This past Saturday, Justin Timberlake hosted the 36th season finale of Saturday Night Live. Like all seasons of Saturday Night Live, the 2010-2011 season was filled with plenty of ups and downs. I’ve decided to go back and revisit all 22 episodes, from the opener with Amy Poehler, all the way through to Justin Timberlake, in order to rank every episode from this past season.
While humor was the most important criteria in my rankings (which is, of course, a subjective thing), I also was looking for originality and memorability in my search. I’m sure that many will disagree with this list, so go ahead and leave me your own comment or monologue on how badly I screwed this up.
#22) Jeff Bridges / Eminem & Lil Wayne – December 18, 2010
Jeff Bridges returns to host the show for the second time after a 27-year gap in between hosting appearances. However, this appearance left me less with thoughts of “The Dude” and more with thoughts of this dud. While a monologue appearance from Cookie Monster should have helped this one escape last place in the rankings, it seems as though some SNL staffers might have been thinking more about the impending Christmas break. Jeff Bridges gets to play Nicke Nolte and Dog the Bounty Hunter, but otherwise is a pretty forgettable show. If I don’t know know better I would think that we were all being Jeff’d with this clunker.
#21) Ed Helms / Paul Simon – May 14, 2011
This could be the most disappointing single episode of Saturday Night Live in the last few years. Fans of “The Hangover” and “The Office” know how funny Ed Helms can be, but Ed Helms was given almost nothing to work with. In the pre-update sketches, Helms was barely seen. Additionally, Helms’ monologue about wanting to be a baton twirler seemed left me wanting to pull my own teeth out (That’s a little extreme, but it was boring). The only thing that saves this episode from the being lower on the list is the live action adaption of Robert Smigel’s “The Ambiguously Gay Duo” starring Jon Hamm, Jimmy Fallon, Steve Carell and Steven Colbert.
#20) Bryan Cranston / Kanye West – October 10, 2010
Bryan Cranston is one of the finest actors working on television today but his first SNL hosting appearance was pretty breaking bad. Perhaps unmemorable is the more appropriate term. We do get the first appearance of “The Miley Cyrus Show” with Cranston actually playing Billy Ray Cyrus (later played by Jason Sudeikis). We also got a pretty good edition of “What’s Up With That” with Morgan Freeman and Ernest Borgnine. Other than a strong outing by Kanye West, there’s not much here.
#19) Scarlett Johansson / Arcade Fire – November 13, 2010
Scarlett Johansson hosted the show for the third time, but by no means was this one “the charm”. There were a couple of funny reality show parodies between the “MTV and pregnant” satire and the Millionaire Matchmaker. Jay Pharoah gets to do his dead-on Denzel Washington impression in a particularly brilliant parody of the film “Unstoppable“. There’s also a pretty funny moment during the normally brutal “Hollywood Dish” where Bill Heder almost loses it near the end. Also, ScarJo gets to play her chandelier / column / marble bust hawking character, Lexie in a last sketch commercial. Some laughs, but for the most part a forgettable week for the show. By the way, can somebody please tell me Who is Arcade Fire?
#18) Robert DeNiro / Diddy Dirty Money – December 4, 2010
Robert DeNiro is back on SNL for the third time but it wasn’t exactly an oscar-award winning performance. There’s a pretty classic edition of “What’s Up With That?” featuring DeNiro and Robin Williams (though DeNiro and Williams don’t have to do much of the lifting). DeNiro does even less as a dead body in the hilarious “Weekend at Bernie’s” parody called “Party at Mr. Bernard’s“. However, when DeNiro has to actually carry a sketch (or speak) it doesn’t go nearly as well, as in the case with “Mr. Produce“. Not to pile on, but you combine this show with that month’s impending opening of “Little Fockers”, it’s not exactly a December to remember for the legendary actor.
#17) Emma Stone / Kings of Leon – October 23, 2010
Emma Stone makes her first appearance on SNL with a couple of hits and a few more misses. There’s a very funny Digital Short called “I Broke My Arm” about Stone’s character bragging about and repeating to slip on some grape jelly in the high school cafeteria. Also we get the Baby Spanx commercial for the first time and also the first iteration of the very outside of the box, “Les Jeunes de Paris” dance number. However, Kristen Wiig’s Sweepstakes Lady is particularly grating and another political cold open goes nowhere, this time at a political rally for the unpopular Harry Reid.
