Saturday Night Live turns 40 years old next year. The big 4-0. What does that mean, exactly? Well, to put it in perspective, that means 11 of the 21 people who hosted during SNL‘s 39th season were not even alive when the show premiered on Oct. 11, 1975 with George Carlin as host. The show has evolved slightly from one cast to the next. But at its core, it’s still the same format that Lorne Michaels and his irreverent crew established way back when, though the first few seasons relied on such a small circle of guest hosts that Buck Henry became the inaugural member of the Five-Timers Club before the end of season 3.
It would be interesting to go back to the very beginning and award a Mr. Saturday Night to the best host for every season of SNL. Elliott Gould might take the prize in season 1 for performing double duty, and perhaps Steve Martin wins in season 2 for the same feat. But who deserves the honor for season 3: Martin again, for hosting a record three times, or a tongue-in-cheek nod to Chevy Chase, who brawled with Bill Murray on his first time back after leaving the show?
At least we know who have been the best hosts of the last three years. In 2012, EW.com readers crowned the first Mr. Saturday Night, Jimmy Fallon. Last year, Justin Timberlake ran away with the trophy. This year, the two title-holders teamed up for one super-size Christmas spectacular with Fallon as host and Timberlake as musical guest. But still, Fallon has hardly been a cinch, rising and dropping in the weekly polls that eliminated one host at a time until we were left with six finalists. His former Weekend Update co-anchor Tina Fey is back in the game, and Catching Fire‘s Josh Hutcherson is the surprise dark-horse who remains in striking distance. Might he surprise everyone and accomplish what even Jennifer Lawrence could not last year — win Mr. Saturday Night?
Before we announce the victor of this year’s contest, though, there are six other non-democratic awards to present.
Most Underrated Host: Andrew Garfield (May 3)
I’m not sure people expected much from Garfield, the half-British actor better known for his web-slinging alter ego and dating Emma Stone. But his was an extremely confident and charming SNL debut that included a cheeky impression of Timberlake, his Social Network costar, and the instant-classic digital short about a man who just can’t bring himself to love Beyoncé’s new song as much as society demands. He did reach our finals, but perhaps only because he hosted a late-season episode. With or without Stone, I’d love to see him back.
Best First-time Host: Anna Kendrick (April 5)
After Kendrick earned a Tony nomination for High Society and starred in Pitch Perfect, everyone knew she had pipes. And she didn’t waste any time putting them to good use, with a darling Beauty and the Beast number that was one of the season’s best monologues. She followed that up with a great tribute to Dongs All Over the World, and then went under the sea to play a tone-deaf Ariel. It was a great performance, from start to finish.
Best Cold Open Starring the Host: Kerry Washington as Michelle Obama (Nov. 2)
At the exact moment that Saturday Night Live was taking heat for lacking an African-American actress, the show turned its shortcoming into a clever sketch that forced Washington to play Michelle Obama and Oprah — all the while apologizing for a situation that made her double-casting necessary. Never mind that the sketch petered out, with Al Sharpten wrapping things up while a gaggle of Matthew McConaugheys alright-alright-alrighted. This cold open was smart and unafraid to poke fun at itself — on its own terms.
Best Opening Monologue: Jimmy Fallon (Dec. 21)
Isn’t it wonderful when you actually get what you wanted for Christmas? You knew Fallon was going to be great, and also that his music impressions would play a role at some point. He didn’t disappoint, singing “Joy to the World” with invisible David Bowie, invisible Bob Dylan, and invisible Paul McCartney. And then the real McCartney showed up for a special Christmas duet. Maybe it’s less ideal to watch it in May, but four days before Christmas, it was the perfect start to one of the year’s best episodes.
Best Live Sketch Starring the Host: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” with Jimmy Fallon
Another holiday classic, with Fallon and Cecily Strong acting out the vaguely-naughty lyrics to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”…and a hilarious post-coital verse that captures a change in mood after 12 minutes of pleasure: “Can you take the trash when you go?” Somehow, it ends up in a sweet place.
Best Pre-Taped Short Starring the Host: “We Did Stop (the Government),” with Miley Cyrus (Oct. 5)
After her controversial performance at the VMAs, everyone expected Cyrus to raise the shock factor in some predictable way on SNL. But when she and a gold-grill-sporting Taran Killam took aim at Michele Bachmann, John Boehner, and other Republicans who contributed to last fall’s government shutdown with a parody video for “We Can’t Stop,” the singer proved herself to be more than a twerker with a long tongue
NEXT: The 2014 Ms. (or Mr.) Saturday Night is…