudes being together or something else.
Weekend Update is Seth Meyers doing what he does. I really do not enjoy “Really?”; it’s just not a funny bit. Bradey Cooper guests alongside Nicolas Cage (Samberg). While it’s not the most accurate Cage impression, I still find the ridiculous take on the actor funny. Next, we get a game show parody called What’s That Name? with Timberlake and Lady Gaga playing themselves. The joke here is how Timberlake can’t remember anyone’s names, but Gaga knows everyone and details of their lives. I think it’s a pretty good sketch with a clever premise and delivered well. There’s a Merryville Tunnel of Love sketch, which they did a few times on the show. The animatronics on the ride seem overly real and mess with the guy on the ride while his girlfriend is oblivious. Then there is another game show sketch, Secret Word, presented as a rerun of an early 1960s program. This is where Wiig plays Mindy Grayson, the Broadway actress who is terrible at following a single rule in the game. Not one of my favorites. And then…a fucking Barry Gibb Talk Show sketch with Fallon appearing. And the show is over.
In Season 37, Nasim Pedrad gets bumped up to a primary player. Paul Brittain left the show in November, and in April, Kate McKinnon joined the cast. The episode highest rated was hosted by Jimmy Fallon, so you should thank me for slogging through my personal version of Hell for you, the readers. The cold open has Fallon reprising his role as Pat Sullivan, the Boston guy. Rachel Dratch also cameos as his girlfriend, Zazoo. They are trying to get into the winter formal at their old high school. It is one of the least bad things in this episode. On Peacock, the opening monologue is cut, and instead, we go to another Today Show parody with Wiig and Pedrad. I didn’t find these overly amusing after the first couple, but SNL really kept hammering away at them. Fallon pops in as Regis Philbin at one point.
There’s a commercial parody for a Michael Buble Christmas duets album. I find Buble incredibly funny; his best appearance on SNL was in the Bubbly & Ham commercial sketch with Jon Hamm. Here he’s part of an impressions parade where cast members try their hand at being celebrities. Fred Armisen’s Thom Yorke impression was my favorite of the bunch. There’s an interesting mirror sketch with Fallon talking to himself (Andy Samberg) in his dressing room. I actually thought this was a clever bit and the sort of thing I like on the show. Next, we get a sketch with Kristin Wiig playing Lillia, a woman who insists that she doesn’t want to dance at a Christmas party but does anyway. I don’t know if Wiig played this character before or after, but it blends in with many of her other characters on the show she might never have. Then we get one of my all-time favorites of this era, Fred Armisen as Tommy Palmeasy in Half Jewish Half Italian Completely Neurotic. This is a glorious parody of what makes one-man shows so often unbearable. I cannot emphasize how good this sketch is and feels like something Armisen wanted to do.
Horatio Sanz, Chris Kattan, and Tracey Morgan guest to do the Christmas Song they made popular with Fallon years earlier. I get the sense Kattan was struggling with his neck issues still at this time. Weekend Update sees Samberg as Cage showing up again, this time alongside Jude Law. Unlike most recurring characters, this one is still funny every time the character appears. Amy Poehler & Tina Fey show up alongside Fallon to do a Joke Off, which is fine. There’s a sketch with Fallon as Beethoven introducing his band like they are a modern pop group. It’s another okay bit. Continuing a weird focus on theater, we get a sketch where a couple watches a performance of War Horse being done with stand-ins, and it’s actually pretty funny. The episode ends with a sketch about Tim Tebow (Killian) being visited by Jesus (Sudeikis), who tells him to chill out.
Season 38 saw Vanessa Bayer, Taran Killiam, and Jay Pharoah are moved into the main cast. Kate McKinnon is joined in the featured cast by Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong, and Tim Robinson. Robinson only spent one season as a performer and then moved into just a writing role the following season. He is, in my opinion, a perfect example of how SNL is not a show for performers to show their best. This season also sees us watching yet another Justin Timberlake episode. The cold open is cut from this episode on Peacock, so we go straight from the credits to the monologue. Timberlake joins the Five-Timers Club, which allows for cameos from Paul Simon, Steve Martin, Dan Akroyd, Chevy Chase, Martin Short, Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin, and Candice Bergen. Then we get a game show parody with It’s a Date, a play on The Dating Game. Vanessa Bayer is the bachelorette with Bobby Moynihan up against the Dick in a Box Guys and Two Wild & Crazy Guys. It’s pretty much a sketch based around ‘member berries.