#16) Helen Mirren / Foo Fighters – April 9, 2010
Did anybody else not know that Helen Mirren’s boobs were “a thing” before this episode of SNL? Too bad this show wasn’t as magical as the Dame’s D-cups. There’s some fun with Mort Mort Feingold preparing taxes for the celebrities (and a particularly good line by the Kardashian sisters). Also give some credit for a particularly original sketch about the origins of Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein“. On the other hand, nothing is less original than a sketch about Fox News being biased in 2011. An Obama cold-open doesn’t help this one either.
#15) Gwyneth Paltrow / Cee-Lo Green – January 15, 2011
Gwyneth Paltrow returns to host her third Saturday Night Live and the first in nine years. Did anybody here know that Gwyneth Paltrow likes to sing? Better yet, can somebody please tell me the last thing Gwyneth Paltrow did that did not involve singing. Can somebody help me get the petition going to get Gwyneth Paltrow back to just acting instead of signing and the opposite for Justin Timberlake… but I digress. Gwyneth gets to sing in both her monologue and in the pretty funny sketch “Jacob’s Rockin’ Bar Mitzvah”, playing Taylor Swift. Pee-Wee Herman shows up in a digital short to go on a bender with Andy Sandberg too. However, with Cee-Lo Green in the house, we have to endure the one joke “Forget You” sketch plus another predictable piece on Fox News in the open. An okay show all around, but certainly one that is easy to “forget”.
#14) Jim Carrey / The Black Keys – January 8, 2011
Jim Carrey returns to host SNL after a 15-year hiatus between hosting stints. Much like the Ed Helms episode, on the surface, a Jim Carrey hosted SNL had potential to be amazing. Unfortunately for us, it’s not 1996. There’s a memorable Black Swan parody, only because it seems as though Carrey simply channels his old Vera DeMilo character from “In Living Color”. The show also scored with “The Worst of Soul Train” and a pretty good little gem at the end of the show called “Celebrity Impressionist Psychic“, featuring a rare Alan Thicke impression from Jim Carrey. There’s also a pretty clever sketch about a creepy amusement park ride which gets points for originality. Outside of a few bright spots, there’s not much else here to write home about, which I guess is par for the course at this point in the career of Jim Carrey.
#13) Russell Brand / Chris Brown – February 12, 2011
The Arthur-playing British import, Russell Brand tries his hand for the first time on SNL. Brand definitely brings some laughs doing his own standup in the monologue. There’s a few bright spots sketch-wise between the very original “Royal Food Taster” sketch and the cockney movie parody, “Doin’ You Go Rounin’ Roun to Re Ro“. With Chris Brown in the house it wouldn’t be right if this episode didn’t have a couple of black eyes, most notably another “Sweepstakes Lady” sketch from Kristen Wiig.
#12) Jesse Eisenberg / Nicki Minaj – January 29, 2011
On the heels of the success of “The Social Network”, Jesse Eisenberg hosts Saturday Night Live for the first time. Much like Facebook itself, theres plenty of things to like as well as fair amount of junk clogging up your newsfeed. Memorably, the real Mark Zuckerberg shows up to meet Eisernberg and Sandberg (playing Zuckerberg) – though no mention is made to all the “bergs” on the stage. There’s also a particularly smart sketch about some promiscuous kids in the laboratory of Mr. Wizard as well as standouts like “The Bride of Blackenstein” and Bill Heder’s senile news reporter, Herb Welch. On the negative side, Kristen Wiig’s Michelle Bachman in the cold open left many viewers looking for the dislike button.
#11) Anne Hathaway / Florence and the Machine – November 20, 2010
As a big Anne Hathaway fan, I was very excited for her second stint hosting Saturday Night Live, though the actual show went only marginally better than her first stint hosting the Oscars. Most notably, Hathaway does a dead-on Katie Holmes impression during “The Miley Cyrus Show” which ended up enraging Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes enough to skip out on the Oscars. Hathaway also plays Kate Middleton getting to meet the Queen and Prince Philip in a sketch that might be funnier following the recent Royal wedding hoopla. The lost scenes from “The Wizard of Oz” sketch with Fred had a lot of potential but ultimately Fred Armisen as the weather-vane quickly got old.
Interestingly, when I started writing this list I would have described myself as huge fan of Kristen Wiig’s work on the show. Going through this list I’m finding that she’s at the center of many of my least favorite sketches. This episode is no different as Penelope shows up to annoy Hathaway and many viewers (myself included) at a Thanksgiving food drive. Thankfully for us, Wiig recently announced she will be retiring the Penelope character as well.
