While putting together my 2011-2012 SNL recap, there were a lot of contenders in just about every category. I think I may have seriously considered a greater number of sketches for sketch of the year than I have for any other season. And that is all surprising, because I remember this season having some significant problems. There was a problematic sticking with the status quo (which can happen with a lack of cast turnover). There was a propensity for recurring characters that seemed stronger than usual, or, more specifically, a propensity for doing the exact same thing each time with the recurring bits. There was an inexplicable pattern of corpsing. Not to mention that the season ended on a string of mostly overall disappointing episodes. But, there is plenty that deserves to be mentioned among the best of this season. I think that perusing my season recap will lead you to believe that Season 37 was a pretty good one. And there certainly was a lot to love. The problems haven’t gone away, but if all this good was delivered despite those problems, then I can’t say this was a bad year.
Most Valuable Cast Member
Looking over the cast list from 2011-2012, I can recall something memorable from every one of the cast members (yes, even Seth Meyers). But I can also recall moments from almost all of them when I was like, “Mm, that’s not your best work.” But there was one who I never really had any problems with all year: Mr. Consistency himself – Bill Hader. (True, Bill may have corpsed a bit too much, but never in truly unforgivable fashion.) And the fact is, he has demonstrated this consistency since day one, so my question is, why have we fully realized that only recently and why have I not picked him as Most Valuable Cast Member more often? To the first part, we did not realize his consistency sooner because, by definition, consistency takes some time before it truly exists. And to the second part, he has not been the top dog more often because Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig (and Will Forte occasionally, and Kenan Thompson for a season) had been in the lead spotlight as stars of the show. Somehow, though, these past two seasons, Bill has managed to find a way to unite his consistent reliability with a leading man status. He is now not just the guy you can use in any role, he is the guy you demand for every lead role.
Bein’ Quirky with Zooey Deschanel (from Zooey Deschanel/Karmin)
The concept behind “Bein’ Quirky” is fine, but hardly fantastic on its own. The idea is that Zooey Deschanel is so synonymous with the idea of “adorkability” and now she has her own show to celebrate that lifestyle. Isn’t that what New Girl is already? That similarity is a little beside the point, though, as New Girl is sincere in its ambitions, whereas “Bein’ Quirky,” while celebratory, is also deconstructive. But that deconstruction has been done to death by plenty of bloggers, with various degrees of affection for Zooey. So, where “Bein’ Quirky” truly succeeds is its open format, in which guests walk in as they please, and if each particular guest has something valuable to contribute, then it will work, and in the inaugural edition, Michael Cera (Taran Killam), Mary-Kate Olsen (Zooey Deschanel), and Björk (Kristen Wiig) had plenty to contribute, be it Michael’s Mickey Mouse-esque voice, Mary-Kate’s posture and gait based on her ninety-year-old grandmother’s, or Björk’s instruction that “if you like screaming, make it music.” Ultimately, it was not a deconstruction of Zooey, or at least not just of Zooey, so much as it was a deconstruction of celebrities that the folks on SNL happen to do impressions of.
The “Crime Scene” sketch illustrated the principles of how to stage a comedic scene. Or that is, how to create a memorable – and funny – stage. The setting of this sketch was a murder site at an apartment that looked quite similar to Jerry’s iconic apartment on Seinfeld, and clearly the audience was being nudged towards recognizing that similarity before it was revealed how purposeful it was. Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis – as the sort-of-but-not-really Columbo-esque detective and the incredulous officer – just went wild showing off the chemistry they honed during Horrible Bosses. The detective’s claims that he knew nothing of Seinfeld, baseball, or most any other part of the culture made little to no sense, especially when he started making inadvertent (?) homages to them. But that ramping up of nonsense, combined with an insistence that that nonsense just cannot be is a tried-and-true method for staging a comedic scene.
If you are going to tell a story, you have got to make it memorable. And when you are telling a series of quick stories regarding to a series of personal items, it helps to go weird to ensure memorability. Thus, for a sketch in which nothing happens other than the Christmas ornaments being hung while a quick anecdote is told about each one, it is a good call to employ Steve Buscemi for the storytelling duties. Adding a layer of gravy to the successful weirdness is Kristen Wiig in a notably restrained role – perhaps her best performance of the season. When I saw this sketch, I was like, “SNL’s on va-cay,” i.e., they sure seem to be having fun, doing whatever the hell they want to.
