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The 39th season of SNL will premiere on September 28 with its prodigal daughter Tina Fey returning to host. But while we wait for new episodes (and in preparation for being the new TheCelebrityCafé.com SNL recapper), I’m putting together a list of the best and worst SNL sketches from last season. Let’s get the bad ones behind us first, shall we? The good ones will get published next Saturday.
(Note, at the time of this writing, all clips from last season were removed from Hulu, which is why they are not embedded here)
10. Catfish - Ep 12, Adam Levine
I’ve got a weakness for Catfish, the MTV docuseries that, thematically, lies somewhere between trashy reality TV and Shakespearean drama, so I was excited for its SNL treatment. But the final sketch was so lazy, dull and unfunny it made me wonder if the writers have even seen the show they were trying to parody. Despite so much to make fun of (the crazy impostors, the unrealistic lovers, the strong “friendship” between Nev and Max), SNL ditched all that and went for a few vapid jokes based around the unfounded fact that Nev likes to shoehorn his name into random sentences. I might have snickered at the “Hey are we ever gonna cut to this camera?” line, but other than that, the Catfish parody was a big wasted opportunity.
9. Old Friends Meet At Restoration Hardware - Ep 10, Martin Short & Paul McCartney
It makes me a little queasy to put comedy icon Martin Short on this list, but boy was this sketch not funny. Here, Fred Armisen and Short play two long-lost friends who run into each other at a Restoration Hardware and catch up through a series of unfunny and nonsensical jokes. Although Short is a master of improv, the Old Friends sketch seemed like a really bad, bargain bin improvised scene that went on way too long and without any real payoff. While one fellow critic, who nevertheless disliked the sketch, called the dialogue “Ionesco-esque,” I just call it stupid.
8. The Justin Bieber Episode
The Justin Bieber episode was not just uniformly humorless, it was possibly the most awkward, cringe-worthy 90 minutes of television I’ve seen in a long time. Throughout the whole episode, the Biebs seemed uncomfortable while the writers seemed at war with trying to alternatively make fun of and mollify the star. Such tension is not good for comedy and produced sketches that ranged from a resounding ehhh (the Grease parody and the Miley Cyrus Show sketch had moments of real humor with the latter featuring Bieber’s most comfortable performance) to a few dreadful sketches (do I even have to mention “Glice?”) that were dead on arrival. There were screaming girls in the audience, an ill-at-ease host who doubled as easily one of the worst, most off-key musical performers of the year and a few sketches like the Valentines Day bit that just didn't work. I do give props to whoever wrote that Body Doubles sketch for at least trying to give some edge to the night's performance (the “yeah, well neither are you, homey” line was a brilliant addition) even though the scene, as a whole, didn’t work.
7. She’s Got A D!%k - Ep 15, Justin Timberlake
We all know Timberlake is one of the best SNL hosts of all time. His last outing in March was a bit hit or miss (Moet and Chandon, yes; Sober Caligula, no) but by far, the worst of the night and his SNL tenure was the fake movie trailer for “She’s Got A D!%k,” a one-joke premise based on a gag that just isn’t funny. The joke – hey, this cute girl has a penis! – is so sophomoric, dumb and flat it makes American Pie seem like Moliere. There’s no other material, no comedy, just the unflappable Kenan Thompson repeating variations of “Wait, she’s got a…WHAT?” among shots of overused romantic comedy clichés. Even Fred Armisen’s Eugene Levy impression couldn’t get me to crack a smile.