#10) Amy Poehler / Katy Perry – September 25, 2010
SNL started off its season with Amy Poehler hosting the show for the first time. In my mind, it was an unusual choice since Poehler most recently appeared in the previous season’s Betty White hosted finale. Also, Poehler’s show “Park and Recreation” wasn’t going to be airing until January, so she didn’t have anything special to promote.
As for the show itself, Poehler gets to reunite with Maya Rudolph for a Bronx Beat appearance featuring Katy Perry wearing a very unforgettable Elmo top. We are also treated to a brilliant commercial parody about Gay Weddings at the Ground Zero Mosque. Also plenty of familiar faces show up in a dream sequence monologue including Justin Timberlake, Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon and Rachel Dratch. While there’s a fair amount of laughs, the show is a slight disappointment considering the SNL resume of Poehler. Furthermore, bad job by the writers to have a summer hiatus to return with a cold open sketch about Christine O’Donnell.
#9) Jane Lynch / Bruno Mars – October 9, 2010
The hilarious Jane Lynch also would make her first SNL appearance this season, which on paper should be a no-brainer. While Lynch delivers some laughs, the episode didn’t leave us completely in Glee. A commercial for “Damn it, My Mom is on Facebook” delivers laughs, as well as Pharoah’s Denzel Washington working at the exchange counter of a department store. Lynch also brought the funny playing a sadistic (and naked) therapist in a Digital Short, Faith Hill in a Sunday Night Football parody and her own, Sue Sylvester in a Glee-themed edition of Gilly (and possibly the final Gilly sketch of all time). My least favorite current SNL sketch might be “Secret Word” which shows up here and in a season of weak cold opens, “Ask Gloria Allred” might be the worst.
#8) Jon Hamm / Rihanna – October 30, 2010
Jon Hamm joins the three-timers club by hosting a Halloween weekend edition of SNL. The pre-taped pieces provided some great comedy in this episode. Shy Ronnie returns for “Ronnie and Clyde” and the two “Back to the Future” screen tests were among my favorite sketches of the season. Bill Heder’s Vincent Price always works and this iteration of his Halloween Special is no exception. If I was looking for something to complain about, I would get into the “Ad Campaign” monologue, which was particularly weak. More often than not, when the host goes to the audience for questions in the monologue, it’s usually not a sign of impending hilarity. All in all, more treat than trick.
#7) Tina Fey / Ellie Goulding – May 7, 2011
A very pregnant Tina Fey makes her third appearance as SNL host on a Mother’s Day weekend. Maya Rudolph shows up for another appearance this season and sings a monologue duet to their respective unborn children. Of course, Fey plays Sarah Palin in a battle royal debate between the Republican party presidential candidates as Darrell Hammond reprises his ever topical Donald Trump impression. The show was very Bin Laden heavy, including a Bin Laden cold open reading of a last will and testament, followed by a very funny Little Mermaid song interrupted by Bin Laden’s floating body and plenty of Bin Laden jokes during Update (especially by Jason Sudeikis as the devil). Michael Bolton shows up in a digital short to profess his love for Jack Sparrow and movies in general and we get perhaps the greatest ever appearance by Bill Heder’s Stefon on Weekend Update.
#6) Elton John – April 2, 2011
I was somewhat nervous about Elton John’s first ever SNL appearance as host (he was a musical guest in 1982), but Sir Elton seemed up to the task and had a solid monologue. As a bonus, Tom Hanks shows up and makes major contributions in several of the sketches. The ESPN Classic sketch is back (with Will Forte returning as well) with Hanks getting the biggest laughs as the brother of sportscaster, Greg Stink. Perhaps the best sketch of the night features the Knights of the Realm (the knighted British celebrities) figuring out how to fight a dragon attacking the country. Too many great performances in this sketch to list, but Hanks particularly shines here as well as a pitch perfect Sir Michael Caine. Though I’m no fan of “LaserCats“, there’s a pretty tolerable iteration featuring Elton John in this week’s show as well. All in all, this Saturday Night’s alright for writing.
#5) Paul Rudd / Paul McCartney – December 11, 2010
The Pauls invade studio 8H as Paul Rudd returns to host for his second time and Paul McCartney returns as musical guest for the third time. Rudd is strong once again as SNL host reprising a sketch from the first hosting stint about the overly affectionate Vogelcheck family. Rudd is also hilarious later in the show during the “What’s That Name?” game show in which he is challenged about his knowledge of the names of several of the familiar faces in his life. McCartney is on point as well, performing three musical numbers, appearing on Weekend Update and even ripping off a solo in the Digital Short, “Stumblin‘”. All around, an episode of SNL that is rarely “stumblin”.
