Entertainment

The Best 'Saturday Night Live' Sketches of 2019

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Aidy Bryant and Harry Styles in 'Joan Song.' | Rosalind O'Connor/NBC
Aidy Bryant and Harry Styles in 'Joan Song.' | Rosalind O'Connor/NBC

Saturday Night Live is -- by its very nature -- a hit-or-miss enterprise. Even the best episodes can feature a few sketches that are duds. It's what happens when you're working on such a tight time frame. The axiom from Lorne Michaels -- as repeated by Tina Fey in her book Bossypants -- is that "The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30." 

But even though you might have to dig around a little bit, each season has some genuine gems. (And any time John Mulaney hosts, the gem quotient goes way up.) In 2019, the show continues on with its 44th and 45th seasons. Here is the cream of the crop. 

Like this kind of stuff? Good: Check out our picks for the Best Movies of 2019 and the Best TV Shows of 2019.

21. "Extreme Baking Championship" 

Episode date: February 16
We've seen all sorts of baking competitions just on regular old TV, but this sketch has a new idea: What if a supposedly edible creation was so bad it just came alive and begged for death? 

20. "Weekend Update: Melissa Villaseñor's Grammy Awards Picks"

Episode date: February 9
Is this just an excuse for Melissa Villaseñor to do her Gaga impression? Yes! Is it a good Gaga impression? Also yes. 

19. "Theresa May"

Episode date: April 6
A fever dream of a take on Brexit, featuring Kate McKinnon's dancing skills and the musical stylings of Sara Bareilles. (It's even better if you've seen Bareilles' musical Waitress.)

18. "Can I Play That?" 

Episode date: March 9
The game show format is a crutch for SNL, but sometimes the writers pack a lot into that format. "Can I Play That?" manages to target Twitter outrage, Hollywood bias, actors' self importance, and Rami Malek all by quizzing contestants on which roles they can and cannot play. 

17. "GoT Tribute"

Episode date: May 18
This cameo themed rap is better when you don't know the twist, so we'll just say it's not really about Thrones.

16. "Leave Me Alurn"

Episode date: January 19 
Every so often SNL churns out a fake ad that's all too relatable. See: "Leave Me Alurn," which hawks a portable urn for women to use when they are traveling. Its purpose? To keep men with a lack of respect for personal space away. Next time a dude bothers you, just making like you're spreading some ashes. 

15. "Air Traffic Control"

Episode date: January 26
Frankly, I'd listen to James McAvoy's thick Glaswegian brogue for hours on end -- even though I wouldn't understand a single word he says. The host -- on hand to promote Glass -- plays an air traffic controller who isn't very helpful thanks to his impenetrable dialect. The concept is basic, but he pulls it off.

14. "Discover Card" 

Episode date: March 30
Now we know how the Tethered in Us got all those red jumpsuits: They are working for Discover Card and stealing people's identities. New cast member Ego Nwodim nails Lupita Nyong'o's terrifying rasp.

13. "American Households Cold Open" 

Episode date: December 14
Cold opens in recent years have been, frankly, a mess, lazily rewriting the biggest political news stories of the week. But this one was a rare gem, diverging from that script. The real hero of this sketch, however, is Kenan Thompson, proving once again he's the cast's most reliably funny player.

12. "Chad & JLo" 

Episode date: December 7
Outside of his Weekend Update rants, "Chad" is the best use the show has for Pete Davidson, and J Lo's inexplicable lust for this dummy works like a charm. 

11. "Love Island" 

Episode date: October 5
Even if you've never seen an episode of the British trash reality show Love Island, there's something to love here. My personal favorite is host Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Essex accent. 

10. "Romano Tours"

Episode date: May 4
It takes a second to realize what this sketch, featuring Adam Sandler as a purveyor of Italian tours, is doing, but once the punchline hits there's a satisfying thread of existential malaise.

9. "Nephew Pageant"

Episode date: April 6
A beardless Jon Snow (a.k.a. Kit Harington) proved a game SNL host, but the crowning achievement of this episode was all about this bizarre Aidy Bryant creation, the host of a pageant dedicated to nephews. As she explains: "Why celebrate nephews? Well, they're fun little scamps and they're not yours."

8. "SoulCycle" 

Episode date: October 12
If new cast member Bowen Yang doesn't automatically win you over as a SoulCycle instructor whose name is "Flint, like the water," I don't know what to say. A spot on parody of the insane cult of spinning. Flint would have stopped the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Makes you think. 

7. "Sara Lee" 

Episode date: November 16 
"Must remove toxic from community," need I say more? Okay, I will. Harry Styles emerged one of the year's best hosts, by being absolutely game for anything, including this sketch that absolutely wrecked the Sara Lee social media accounts for a while. He's sheepish as an overenthusiastic, slightly depressed employee, who can't remember to post on his own account.

6. "Ventriloquist" 

Episode date: November 23
A disgusting descent into madness only Will Ferrell could pull off.

5. "Bodega Bathroom" 

Episode date: March 2
The spiritual sequel to last year's "Diner Lobster" turns another New York taboo into a musical theater homage. A rule of living in the city: Never use a bathroom in a bodega, you'll encounter all sort of horrors including a pair of singing cockroaches. Not as thematically consistent as its predecessor which took all of its cues from Les Misérables, "Bodega Bathroom" mixes Willy Wonka vibes with songs from Rent and Cats.  

4. "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood 2019" 

Episode date: December 21
When Eddie Murphy finally returned to Studio 8H he brought back a number of his classic characters -- from Gumby to Buckwheat. But no return was more triumphant than that of Mister Rogers parody Mr. Robinson. Can you say, "Gentrification?" 

3. "Joan Song" 

Episode date: November 16
The second Harry Styles sketch to land on this list is this love song between a woman (Aidy Bryant) and her 12 pound chihuahua named Doug. Bryant is genius as Doug's devoted owner, but the whole thing takes off when Styles emerges as her imagined human version of the pup. The image of the pop star cowering from a vacuum is priceless as is his delivery of "God...and his friends."

2. "The Actress" 

Episode date: April 13
When Emma Stone appeared on Saturday Night Live in 2016 she starred in one of the most quietly brilliant sketches in recent years, the Julio Torres masterpiece "Wells for Boys." She returned this year and re-teamed with Torres for this equally wonderful creation co-written by Bowen Yang in which she plays an actress on a porn set having an existential crisis. Stone's performance is legitimately great from the way she accesses "Deirdre" to the manner in which she says "lube." 

1. "What's That Name?"

Episode date: March 2
By now it's clear that John Mulaney hosting is the sign of a good episode, and he brought along one of his most reliable collaborators for this brilliant spin on the game show format. Bill Hader's deranged host adds a level of danger to this guessing game that gets difficult when contestants are asked to identify acquaintances like a boss' wife and a close friend's girlfriend. The reason for it all? Chaos. 

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist.