NBC’s comedy institution Saturday Night Live has been rolling along in 2021, powered by a string of eclectic hosts that ranges from TV comedy stars (John Krasinski, Dan Levy) to powerhouse dramatic actors (Daniel Kaluuya, Regina King, Carey Mulligan) to SNL royalty (Maya Rudolph). Bridgerton breakout star Regé-Jean Page also dropped by to host, and Nick Jonas pulled double-duty for an episode, hosting and serving as the musical guest. That makes for plenty of sketches to watch however you fill your SNL needs (via cable, YouTube or Peacock), but if you want to be a bit selective, these are the ones we would consider the best of 2021 so far …
10. “It Gets Better” (Levy)
This sketch features Levy and a group of SNL’s gay cast members (Kate McKinnon, Bowen Yang, Punkie Johnson) performing an “It Gets Better” ad with a twist. Initially feeling somewhat sincere, the penny quickly drops as the game becomes clear – just because some things will get better over time, that doesn’t mean everything does. Sure, McKinnon’s character grew up to be a successful lawyer and a mother to two beautiful children she never thought she’d have, but now she has to deal with her kids’ terrible pet iguana that terrorizes her house. Yang’s character no longer gets bullied for being gay; now he gets bullied for his music opinions on Twitter. It’s funny, it’s touching, and it highlights how far SNL’s cast has come in terms of inclusivity.
9. “’70s Green Room” (King)
“70s Green Room” may not the best-written sketch on this list, but it’s one that succeeds completely based on the commitment of the performers. King is perfect as a disco diva dealing with an inept assistant (Yang) and a bass player who doesn’t know any of the songs (SNL hall-of-famer Kenan Thompson). The dialogue comes rapid-fire, which could trip up all but the best live performers, and this group absolutely nails it.
8. “The Job Interview” (Page)
“The Job Interview” is a sketch that keeps getting funnier the stranger it gets. Go-getter Page sits for a job interview with ad exec Beck Bennett, who specializes in such dubious campaigns as “Charmin: Use After You Poop.” The increasingly offensive advertisements contrast perfectly with Page’s growing enthusiasm. Yang’s assistant keeps popping in and out with Post-it notes to keep things peculiarly random, and, eventually, a pool-noodle fight breaks out. This is one of those sketches that is admittedly kind of stupid but the performers are so tuned-in to the surrealness of it all that it ends up working.
7. “Proud Parents” (Kaluuya)
Kaluuya was an engaging performer throughout his entire episode, but he was particularly good in this sketch where he and Ego Nwodim teamed up as a pair of African-immigrant parents who are having none of their son’s decision to change his college major from medicine to creative writing. “Yes, if there is anything we have learned from the pandemic, it’s that the world needs more poets,” Kaluuya declares, the sarcasm dripping from his voice, as he and Nwodim move on from attacking their son’s new passion to lording their high expectations over all of their dinner-party guests. It’s a pretty straightforward piece of comedy, but Kaluuya and Nwodim sell it completely.
6. “Zillow” (Levy)
This prerecorded bit clearly states its premise early on: “Real estate is your sex now.” And that’s exactly what we get, as Levy, Mikey Day, Heidi Gardner, and more pitch in on a commercial that looks and feels like it should be for a hot new pornography app (or maybe one of those old 1-900 sex hotlines) but is instead promoting everyone’s favorite real-estate website. After all, who needs sex when you can ogle big gross mansions and guesthouses with their own kitchen? “Satisfy your every fantasy,” indeed.
5. “What Still Works” (Krasinski)
McKinnon is known for playing outlandish characters on SNL, but she’s surprisingly been at her strongest this season when playing herself, whether she’s breaking character during one of her Dr. Wenowdis bits on Weekend Update or in this cold open sketch from the Krasinski episode. McKinnon appears as herself, simply trying to figure out whether there’s anything left in this damn country that still actually works. A lineup of news-worthy personalities, including Cecily Strong as Marjorie Taylor Green and Alex Moffat as Mark Zuckerberg, stops by to make the argument that, yes, some things here still work… but they all fail miserably in doing so. McKinnon represents all of us as she grows more and more exasperated with the state of the world today.
4. “The Maya-ing” (Rudolph)
So you say you’re going to do a spoof of The Shining where 30 Rock stands in for the Overlook Hotel, Tina Fey shows up to play the ghost of a mega-permed 70s SNL writer, Kenan Thompson takes over for Scatman Crothers, and Rachel Dratch shows up as the woman in the bathtub? Sold! There may be funnier sketches on this list, but the marrying of SNL history with the Kubrick horror classic here checked all of our boxes. The look on Rudolph’s face when she stops at the photo of Kevin Spacey hosting on the wall is everything. Also, we’d like to order a beer-garita, please.
3. “Weekend Update: The Iceberg on the Sinking of the Titanic” (Mulligan)
Yang has been killing it in Weekend Update correspondent spots since the beginning of his time on SNL, whether he’s appearing as himself to address Asian hate crimes or dropping by as Chinese trade representative and “trade daddy” Chen Biao. But he hit new heights in the Mulligan-hosted episode when he showed up to portray the iceberg that sank the Titanic, wearing a white sequined jacket and a giant slab of fake ice on his head. What starts out as a moderately amusing sight gag grows more and more hilarious as Yang launches into a tirade against what he sees as years of historical and James Cameron-led revisionism that has somehow turned him into the bad guy. (“Everyone’s talking about me. No one’s talking about the water! What did the autopsy say? They iceberg-ed? No! They drowned, bitch! That’s not me. That’s water!”) I mean, sure the iceberg hates that 20 or 30 people died or whatever, but all he really wants to do is promote his new album of hyper-pop EDM disco music. Just total absurdity cranked to must-watch levels, in hands of a featured player who needs to be added to the main cast ASAP.
In our number two sketch, SNL takes a spoof-friendly concept – a parent gets interrupted by his kids while he’s video-conferencing in as a talking head on a cable news show – and turns it into one of the most delightfully freaky bits the show has dared attempt in some time. The sketch is already funny when Krasinski’s character subtly slides to his left, revealing some disturbing artwork in the background. (Clever, considering the COVID pandemic has had us all obsessing over the décor of co-workers and TV personalities who have been Zoom-ing in from home.) But things ramp up considerably with the arrival of Krasinski’s twin children – Jacob and Josephine, two blonde-haired terrors who seem to have jumped straight from a Children of the Corn sequel. Strong and Bennett’s CNBC anchors grow more and more horrified, while proud papa Krasinski just wants to work. Bizarre, creepy, and an absolute riot.
1. “Murder Show” (Jonas)
During a time when we’ve all been glued to our TVs more than usual and streaming services have multiplied like flies, true-crime documentaries have become all the rage. If you’re not watching them, you know friends and family who are. Some of SNL’s most talented ladies take that simple idea and spin music-video gold out of it, as McKinnon, Nwodim, Melissa Villaseñor, and Chloe Fineman sing about their almost mundane obsession with shows about horrifically violent crimes. The song is fire, setting lyrics like “Two sisters got killed in a cruise in the Bahamas, I’m gonna half-watch it while I fold my pajamas” to an insanely hummable tune. “Murder Show” is laser-focused cultural satire that is immaculately produced, making it peak SNL so far this year.
Our handy, extensive guide is updated weekly with all-new picks.
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