Central Press Conference
Is there comedy inspiration to be found from a child molestation scandal? Apparently there is. It helps to alleviate the potential for offense by not actually setting the scene in a situation where abuse has actually occurred, but merely suspected. In fact, that switch – from confirmation to mere suspicion – was the key to making this sketch work, the joke being that the members of the Central University basketball team were so convinced (for all the wrong reasons) that they had a child molester in their ranks that they launched a preemptive investigation. The investigators were so dedicated to the investigation such that some of them had to find somewhere to place their anger once they realized there was no molestation to direct it towards: there was a surveillance agent who had a severe problem with Coach Bert’s chronic lack of hand-washing, and there was the star player who admitted that he would have preferred being molested over having to hear Coach Bert’s theme song for his superhero alter ego. The premise also served as an astute commentary on real child abuse scandals, considering the context that in real life, the abusers are usually the friendly, seemingly trustworthy authority figures and not the Steve Buscemi-portrayed weirdos.
Honorable Mentions: Text Message Evidence, Rolling Stones Karaoke, The Comments Section, Les Jeunes de Paris (from Zooey Deschanel/Karmin), Who’s on Top, The Obama Show
Best Short Sketch
Les Jeunes de Paris (from Zooey Deschanel/Karmin)
I never would have expected Jean Dujardin, star of The Artist, to stop by SNL. True, this was a season absolutely packed to the brim with guest stars, but most of them were more traditionally big stars and/or folks with more obvious connections to SNL. Also, Jean’s English isn’t very good, so it would’ve been hard to give him something to do … except that there’s this delightful recurring sketch that features very little dialogue and what dialogue it does feature is French. The Artist was an enjoyable treat of a movie, though not quite deserving of a win for Best Picture, but I think it would have been better if it had featured Joan of Arc, Zooey Deschanel, and Kenan Thompson and Fred Armisen as chefs. So this ended up being the rare SNL movie homage that was better than the original in almost every regard.
Original Kings of Catchphrase Comedy Volume 2
When I picked the first Kings of Catchphrase sketch as Best Short Sketch of the Year last season, I explained how it worked so well (as long as the performer is talented, hacky comedy will still be funny). And after another round of the Kings and their friends, it is clear that there is no shortage of entertainingly talentless hacks and puns based on the word “phrase.” Also, Slappy Pappy spinning around four microphones was the best visual gag in all of comedy in 2011.
We’re Going to Make Technology Hump
I love it when nerds discuss sex, particularly if they go about it in an astute and respectful, but also enthusiastic, manner. Also, just about all porn is hilarious, but the nudity tends to distract from that comedy, so it helps to replace the naked people with Xbox controllers, iPads, and curling irons for the sake of bringing that comedy front and center. The pieces of tech and their puppeteers recreated classic porn scenarios move-for-move, and that authenticity made the whole endeavor that much more satisfying.
The Real Housewives of Disney
Apparently some people really enjoy these “real housewives” reality shows. But for me, they have basically no appeal at all. I do not watch much reality TV in the first place, so that pre-disposes me to not notice these shows, but in particular, I think my lack of interest has to do with my unfamiliarity with people like the housewives. I recognize that they exist, but I just don’t really know any of them personally. And that is probably the main reason why those who are confounded by these shows’ popularity are similarly uninterested. Disney’s stable of princess characters, on the other hand, are more widely familiar. So, while I do not know Cinderella, Snow White, Jasmine, Belle, and Rapunzel as bitchy housewives from the Disney version, I do know them as something. Thus, a bizarro version of these characters’ lives was a recipe for success, and the attention to detail in terms of verisimilitude – both in terms of the Real Housewives landscape and the character trademarks – guaranteed that success.
Actors should not be criticized for lacking range; instead there should just be a lack of praise, and if they happen to do that one thing that they do really well, then they should be accordingly lauded. That is how Zooey Deschanel should be viewed, but apparently there are some people who do not like her whole “adorkable” vibe. In Zooey’s first hosting stint on SNL, her adorkability was utilized ingeniously, but it was not all-consuming, and it was also deconstructed, so non-Zooey lovers could enjoy the whole affair as well.