6. Kristin Wiig Episode
For as many good performances and hilarious characters as Kristen Wiig had on SNL, there were equally as many unfunny, annoying bits (I would die a happy man to never see a Secret Word sketch again). Unfortunately, when Wiig returned as host in May, it was the latter that showed up. From the return of Target Lady, Garth and Kat and the Maharelle Sisters, Wiig trotted out a few of her most grating and repetitive characters. The problem with much of Wiig’s repertoire is that she writes funny, quirky, one-joke sketches and then repeats them ad nauseum. From the beginning we know the joke (Garth and Kat make up all the songs on the spot! The Secret Word lady will say the secret word!), so what’s the point? While Wiig tried a few original sketches, most – like the Cougars one and the Aw Nuts! My Mom’s A Ghost bit – fell flatter than week old soda. I’ll give the Acupuncture sketch props for taking a gross out concept and pushing it to the limit. The line between eliciting laughter and nausea was a bit too blurry, but by the time the patient’s back exploded, I can’t say I wasn’t chuckling.
5. Australian Screen Legends/Mountain Pass - Ep 6, Louis C.K. & Fun.
Two sketches from the episode hosted by Louis C.K. easily qualify for this list, so forgive me for lumping them together. The Australian Screen Legends sketch followed a simple premise: people with Australian accents sound funny, especially when saying dirty words. Unless the always-game Kate McKinnon saying, “oh, you’ve got a boner!” in perhaps that worst accent ever used on television, is your cup of tea, this sketch is about as unfunny as comedy can get. Sort of like Number 7 (and the Jennifer Lawrence's Love Letter sketch that just missed the cut), last year’s SNL writers have the mistaken notion that saying “bad words” equals funny, which even the people behind The Hangover knew takes a little more effort. And the Mountain Pass sketch? Well, let’s just say I was as humorless and uncomfortable watching it as Louis was performing it. Moving on.
4. Firehouse Incident - Ep 12, Adam Levine
The Firehouse Incident sketch from the aforementioned Adam Levine episode was a bizarre, unpleasant little bit of “comedy.” Here we have Bill Hader playing Bryce, a flamboyant, obnoxious drama queen of a firefighter who has a mental breakdown in the middle of their holiday party. Mix together four solid minutes of a screaming Bill Hader, a lame gag with a stuffed dog, tired stereotypes and, you guessed it, even more screeching courtesy of Mr. Hader (who, incidentally, was clearly trying not to break the whole time) and you got one god-awful sketch. What did New Haven do to deserve this?
3. Construction Workers - Ep 3, Daniel Craig & Muse
There’s not much to say about this sketch, as it’s basically one big anti-joke. There’s a group of construction workers making catcalls at the ladies walking past, except the new guy, played by Craig trying his best to master a Brooklyn accent, who can’t seem to get the concept. “She’s like a big bowl of butt soup with extra nipples!” is about the best he can muster. While this sketch was probably a blast to write at 2 a.m., it comes across as lifeless and humorless on its feet. A bizarre flashback near the end only made it worse. Hands down, Construction Workers is scraping the bottom of the SNL barrel.
2. Junior Prom - Ep 16, Vince Vaughn & Miguel
The Junior Prom sketch from the April 13 episode has the distinction of being unfunny, poorly performed and more than a little morally ambiguous. Host Vaughn stars as “the rich man at the top of the hill that overlooks the school” who donated millions to the North End Junior High School prom and then shows up to be part of the party. The whole premise is stale, but what pushed it onto this list was the unexplored creepiness in this adult who is so passionate about dancing with preteen boys. SNL can do risky material, but this was neither edgy nor had anything to say. It was just a creepy, ill-thought-out sketch that is one of the worst of the year.
1. The Californians - Multiple Episodes
After sitting through (what feels like) hundreds of Californians sketches, I can’t bear to waste any more time writing it about. It was dumb the first time and the joke (Californians talk weird and drive everywhere!) seemed only funny to the cast, who couldn’t help but crack up every single time SNL trotted this turkey out. Every other sketch on this list I rewatched in order to make sure they were really as terrible as I remember, but I couldn’t stand to even watch a single frame of The Californians again. I’ve laughed more during a funeral service than I have in nearly 10 versions of this sketch. Let’s hope it doesn’t resurface in 2013-2014!
Photo Courtesy of NBC Universal