From David Pumpkins to Beyoncé to Alec Baldwin's America

By Nick Romano
December 20, 2016 at 07:29 AM EST
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It was the best of times (Captain America: Civil War, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Obama dancing to “Hotline Bling”), it was the worst of times (the presidential race, Prince, Collateral Beauty), but Saturday Night Live kept us laughing throughout 2016.

It’s always a difficult task to pick the best from a year with so many highlights, which was the case with the late-night sketch comedy series, now in its 42nd seasons. You constantly change your mind, some sketches seem funnier now than they did when they aired, and there will always be ones you wish to spotlight. We’ve seen Alec Baldwin’s Trump, Larry David’s Bernie Sanders, the oddity that is David S. Pumpkins and return favorites (Surprise Lady, “Black Jeopardy”), but it all comes back to the moments that, for one reason or another, made an impact.

These are them, the best SNL sketches of 2016.

1. “Golden Globes”

Alcohol is flowing, spirits are high, and by the end of the evening, someone will be made into a meme. It’s the Golden Globes, and Adam Driver kicked off the year with a sketch we can all cherish. After poking fun at that all too familiar line in acceptance speeches — “If you’re still up, kids, go to bed” — it gets weirder and weirder until we’re left with a shirtless Liev Schreiber in an apron.

2. “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black”

Where we you on “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black”? The sketch from Melissa McCarthy’s episode this year poked fun at the news organizations, media personalities, and white people in general who just didn’t understand the lyrics on the singer’s Lemonade album. Depending who you ask, it may be the best sketch SNL has ever done. At the very least, it’s one of the best of the year.

3. “Haunted Elevator”

It’s hard to put into words exactly why Tom Hanks as bizarre character David S. Pumpkins became our spirit animal on Halloween. So let’s let him speak for himself: “I’m David Pumpkins…” “Yeah, and David Pumpkins is…?” “His own thing!” “And the skeletons are…?” “Part of it! … Any questions?”

4. “Farewell, Mr. Bunting”

This riff off Dead Poets Society had notes of classic SNL. Fred Armisen, channeling his inner Robin Williams, took something so familiar and made it his own with a big twist at the very end that erupted into a bloody frenzy. It’s perfect comedic timing.

5. “Bern Your Enthusiasm”

Larry David is returning to Curb Your Enthusiasm soon enough, but he gave veteran fans more new material through this look inside the Bernie Sanders campaign. David as Sanders was one of the better impersonations of the SNL‘s election skits, and it became a case of two worlds colliding to investigate where exactly the democratic presidential candidate went wrong.

6. “Kids’ Choice Awards”

Ariana Grande continues to impress. While hosting the sketch comedy show, SNL took advantage of her impressive celebrity impressions, but in this bit on the Kids’ Choice Awards, she proved that, “Yaaaasss,” she can be funny on her own merits, too.

7. Dave Chappelle’s “Stand-Up Monologue”

Yes, this technically isn’t a “sketch,” but it was one of the funniest, most poignant, and most memorable moments from SNL this past year. Let’s take a look back: the episode marked the first time Dave Chappelle hosted the show, as well as the first episode to air after Donald Trump won the election. The opening monologue, while still keeping things light and fun, stands as a powerful message to the President-elect and everyone who voted against him. (Additional shout out to this memorable episode for Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton singing during the cold open and the “Election Night” sketch from this episode for perfectly encapsulating how Hillary Clinton supporters felt that fateful evening.)

8. “FBI Simulator”

Every once and a while, a sketch concept comes along that becomes a signature of a particular cast. The “High School Theatre” skits may be one of those for the current crop, and “FBI Simulator” should also be one that keeps coming back with Larry David, who plays Kevin Roberts, the true test of an FBI training exercise. Equally enjoyable is watching the cast try to keep a straight face in behind-the-scenes takes.

9. “A Day Off”

Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s campaign manager leading up to the election, is a polarizing figure — and that’s putting it lightly. But she worked hard for her money. As Kate McKinnon’s Clinton slowly made her way out, McKinnon’s Conway cycled in, beginning with this hilarious sketch about what her days off looked like during the presidential race. And even though the election is over, something tells us this impression will continue well into 2017.

10. “Black Jeopardy”

There have been many iterations of “Black Jeopardy,” but this one from Hanks’ hosting bid was the finest of the year. In an unexpected turn, the African-American game show candidates all of a sudden realized they have more in common with Trump supporters than they thought — except, apparently, when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement.

11. Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump

There didn’t seem to be one particular sketch featuring Alec Baldwin as Trump that exemplified SNL in 2016. The debate sketches, which comprised most of his appearances, were some of the hardest to watch if only because they skewed towards “presenting what actually happened” instead of “an exaggeration of what happened.” That said, the impersonation is on par with David’s Sanders and even Tina Fey channeling Sarah Palin. It’s the true gift that keeps on giving this season.

12. “Game of Thrones: Jon Snow”

This one may only be funny to Game of Thrones fans, but, come on, Bran gets a bad rap. He spent all of season 5 learning how to be the Three-Eyed Raven off camera, and then when he does return, the SNL crew points out how all they wanted to do was get to the Jon Snow resurrection already. That, too, was drawn out as McKinnon nearly cracked as Melisandre.

13. “Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base”

Maybe it was all the Star Wars hype in the air after The Force Awakens debuted, but Driver’s intensity as an undercover Kylo Ren on his own Starkiller Base is a sketch we still remember nearly a year after it aired. The actor may be young, but he knows how to deliver.

14. “Test Screening”

There’s nothing particularly nuanced or funny about the concept of the sketch. There’s no surprise twist, there’s no celebrity cameo. It thrives on Melissa McCarthy being Melissa McCarthy, which is why it works so well. She has us laughing from the first spit of soda to the last bit of vomit that eeks from her mouth.

15. “Mafia Meeting”

There were a lot of good sketches that deserve to be mentioned, like Armisen as Jason Sudeikis’ “New Girlfriend,” Pete Davidson as Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ “Pool Boy,” and Kyle Mooney’s rap battle with Kanye West. But “Mafia Meeting” is one that grows on you, all thanks to Peter Dinklage, his “space pants,” and Gwen Stefani screaming “space shorts!” Repeat viewings are a must.

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The original late-night comedy sketch show from the one and only Lorne Michaels.
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