Steve Buscemi could have been used more effectively in his second hosting stint, and it was a little absurd that he wasn’t. But he commanded attention whenever he did appear onscreen (as someone who looks like he does is wont to do), and he gave two bravura performances in two of the best sketches of the year (Coach Bert, Christmas Ornaments).
Emma flexed her range, playing the nerdy co-host of We’re Going to Make Technology Hump, a sad office worker crying to Adele, and a disturbingly ditzy beauty pageant winner. But it was her creation of the socially awkward “Wallis” in the Bridal Shower sketch that truly proved that sketch comedy is her forte.
Honorable Mentions: Jason Segel, Charlie Day
I’m tempted to just re-print my original review for this monologue, but that review, even as long and boisterously enthusiastic as it was, did not appreciably break down just how perfectly Muppet-esque this performance was. The lyric sequence “It’s so great that we’re hosting SNL!/As a group, we are all hosting SNL!/Yes, the Muppets are hosting SNL!” was a classic Muppet case of amusing misunderstanding. The feud that broke out between Jason and the Muppets was appropriately light-hearted and still serious. The Muppets were entertaining throughout, though not always for the intended reason (particularly in the case of Kermit’s Ray Romano impression). And the Statler and Waldorf zinger wrapped everything up exactly as it ought to have been.
Once upon a time, Lindsay Lohan was a good actress, and a good SNL host. Cut to the present, and well, making fun of her can be funny. And she is perfectly willing to go along with ridicule, and her monologue was the most appropriate place to do that. The playful suspicions regarding Lindsay’s functionality felt like legitimate concerns, and the blaring alarm as she stepped off the stage was a clever little experiment.
A lot – a lot – of SNL monologues feature the host breaking out into song, which isn’t always a good idea because a lot of the hosts aren’t very musically inclined. And when musicians host and then sing for their monologues, they might only sing, and not actually even try to be funny. But Zooey is a musician and a sufficiently comedically-inclined actress, so her ditty worked.
Best Musical Guest
Robyn is sort of the hipster star of dance music, and that isn’t a bad thing in the way that hipster things can be annoying, because she’s not really a hipster herself. Her dance moves are also inspirational, because some of them look really stupid and thus the sort of thing that anyone can do, such as rolling over backwards and then humping the ground a couple of times, and others look quite simple, like a bunch of twists and arm pumps, but they are actually a bit intricate and well-timed with the beat.
Foster the People
Foster the People – “Pumped Up Kicks” on SNL
Every live performance of “Pumped Up Kicks” that I have witnessed has sounded different from any other. Foster the People’s rendition on SNL really played up the quacking keyboard, and Mark Foster had just the right sort of boisterous attitude in his voice. Kenny G was just the right sort of odd special guest to make their second performance memorable.
This “Love Interruption” song that Jack did first is cool and all, what with it sounding like Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” at the beginning and the backing vocals of Ruby Amanfu. And then he came out with a completely different band for his second number, “Sixteen Saltines,” and totally ripped the place to shreds.
There were a few other acts that I thought at various points might actually end up at number one for the season. Florence + the Machine were technically terrific, but they did not leave a singularly lasting impression. Gotye’s stagecraft (with some help from Kimbra) was breathtaking, but the sound could have been better. The Black Keys sounded nearly perfect, but they suffer ever so slightly in comparison to Jack White, who sounded essentially perfect.
Best Special Guest
It can be a bad sign when SNL relies on special guests, but when there are as many special guests as there were in 2011-2012, there are bound to be some memorable ones, and thus I am including the category of Best Special Guest for the first time in my season recap.
A lot of SNL fans have been clamoring for Nicolas Cage to return as host since his first appearance in 1992, because he was a memorable host that first time, and because, in the past five years or so, it has become clear that he is just an unbelievable human being. If one appearance on a Weekend Update routine is all we are going to get out of him for now, then that is better than nothing. A LOT better than nothing, as that bit was better than just about everything else in that entire episode combined, and that was the best episode of this season.
Jean Dujardin – the French star of a recent silent film? Gasp-inducingly unexpected … Introducing Jon Hamm as the backup host was not a good portent for the rest of Lindsay Lohan’s episode, but it was a good gag, and if he is not going to host in a particular season, he better make at least some appearance … His appearance on “Get in the Cage” made it clear that the thoroughly controlled intensity of Liam Neeson is about the only acting style that can seem intimidating next to the unhinged essence of Nic Cage … Chris Parnell is totally underrated when it comes to the greatest rappers of all time … Olivia Wilde wasn’t that amusing so much as the fact that she appeared for all of ten seconds and had no lines was amusing, although the face she made in response to Andy Samberg eating glass was appropriate.
