Sixteen Episodes into SNL’s 41st season, here are my rankings for the show’s top three cast members, sketches, hosts, and musical performances so far.
Weekend Update award
1. Colin Jost
Honestly, it’s hard to choose between the Weekend Update anchors; Jost and Michael Che’s chemistry is undeniable, and the pairing is yet another example illustrating that the segment simply works better with two anchors. But Jost’s jokes hit home a tad more often than Che’s, masterfully providing the deadpan delivery we’ve become accustomed to from SNL’s most classic sketch.
3. Kenan Thompson
As always, Thompson has been a model of consistency this season. It’s no accident that the longest tenured cast member is included in so many sketches; he effortlessly performs many diverse roles, never looking in over his head while in character. And with all his experience, Thompson seamlessly fits together with the rest of the cast; he’s an absolute staple. Can’t miss sketches: Weekend Update: Willie on Winter, Every Family Feud sketch.
2. Cecily Strong
I don’t think any cast member has as much of an inherent ability to simply be as funny as Cecily Strong. Just try and watch her in her element and maintain a straight face; she’s too good. Also, in typical SNL fashion, many of her characters expertly poke fun at society (even a little more so than other cast members), especially when she’s pulling out one of her drunk imitations. Can’t miss sketches: A Thanksgiving Miracle, Weekend Update: The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party.
1. Kate McKinnon
It hasn’t taken long for McKinnon to emerge as a major player in the SNL ranks, and boy has that upward trajectory continued this season. One of the most diverse cast members SNL has ever seen, McKinnon has been exceptional, whether she’s been portraying Hillary Clinton in SNL’s political sketches or appearing as Russian Oyla Povlatsky on Weekend Update. It would take far too long to list all of McKinnon’s valuable contributions; she does it all. Can’t miss sketches: Hillary Campaign Ad, Weekend Update: Angela Merkel on Time Person of the Year.
3. Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base (Episode 10)
The entire Adam Driver episode was a gold mine of sketches, but this one was too good not to choose. A clever way to take advantage of Star Wars mania, Adam Driver reenacted the villain Kylo Ren in a spoof on Undercover Boss, providing laughs for both Star Wars fans and newbies alike. Both Taran Killiam and Bobby Moynihan also shine, while Driver reminds us how great he was at portraying Kylo Ren in the first place.
2. Hillary Campaign Ad (Episode 15)
Presidential races are always profitable for SNL, and this year is no different. In the midst of primaries, this one really hits home, and it’s all credited to McKinnon. She takes advantage of the presidential hopeful’s constant campaign deficiencies in hilarious fashion and, while not giving too much away, gets to show off a pretty great Bernie Sanders impression.
1. The Day Beyonce Turned Black (Episode 13)
This sketch is SNL at its finest, taking an exaggerated media reaction to some recent event and converting it into comedy gold. Most of the cast has a hand in this one, and it doesn’t disappoint. Nearly every turn provides a pointed quip, and they’re all very sharp in this segment that cleverly criticizes the abundant negative feedback of Beyonce’s Formation video. A well put together sketch that exemplifies SNL’s important role as society’s reality check.
3. Matthew McConaughey
Great actors aren’t always great SNL hosts, but McConaughey’s episode was more than just “alright, alright, alright.” His prowess as an actor was on full display as he played some really funny, and different, characters. Often, it’s obvious when the cast has to coddle a host; this wasn’t the case here, as McConaughey effortlessly meshed with the cast and looked completely at ease. Best Sketches: A Thanksgiving Miracle, Blues Shack.
2. Larry David
Due to his uncanny resemblance to Bernie Sanders, LD has been around SNL a lot this season. Which is a great thing. If you’re familiar with the Seinfeld creator, then you probably knew exactly what to expect coming into this episode. David didn’t disappoint, delivering a classic LD spiel for his monologue, blending his Sanders impression with his own life in Bern Your Enthusiasm (a spoof of David’s HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm), and even appearing in a segment with Sanders. Best Sketches: Bern Your Enthusiasm, FBI Simulator.
1. Adam Driver
This guy is a great actor. Many of you probably knew him from HBO’s Girls before he was cast in the new Star Wars movie; his performances in both are pretty exceptional, and his quality as an actor showed in this SNL episode. It seemed as if the cast was having fun with Driver more so than with other hosts. The sketches were as good as they were different, combining to form the most consistent SNL episode of the season thus far. Best sketches: Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base, America’s Funniest Cats.
3. Leon Bridges
Smooth and soulful, Leon Bridges delivered a performance that feels like it should have been given on an SNL forty years ago. Over the past year, the 26-year old soul singer has burst onto the scene, and is truly a joy to watch; he’s an animated singer, and it’s evident how much he loves the music he creates. Songs: Smooth Sailin’, River.
2. Selena Gomez
Gomez is a fantastic performer, and this showed during her SNL performance. And even more so than just from a talent perspective, it seemed like she was really enjoying herself during these songs. Selena was having fun, especially during Hands To Myself, and her incorporation of the dancers was also well executed. Songs: Same Old Love/Good For You, Hands To Myself.
1. Chance The Rapper
If you haven’t heard of Chance yet, I highly suggest delving into his discography. This guy is doing cool things in the rap genre, and if you’re looking for an example look no further than his SNL performances. You could tell that Chance knew this was an opportune time for him put his talent on display, as the second song, Sunday Candy, was performed at a slower pace than usual but still really packed a punch. And Chance’s on stage presence is captivating; he raps with so much energy it’s hard not to get chills. Songs: Somewhere In Paradise, Sunday Candy.
Sidenote: Chance also appeared with Kanye West when Yeezy performed on SNL. Chance delivered a stunning rendition of his verse from the song Ultralight Beam on Kanye’s new album, The Life of Pablo. While Chance performed, Kanye took a backseat, smiling and dancing at the young rapper’s breathtaking performance. A cool moment for rap fans out there.