What better way to wrap the 39th season of “Saturday Night Live” than by ranking the best live sketches of the 2013-14 TV year? While we’ll all hold out hope Andy Samberg’s return to “SNL” will provide some memories as lasting as his digital shorts (personal fave: “Mother Lover”), here are the best of the best so far:
1) Louis C.K. – “Black Jeopardy”
Add another trophy to the stand-up’s mantle. The creator, director, writer, editor and star of FX’s “Louie” blew us away with his hosting duties last season, and he followed it up with an equally impressive performance this time around. While his opening monologue was hard to top, his “Black Jeopardy” sketch stood out not only for its humor, but for following up on the key talking point surrounding the 39th season: more black actors, particularly women. Kenan Thompson publicly stated he wouldn’t dress in drag anymore, calling on the showrunners to hire more black female actors. It worked, and we’re all glad it did. Take a look at the tension-defusing sketch below:
2) Jimmy Fallon – “Celebrity Family Feud”
Jay Pharoah may be the under-utilized MVP of the season, and his brief but spot on impression of Ice-T in the “Celebrity Jeopardy” knock-off sure helps his case. After being crowned the new host of “The Tonight Show,” Jimmy Fallon returned to his original live roots on “Saturday Night Live,” providing the audience with everything we loved (and hated, for some) about the comedian: top notch impressions; high energy; and a high possibility of breaking. All of the above were on display below in a sketch also highlighting the diverse talents of the new cast.
3) Charlize Theron – “Pet Rescue Commercial”
Sometimes you’ve just got to give an actor props for committing, and boy did Charlize Theron ever commit when she assumed hosting duties in the penultimate episode of the season. Her unquestioned talent — and willingness to dive deep enough into your typical introverted cat lady and come out the other side a human character — carried this simple and sharp skit about two cat lovers trying to get people to save their feline friends. “A cat is a treasure wrapped in fur,” Theron slurs, edging ever closer to her friend, played with casual control by Kate McKinnon. The less-than-subtle subtext helped boost this one past a one-joke pussy, er, pony.
4) Lena Dunham – “Pimpin’, Pimpin’, Pimpin’: The Katt Williams Show – Oscar Edition”
Lena Dunham will get more love when we publish our list of best prerecorded bits, but as far as live sketches go, she was dynamite as Liza Minnelli on Pharoah’s “The Katt Williams Show.” Brief but brilliant, Dunham showed up with all the mannerisms in place before she even sat down, turning her head sharply and showing off some solid flexibility in a sweeping leg motion that had me on the floor in stitches. Taran Killiam’s over-the-top grump Harrison Ford sparked a timely and great line later in the sketch, too: “I think I speak for everyone in the world when I say, what the hell happened to you?” Indeed.
5) Tina Fey – “New Cast Member or Arcade Fire?”
Apparently I’m a sucker for game shows hosted by Kenan Thompson. But I’m also a sucker for hating on the newbies, and Thompson’s extra harsh scolding of new cast members bold enough to speak without being called on is absolutely ideal. Mess with the interns, that’s my motto, and it seems like Tina Fey is right there with me. Meta media may be playing out, but introducing the new cast by referencing their obscurity makes for a sketch with lasting laughs.