Best Commercial Parody
“Verizon – an old person’s nightmare,” or the nightmare of anyone who wants any sort of consistency or simplicity when it comes to technology, or wishes that what makes their products so great could be explained in any sort of layman’s terms. There’s just too much muchness with today’s mobile devices to the point that technology salespeople are practically a different species.
Almost Pizza continued the grand tradition of SNL commercials such as That’s Not Yogurt and Colon Blow in which someone goes on and on about the wonders of some new mysterious food product. Though mostly silly, it was also kind of zeitgeisty in how it was related to the foodie trend of being interested in just exactly what is in our food and where it comes from.
Kemper-Pedic Me Time Mattress
Oh, gags of masturbation pretending to be something else – you never get old!
Clint Eastwood for Chrysler, etc.
Clint Eastwood I
Clint Eastwood II
Clint Eastwood III
In the post-Gran Torino portion of Clint Eastwood’s career, the reaction to his Super Bowl Chrysler commercial was a gift to any comedian with a Clint impression worth a lick of salt. It was an opportunity to just yell at everybody to tell them how they’ve gotten everything wrong. And then Hader adds the whole pants-hiking thing to it.
Best Digital Short
Interviews with Drake
The briefness and the titles of the interviews with Drake allowed this short to explain itself, and then there was the word from the sponsor (as played by Kristen Wiig), which took it to another whole level.
Seducing Women Through Chess
The cheap ’80s-video look – a favorite of the Lonely Island – and Andy’s Carl Sagan-esque getup made the aesthetics of this short enough to make the whole thing memorable. The actual content of the sketch – a classic case of contrast in which Andy’s confident tone was belied by his unsuccessful efforts – managed to sell it even further.
100th Digital Short
Of the two celebratory, final digital shorts, I initially preferred Lazy Sunday 2, but I ultimately settled on the 100th as the better one, as it actually offered more in the way of fresh material, particularly Will Ferrell’s dick-measuring sort of posturing.
Honorable Mentions: Lazy Sunday 2, V-Necks
Best Weekend Update Segment
Get in the Cage with Nicolas Cage
For my money, the Get in the Cage segment with the actual Nic Cage was the best moment of SNL since the Celebrity Jeopardy featuring Sean Connery, Burt Reynolds, and French Stewart.
Stefon (from Katy Perry/Robyn)
Stefon’s place on this list basically represents all of his appearances this season (although the edition from the Katy Perry episode was probably the best, mostly thanks to Spud Webb). I have to congratulate everyone involved with Stefon for managing to not run him into the ground and keep him as great as he is.
Drunk Uncle (from Steve Buscemi/The Black Keys)
Like Stefon, Drunk Uncle’s spot is meant to more or less represent all of his appearances, although his first was the best, partially due to the law of diminishing returns. Drunk Uncle is perhaps the first (or at least the best so far) SNL character tailor made for the Twitter age. The character conception (a curmudgeonly old relative) is good enough, but beside the point. The idea is, essentially, how many lines of 140 characters or fewer can we squeeze into four minutes?
Andy Samberg as Sarah Palin
Tina Fey isn’t around, so what do you do? Resourcefulness can lead to great comedy, so why not let Andy Samberg play Sarah Palin and just do whatever he can think of. There wasn’t much of a point to this bit, beyond just “being funny.”
Lana Del Rey
Now here’s something SNL doesn’t always do, but probably should always do (by virtue of being a weekly show and not having the chance to react to stories right away): taking a different comedic tack than everyone else. After her wildly out-there performances on the last episode of SNL, Lana Del Rey was torn apart in every corner of the Internet. So SNL wisely turned that focus around and asked if maybe that reaction was just a tad overblown. Also, Lana Del Rey seemed like a Kristen Wiig character already, so that was a godsend.
Best 10 to 1 Sketch
Here’s a formula for a great 10 to 1 sketch: Steve Buscemi playing … any role at all, and Kristen Wiig playing an airhead.