#4) Dana Carvey / Linkin Park – February 5, 2011
Call me a sucker for nostalgia, but I really enjoyed Dana Carvey’s fourth hosting appearance on SNL, which was his first since 2000. I still have no idea why Carvey hosted the show at this time since according to IMDB, he doesn’t have any impeding project to promote. Nonetheless, I am in favor of any first ballot hall-of-fame cast members returning to host.
The show opened with Mike Myers joining Carvey for a revival of “Wayne’s World” and a breakdown of the oscar race (Still giggling if I hear the name “Winter’s Bone”). Jon Lovitz joined Carvey in the monologue to brag about their era of SNL. The Church Lady returned as well with a surprise appearance from Justin Bieber. Bieber also gets to shine in the Digital Short based on the film, “The Roommate“. The Regis and Kelly sketch had potential, but its still great to see Carvey’s Regis impression. A great night for the show… We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!
#3) Justin Timberlake / Lady Gaga – May 21, 2011
For the SNL season finale, Justin Timberlake takes up hosting duties for the fourth time. No new ground is broken here, but all the Timberlake staples are done well. We see an incarnation of Omeletteville (this time “Liquorville”), a Digital Short as the “D*ck in a Box” guys (This time about the Golden Rule of threesomes) and even the Barry Gibb Talk Show with Jimmy Fallon (Not really a favorite of mine, feels like more of a favor to Fallon at this point to put this in the last fifteen minutes of the show everytime JT is available). The “Not Gonna Sing Tonight” monologue was one of the best musical monologues of the many that show up in season 36. We also get another great edition of the “What’s That Name?” game show. In addition to musical duties, Gaga brings it in “Liquorville”, “What’s That Name?” and as the third wheel to Sandberg and Timberlake in the Digital Short. Plus, Seth Meyers has a particularly biting “Really” segment during Weekend Update about the Arnold Shwarzenegger fiasco. Other than another edition of the “Secret Word” game show, it’s a season finale that is rarely out of sync.
#2) Miley Cyrus / The Strokes – March 5, 2011
I didn’t have the highest expectations for a Miley Cyrus hosted edition of SNL, but in a week when Charlie Sheen captured the national spotlight, the show was definitely “Winning!” Bill Heder opens the show with “The Charlie Sheen Talk Show” which seemed absurd at the time, until within a week the actual Sheen started his own talk show on Ustream (which I believe was the unofficial end of our collective interest in Charlie Sheen). Additionally, Seth Meyers hits up the Sheen situation for some big laughs in Weekend Update with his “Winners/Losers” segment. As for Cyrus herself, she showed a yet unseen sense of humor about herself appearing in the “Disney Channel Acting School” and does a pretty funny Justin Bieber during Vanessa Bayer’s “Miley Cyrus Show“. On a night with a number of fake talk shows, the funniest (and most original) concept might have been the Black Eyed Peas talk show hosted by Taboo and Apl.de.Apl (played by Andy Sandberg and Keenan Thompson). The “Les Jeunes de Paris” dance number shows up as well and dazzles again. There’s a bit of a dud in another Turner Classic Movies parody, but for the most part you didn’t have to be high on salvia to really enjoy this one.
#1) Zach Galifianakis / Jessie J – March 12, 2011
Almost a year to the day following his first hosting appearance, Zach Galifianakis seems much more up to the job this time around. The monologue relies heavily on Galifianakis’ own comedy bits, but his rendition of “Tomorrow” was the most enjoyable monologue of the year for me. I don’t normally enjoy Keenan’s “Scared Straight” sketch, but I thought that this edition of the bit was the sharpest to date. I also loved Zach’s search for a new assistant interviewing the various kids. The cold open was decent in a NCAA selection show for the title of “World’s craziest person”. Also, in the post update slot, I thought the “Noodles the Dog” sketch was refreshingly smart. “The Talk” and “The Original Kings of Catchphrase Comedy” struggled at times, but in both cases Galifianakis delivered big laughs with his brief appearances. Musically, I also thought that Jessie J knocked the ball out of the park. In summary, I can’t remember an episode of Saturday Night Live this season that I enjoyed more than the second hosting stint from “Hangover” star, Zach Galifianakis.