Soon, 2013 will be another one for the books, and SNL’s last episode of year is upon us. Tonight, host Jimmy Fallon and musical guest Justin Timberlake will join forces for what we’re expecting to be an over-the-top end to the 2013 line-up. Of course, Timberlake isn’t just a melodious addition, as his hosting duties and link to Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, and Jorma Taccone’s The Lonely Island have inspired a number of memorable characters that have appeared on the Studio 8H stage. Fallon is a former SNL cast member with a history of great impressions under his belt. While we’re anticipating comedy gold from the duo, let’s take a look back at this year’s best sketches — those that made us laugh, marked memorable pop culture moments, and those we couldn’t stop talking about.
Tina Fey was a smart choice to open SNL’s 39th season, and although the show seemed lost on how to utilize the former head writer and “Weekend Update” co-anchor when she wasn’t playing herself, along came this Girls sketch. The women featured strongly in the parody of the HBO series. This is the most we remember of newcomer Noël Wells all season, and her Hannah Horvath impression is spot-on. Vanessa Bayer’s Shosh and McKinnon’s Jessa were perfection, but it was Fey’s Blerta — Girls’ new Albanian cast member — who brought a refreshing twist to the widespread Girls mockery. Blerta puts the kibosh on the other characters’ petty problems (after all, the others don’t suffer from “old cow disease”) and reminds us that we’re all a little bit Blerta when watching and criticizing the show (minus the rubber hand).
“New Horror Trailer”
It came as no surprise that the best sketches of the Edward Norton-hosted episode had nothing much to do with the actor. He’s a serious and often difficult personality to contend with, and his penchant for method acting made us wonder if the star would even have enough time to immerse himself in a carousel of roles for the TV show. When the “Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders” sketch arrived that evening, it was a breath of fresh air. Alec Baldwin narrated the Wes Anderson parody that found Norton pulling off a great impression of Owen Wilson. The shaggy-haired actor is stalked by a group of polite intruders who communicate with him through letters written on charming stationary.
“Weekend Update: Jebidiah Atkinson”
Taran Killam created a new catchphrase for the show when he introduced a character on the “Weekend Update” segment of the Lady Gaga-hosted episode: “Next!” Bitchy speech critic Jebidiah Atkinson tore apart the Gettysburg Address in his latest review. Since the last exodus of major players, SNL has relied heavily on Killam’s impressions and flexibility. This was the first moment in the 39th season that felt like we had stumbled upon a character who might actually stick around to find a fan base à la Stefon.
“One Direction Concert Line”
Paul Rudd’s Dan Charles repped One Direction’s 40-something fan base in this gem. The Anchorman actor’s comedic talents were largely overshadowed that evening by the appearance of former cast members (and a head writer), but he had his moment in the spotlight playing the awkward, older One D admirer, and managed to elicit a few unscripted reactions from the young girls in the segment.
Heading back in time to the ‘80s, Hunger Games heartthrob Josh Hutcherson donned a mullet for this absurd and clever remix of The Outfield’s “Your Love.” Vanessa Bayer’s sweater dress got a workout as Hutcherson serenaded her with the creepy, but addictive song. We were missing The Lonely Island’s musical addition to the series, so this was a welcome episode. Watch the sketch.
“Michelle Obama at the White House Cold Open”
Kerry Washington starred in one of the most talked-about episodes of the season. It was also one of the strongest. Her talent and presence elevated the episode’s weakest moments, and although we knew she was a dramatic force, it was great to her comedic side (on outrageous display in the “My Girl” sketch). But it was the “Michelle Obama at the White House Cold Open” that became a hot discussion point about SNL’s lack of diversity. The controversial cold open further underlined the show’s limitations despite the self-aware wink — and it stung. Just a few weeks before the episode, star Kenan Thompson made disparaging remarks about black female comedians, and nerves were (rightfully) raw. Al Sharpton summed it up best at the end of the skit: “What have we learned from this sketch? As usual, nothing.” Well, it did inspire an audition for black, female cast members and many important conversations.
“Upper West Side 2063”
A surprisingly poignant moment on the series surfaced when Lady Gaga hosted the show, revealing a look at her future (in the year 2063) as a forgotten, elder pop star. As an SNL sketch, it wasn’t perfect, but the context was compelling, and the dial was turned to dark. On a comedy show that often feels formulaic and uninspired, an unexpected bit of pathos is still welcome — even if it was a damning and depressing critique of the music industry. And really, we needed a palette cleanser after watching R. Kelly dry hump the singer on stage during their performance of “Do What U Want.” Watch the sketch.
“VMAs Backstage Cold Open”
In the thick of the Miley Cyrus VMA controversy, SNL debuted this sketch that wasted no time commenting on the singer’s makeover of her public persona. Vanessa Bayer’s Old Miley visits the future to try to talk some sense into New Miley. We’re singling this one out as a time capsule for the singer’s controversial year, even though we preferred the subtleties of other sketches and the moments where Miley wasn’t just playing Miley — as in the “Mornin’ Miami” sketch — or a parody of Miley.
Damn, we really miss Breaking Bad.
John Goodman, David Koechner, Will Ferrell, and former SNL writer Adam McKay reunited for this blast from the past. The fabled Bill Brasky is honored with another red-nosed round after a 15-year hiatus.