Even though I had “Crime Scene” a spot ahead of “Christmas Ornaments” on the best overall sketch list, “Christmas Ornaments” won out among 10 to 1’s due to a couple of X-factors: “Ornaments” was a little bit weirder, making it thus more in line with the 10 to 1 style, and “Crime Scene” wasn’t quite the last sketch of the episode. But the only bit that followed was a rerun of a commercial parody, which was more of a time filler than a 10 to 1 sketch, whereas “Crime Scene” had plenty of that go for broke energy that makes great late in the show sketches memorable.
We’re Going to Make Technology Hump (from Emma Stone/Coldplay)
Exactly the sort of show you would love to stumble across at 1 AM.
Honorable Mentions: One Magical Night, Tinyballs
A zeitgeisty best sketch of the season (Bein’ Quirky), excellent commercial parodies galore (Verizon, Clint Eastwood), a host that a lot of people really, really love, frantically awesome special guests, the best impersonation confrontation ever, a musical guest that was kind of okay at least for their first performance, and hardly a dud of a sketch to be found.
Steve Buscemi/The Black Keys
A few excellent routines (Central Press Conference, Ornaments, Sex Ed, Drunk Uncle) thankfully stood out in an episode that actually featured several sketches that were kind of meh, but were at least elevated by a truly singular host. Also the Black Keys were there.
Maya Rudolph/Sleigh Bells
Maya’s wacky energy infused sketches that were already inspired (Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Laughs, The Obama Show, How’s He Doing?, Beyoncé and Jay-Z), been there, done that (What Up With That?, Bronx Beat), or just plain pointless (Super Showcase).
Honorable Mentions: Jason Segel/Florence + the Machine, Emma Stone/Coldplay
1. “All the dialogue is either whispered or screamed/Everything in the movie is on fire.” – Nic Cage, from Get in the Cage
2. “Take things you like and make them different. If you like swans, make them into a dress. If you like screaming, make it music. If you like clouds, make them your friends.” – Björk (Kristen), from Bein’ Quirky with Zooey Deschanel
3. “Hey Siri, why did a Chinaman steal my job?” – Drunk Uncle (Bobby)
4. “This one’s just a candy cane. A’ight?” – Male Sheila (Steve Buscemi), from Christmas Ornaments
5. “Sister Maya, was this an act of malice?”/“No, brother West, it was an act of whimsy.” – Cornel West (Kenan)/Maya Angelou (Maya Rudolph), from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Laughs
6. “Now, this is a little snowman. Ow! He bit me! I’m fully kidding.” – Male Sheila (Steve Buscemi), from Christmas Ornaments
7. “All right, quick! Name this baby! If you said Larry, you’re close. It’s Jesus.” – Male Sheila (Steve Buscemi), from Christmas Ornaments
8. “We don’t want your dumbass soap opera scenes. Just show clean, close-up shots of tech-humping.” – Jacob (Andy), co-host of We’re Going to Make Technology Hump, reading a viewer e-mail
9. “When I was a kid, five dollars, you could get, you could get, hot dog milk bread cigarettes television.” – Drunk Uncle (Bobby)
10. “I think people thought I was stiff … distant … and weird. But there’s a perfectly good explanation for that.” “I am stiff, distant, and weird.” – Lana Del Rey (Kristen), on Weekend Update
11. “Hey, baby Jesus, you wanna do Pilates?” – Drunk Uncle (Bobby)
12. “When I saw this, I was like, ‘Santa’s on va-cay!’” – Male Sheila (Steve Buscemi), from Christmas Ornaments
13. “People keep asking me, ‘What does Sarah Palin think of this new Game Change movie?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know, I’ll-ask-a!’” Andy Samberg as Sarah Palin on Weekend Update
14. “We have a clip.” – repeated line, from Kalle (Kristen)
15. “This broad is trying to gaslight me.” – Male Sheila (Steve Buscemi), from Christmas Ornaments
16. “No more illegals. Illegals SUUUUUCK.” – Jeff, the host of The Comments Section (Jason), reading a comment by Jennifer Evans (Melissa McCarthy)
17. “This one’s been up my butt. Not just a little bit – all the way.” – Male Sheila (Steve Buscemi), from Christmas Ornaments
18. “Kristen Wiig!” – Audience member, from Lindsay Lohan’s monologue
19. “What’s he, another one of your Fieldstein characters?” – Detective (Charlie Day), from Crime Scene