I will spare you the “‘SNL’ is Dead” post that seems to arrive at the beginning, the middle, and the end of each season of “Saturday Night Live” since 1979. It may not be very good, but it’s not dead. It’s not dying. “Saturday Night Live” will continue on as long as NBC exists. It owns the 11:30 slot on Saturday nights. It attracts huge celebrities. It’s what a large percentage of people with nothing better to do on a Saturday night watch. Nobody watches “SNL” expecting great television. We watch “SNL” hoping for one, maybe two great sketches. Some weeks, we’re blessed with three. Many weeks, we don’t get any at all. But even when it’s terrible, we watch so we can say it’s terrible. It’s part of the national discourse. But, occasionally a good host will surprise us, and it is often that the best hosts — Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Justin Timberlake, Jon Hamm — are also the least likely. There is a certain joy in that discovery.
I will say this, though: It was a really bad year for “SNL,” one that wasted maybe the best collection of hosts that the show has ever seen: Hamm, Jane Lynch, Bryan Cranston, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, Zack Galifianakis, Paul Rudd, Anne Hathaway, Elton John, Helen Mirren, Robert DeNiro, Jeff Bridges, and even Jim Carrey. The only two marginal stars the entire year were Ed Helms and Dana Carvey. Going through the all the sketches from 2010-2011, picking enough to compile this list was actually difficult. There were two others in consideration (Jeff Bridge’s monologue with the Cookie Monster and Kristen Wiig’s creepy sexual cheerleader in the Bryan Cranston episode), but after that, the quality of sketches fell precipitously. You couldn’t really even complete one near-perfect episode with the entire year’s worth of sketches, and to come close, you’d have to fill half of it with Digital Shorts, which — in and of themselves — weren’t as good as years’ past.
On the year, the bright spots were few: I think Seth Meyers’ is a solid anchor on Weekend Update and Stefon has been consistently funny. Among the newer cast members, I like Jay Pharoah and Abby Elliot (I know I’m in the minority on both counts). Meanwhile, the three big names on the show — Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis, and Andy Samberg — had bad seasons. I think Sudeikis and Wiig have actually outgrown the show, and when Samberg leaves, will we even have the Digital Shorts left to look forward to? If anything can kill “SNL,” it might be the subtraction of those.
At least they left us with another great Justin Timberlake episode, reminding us that, on the rarest of weeks, the show can be entertaining.
Here are the year’s best sketches/shorts:
10. Les Jeunes de Paris
9. Digital Short: Andy and Pee Wee’s Night Out
8. Mr. Wizard
7. The Unstoppable Trailer
6. ESPN Classic: Ladies Shot Put/KY Jelly
5. Ambiguously Gay Duo
4. Digital Short: I Just Had Sex
3. Weekend Update: Shelley Elaine
2. Digital Short: 3-Way (The Golden Rule)
1. Digital Short: Jack Sparrow