We get a commercial parody for Nuva Bling, a birth control ring encrusted in diamonds leading to the joke that it’s excruciating to use. I think the female product commercial parodies are pretty funny, but the use of the word Bling will age this one terribly over time. Weekend Update rolls around, which leads to a Stefon (Hader) appearance. I personally think Stefon might be my favorite recurring character, and he’s the only one I never got tired of. Next, there is a terrible sketch about Caligula trying to stop being hedonistic. It is not great. Then we have a court show parody, Maine Justice, that I love because it is so strange & bizarre. The judge and bailiff speak with thick, overly exaggerated Southern accents and it is just never explained. For some reason, I love it. Then we get one of the worst things I’ve ever seen on the show. It’s a movie trailer parody for a romantic comedy where a man discovers the woman he’s fallen for is trans. They title this sketch “She’s Got a Dick.” This was 2013. I cannot emphasize how awful this thing is, and they did not cut it from the Peacock stream. Next, there’s Bayer & Strong as spokeswomen for Moet & Chandon champagne. It’s sort of funny but hard to get past the previous sketch. Then the episode thankfully ends.
Season 39 starts without Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, and Jason Sudeikis. Seth Meyers would leave mid-season to prepare to become the host of Late Night. Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, and Cecily Strong are all promoted to the main cast. The featured cast has eight members with Beck Bennett, Colin Jost, John Milhiser, Kyle Mooney, Mike O’Brien, Noel Wells, Brooks Wheelan, and Saheer Zamata. The episode reviewed is hosted by Fallon with musical guest Timberlake. I wonder what skit we will see at some point? The cold open has a woman trying to raise money for charity encroached upon by Timberlake’s Cup O’Soup character, and it plays out the exact same way it always does. Fallon joins him. Yay. Skipping the monologue, the episode goes straight to a celebrity Family Feud parody pitting CBS stars against ABC. This is another impression parade sketch, and I just didn’t find it all that funny.
There’s a digital short song by the female cast members about bringing their boyfriends home for Christmas. It’s cute and pretty inoffensive. And then…The Fucking Barry Gibb Fucking Talk Show again! This time the real Barry Gibb shows up. So okay. Next. Weekend Update is being coanchored by Meyers and Strong. She would not last at the Update desk into the next season. McKinnon shows up as Billie Jean King, but the thing is, all of her Update characters are essentially the same character. They have all the same personality traits, and I just have always found her to be overrated by fans. SNL chooses to platform wealthy scumbag, Michael Bloomberg. The show never met a rich white man they didn’t want to try and humanize. Next, there’s a morning show parody hosted by Kim Kardashian (Pedrad) and Kanye (Pharaoh). They make good impressions, but the sketch just isn’t that funny. This time around, we get another impression parade with an album of Christmas songs. Fallon plays Buble in this one along with others. It is not funny. Though Pharaoh’s DMX impression is perfect. The show finishes off with a Christmas Carol parody where it’s clear Scrooge is gay as he visits his past and everyone around him knows it. Sorta funny, but not really.
Season 40 cast members Milhiser, Wells, and Wheelan, were all fired. Nasim Pedrad left the show. Michael Che, Leslie Jones, and Pete Davidson all came on board as featured cast members. The cold open of the Bill Hader-hosted episode starts with an incredibly offensive sketch. Moynihan plays Kim Jong Un surrounded by other cast members also in yellowface. Beyond being racially insensitive, it plays out like State Department propaganda. At this point, we must give up the fight to see a sketch about contemporary politics done with any sense of intelligence. Kristen Wiig and Harvey Fierstein show up during Hader’s monologue, which is decent. Hader is just a solidly funny guy, so whatever sketches you put him in, he’s funny. We get another Herb Welch sketch which has all the same jokes as the previous ones.
There’s a fantastic movie trailer parody of the Maze Runner with tons of other young adult movie tropes. It is very, very good. More digital shorts, please. There’s a parody of the short-lived Hollywood Game Night show, which is just Celebrity Jeopardy in a different game. The joke is celebrities are bad at these games. You also have Cecily Strong playing Sofia Vergara, so you can add a brown face to the racism in this episode. The pre-recorded content stands strong in a commercial about sending in a few cents a day to help feed starving people in Africa. Hader is the bearded host, but the funny part is the Black cast members saying he should ask for more money. In Weekend Update, we get the first of many commentaries by Pete Davidson. It’s basically him doing stand-up bits. I think I find him a little funnier than I did at first, but I still think he’s better outside of SNL. Hader does a Stefon bit, and it’s funny but not the funniest. There’s a Puppetry class sketch which is okay. Hader plays a Vietnam vet whose puppet is not whimsical but somewhat scarred by his trauma in the war. There’s a digital short with Bennett & Mooney doing a 21st-century version of Wayne’s World with Inside SoCal. I would argue it’s funnier than Wayne’s World sketches. You have Cecily Strong playing a Mexican woman, though, so more racism. The show wraps up with a Cat in the Hat parody where the Cat ends up being an ex-lover of the kids’ mom. It is sort of funny, one of the better sketches on the show.