Saturday Night Live has had a pretty good year, all things considered.
Sure, the show in its current form can’t really compete with earlier eras of SNL. But that’s an eternal problem for this show: The audience loves to reminisce about better days, often without recognizing the greatness that’s right in front of them.
A decade from now, we’ll be swimming in thinkpieces hailing the talents of Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, and Kenan Thompson. The fact is, SNL is like many sketch comedy series’ in that the output is always going to vary from sketch to sketch. Sometimes, they’re boring and formulaic (hi virtually every cold open since Donald Trump took office). Other times, they’re comic genius.
Let’s focus on the latter for a minute. The SNL of 2020 did deliver some great laughs. Here are our favorites.
For Mashable’s entertainment team, no day is complete without at least one person taking a bit too far. We can’t ever let you look at our private Slack (no, really — it’s overrun with criminal activity) but we can give unto you this intensely, hilariously relatable musical number from Kyle Mooney about what happens when someone takes a bit just a… bit too far.
9. “Del Taco Shoot”
Comedy that depends on repetition walks along a razor’s edge. Go too far and it’s more annoying than laugh-inducing. But get it just right, with the perfect amount of weirdness, and it’s gold. This sketch from Adam Driver’s Season 45 appearance back in January nailed it. Driver and Beck Bennett are managing an ad shoot for Del Taco, and Kyle Mooney just can’t get the line reading right. And so they all say the line, again and again and again. Everyone is on fire here, even the normally hilarious Chloe Fineman in a bit player role. Her frozen expression that we see near the end of the sketch right as the weirdness peaks sells the whole damn thing.
8. “New York Musical”
This was a year that blessed us with not one but two John Mulaney-hosted episodes, and therefore two Mulaney-led tributes to Broadway musicals. Since the “Airport Sushi” sketch is technically from Season 45, we’re highlighting the more recent one from Mulaney’s October hosting gig. Fewer surprise guests but still so ridiculous, hilarious, and well put together.
Somehow, the SNL writing team turned a 20-year-old Eminem music video into an amazing send-up of every video games-loving human’s near-futile holiday season search for a PlayStation 5. In “Stu,” Pete Davidson writes a letter to Santa Claus in the hopes of scoring one of the difficult-to-find consoles. Everything about this sketch slaps, from the parody lyrics that would make “Weird” Al Yankovic proud to the nods back to Dido and Elton John, who both have their own connections to Eminem’s original track.
6. “Sport Report”
If you think back to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — a tough proposition in December, I get it — you might recall that SNL staged an experiment with socially distanced “SNL at Home” episodes. This sketch, an absolute highlight led by Alex Moffat, plays with the idea of a Sky News sports newscaster being stuck at home and trying to make the best of things by manufacturing sports competitions in his home. From the laptop startup race to the corn-popping showdown, there’s hilarity at every turn.
5. “Coronavirus Holiday”
Kicking off our top five is a sketch that imagines the COVID-19 virus as a whole family that’s dealing with some of the same struggles as everyone else in this challenging 2020. In an incisive twist, the family ends up spouting off a string of ideas and sentiments that wouldn’t be out of place at a Donald Trump rally. It’s deeply funny, but also dead-on accurate in its tearing down of anyone who has chosen to downplay the threat of COVID-19.
4. “Election Ad”
In this first of two back-to-back fake ads that made our favorite SNL sketches list, the cast of the show plays a group of everyday Americans who are just here to talk about the then-upcoming presidential election and ponder what life might look like in a post-Trump world. Their optimism for a more stable society quickly transforms into concern as they all realize that the daily headlines are about to get a lot more boring and a lot less stupidly dramatic. Clearly, all of these people are heavy social media users. That’s the joke.
As 2020 has kept most of the world’s population stuck at home, we all started looking for new hobbies and things to do to pass the time. That, of course, has meant spending money on more Stuff. In this fake eBay ad, SNL drags every one of us who tried something new and then lost interest in it. The auction site is positioned as the place to go for getting rid of all the useless crap you thought you would use, but then didn’t because pandemic life is hard and stressful.
2. “Headless Horseman”
This superb John Mulaney sketch has his Ichabod Crane meeting up with the Headless Horseman (Beck Bennett) for the first time. But the spooky moment quickly turns comical when Ichabod can’t help but ask the vengeful spirit a question: “Do you ever use it” — “it” being its own head — “on yourself?” Things only get more tawdry from there as other locals enter the scene and pepper the Headless Horseman’s head with more questions.
1. “Madame Vivelda”
This uproariously funny sketch from Adele’s October 2020 episode takes us back to the waning days of 2019. A group of friends stops in with a fortune teller, Madame Vivelda (Kate McKinnon) to get a sense of what the coming year has in store for them. But confusion reigns as Vivelda talks about the stressful process of washing a Doritos bag with soap and the unforgivable sin of eating a meal in a restaurant. As brilliant and clever a six minutes of comedy as SNL has managed over its 55 years as a series.