NBC’s Saturday Night Live season 44 has concluded, so what are the best sketches from the latest run of the series? Since 1975, Lorne Michaels' live weekly show has consistently developed minor players into legitimate stars, and featured some of the biggest names in mainstream comedy.
Saturday Night Live season 44 premiered in September 2018 and ran for 21 episodes before coming to a close in May 2019. The main cast features Kate McKinnon, Kenan Thompson, Cecily Strong, Beck Bennett, Aidy Bryant, Mikey Day, Pete Davidson, Heidi Gardner, Leslie Jones, Kyle Mooney, Alex Moffat, Melissa Villaseñor, Ego Nwodim, and Chris Redd. Head writers Colin Jost and Michael Che also serve as Weekend Update anchors.
For criteria, our list is based on Saturday Night Live’s primary sketches within the main show. This means that politically-themed Cold Opens and Weekend Update performances haven’t been included. Here are the best comedic bits from Saturday Night Live season 44.
Movie Q&As are supposed to be about the featured guest, but audience members often deflect the attention to themselves. “Movie Talkback” stars host and former cast member Seth Myers as a filmmaker who receives a unique batch of questions from self-promoting individuals. The sketch underlines the effects of social media culture, and how some moviegoers offer sharp criticism by default. For example, Aidy Bryant’s character steps to the mic and questions the director why a father character was played by “a MAN.”
While “Movie Talkback” parodies the relationship between movies and identity politics, it also highlights audience members who simply want to perform, seemingly with the hopes of establishing a personal or professional relationship with the featured guest. Kate McKinnon delivers an enchanting performance as the sexy woman who flirts at Q&As. In addition, Heidi Gardner boosts the sketch by portraying an actress who takes the opportunity to perform in-character as a wide-eyed small town girl who just arrived in the big city. She captures all the ego and bravery it takes to stare down a filmmaker while blatantly ignoring the Q&A premise. In Saturday Night Live season 44, many of the show’s best moments emerge when cast members and hosts embody painfully egocentric characters, and highlight all the small quirks that make such people stand out in contained settings.
“New Orleans Vacation”
Poser Alert! In this restaurant sketch, host James McAvoy and cast member Heidi Gardner portray that insufferable culture vulture couple. For the comedic premise, the characters present themselves as New Orleans aficionados after spending two days in the southern American city. To complement and contrast their arrogance, Kenan Thompson portrays a New Orleans native who debunks cliches and alleged facts.
McAvoy is especially impressive with his cadence and dialogue delivery, but it’s Gardner who steals the show with her physical mannerisms and squeaky one-liners. The two performers organically play off one another, as they imply that New Orleans mosquito bites are different than regular mosquito bites, and that the city is somehow not part of the United States. These characters are a more likable version of the recurring “A-Hole” couple that Jason Sudeikis and Kristen Wiig once portrayed, and “New Orleans Vacation” hits the comedic beats a touch better than the “Cuban Vacation” bit from earlier in the season. McAvoy delivers a strong performance in the episode as a whole, but this particular sketch is tight from beginning to end.
Saturday Night Live season 44 kicked off with some zany switcheroo slapstick. Host Adam Driver plays an Italian-American who believes he’s tasting delicious Domenico’s coffee, only to discover that it’s actually a fresh Burger King brew. Meanwhile, his girlfriend (Cecily Strong) believes she drank a “burger coffee” and repeatedly gags as the BK Joe host (Mikey Day) processes why the premise is so difficult to understand.
In “Coffee Shop,” Driver receives the opportunity to display an east coast American accent. By declaring the host to be a “pervert” for selling $1.99 “Burger Juice,” the bravado hilariously contrasts the more soft-spoken characters. Strong is spot-on as the passive-aggressive customer who slings insults when confused, and Day excels as the wildly perplexed character that he so often portrays in Saturday Night Live season 44. And given that Driver and Strong’s characters don’t understand that the coffee shop itself isn’t real, that extra layer adds a touch of comedic surrealism. “Coffee Shop” calls back to the classic Chris Farley skit “Columbian Crystal Coffee,” in which his character rages out upon learning he’s drinking decaffeinated java.
“The War In Words”
In this segment, Mikey Day plays a World War I soldier who writes letters home to his wife, portrayed by host Claire Foy. Private James Merchant describes the horror of trench warfare, but receives cryptic and minimal responses from his beloved Margaret. For the comedic premise, there’s a stooge vs. straight (wo)man dynamic, as Foy mostly remains composed while Day excels once again as a deeply confused character.
The situational comedy underlines the old-timey romanticism of hand-written letters and clinging onto nostalgic photos during difficult times. In this case, Private Merchant receives a photo of his wife as a baby, which sets up the photographic revelation that Margaret seems to have a special friend named Henry. The best moments in “The War in Words” come when Day’s character tries to appropriately articulate himself, most notably when he ends a letter with “Confused in France.” As the cherry on top, Foy’s cold and detached manner of deflecting information is the perfect set-up for Day to push harder with his reactionary comedy.
“To Have And Have Not”
Framed as a PBS “Cinema Classics” episode, this bit recreates an iconic moment from the 1944 movie To Have and Have Not. Host John Mulaney portrays Humphrey Bogart’s Steve Morgan, and cast member Kate McKinnon co-stars as Lauren Bacall’s Slim Browning. In the actual movie, Bacall delivers an iconic “whistle” line - a provocative sexual innuendo about oral sex - but she doesn't actually whistle. In the Saturday Night Live season 44 sketch, McKinnon’s character attempts to whistle but reveals her innocence and naivety by blowing like, well, a maniac.
While Mulaney stays in character during “To Have and Have Not,” McKinnon appears to improvise each time she re-enters the room. Her charm as an actress shines through, which makes her bizarre facial expressions so effective. By the conclusion, gender-themed comedy adds some extra depth to the sketch, as Slim fails to seduce Steve and questions whether she might be gay. “To Have and Have Not” showcases McKinnon’s screen charisma and potential as an A-list feature film star, all the while demonstrating her knack for physical comedy.
“New HBO Shows”
Two weeks before the Game of Thrones series finale aired, actor Kit Harington hosted Saturday Night Live and appeared as his HBO character Jon Snow. In “New HBO Shows,” various Game of Thrones prequels, sequels, and spinoffs are teased, including “Castle Black” - a “sexy, moody drama about forbidden love.” Harington plays it straight as the brooding Jon Snow, however the bit incorporates Game of Thrones’ magical qualities by featuring a lovestruck White Walker who strips down and bares her bony chest.
“New HBO Shows” also includes an Arya Stark-themed segment, in which an animated version of the character attends school and plunges a sword through a jock’s neck. As a whole, the various featured clips are based on existing television shows, and imply that real-life character spinoffs are indeed a strong possibility. For a Saturday Night Live sketch, “New HBO Shows” succeeds by capitalizing on specific Games of Thrones character traits and emphasizing television sitcom tropes. And comedy fans may recognize that the concluding Law & Order: Special Victims Unit segment is based on a popular stand-up bit by former Saturday Night Live writer John Mulaney.
This Saturday Night Live sketch parodies the archetypal Pretentious Actress. Host Emma Stone portrays the title character, a performer who is sick of playing “one-dimensional women with vacant lives.” The comedic premise emerges when she arrives at a porn set for a minor role. Stone’s dramatic narration frames the character as a deeply committed actress, one who needs to connect with the backstory of her character. “The Actress” is a finely-directed sketch that captures the realities of a working actress, albeit with a situational twist (porn).
Stone single-handedly carries “The Actress” with her train-of-thought narration and in-character improvisations. The porn filmmakers pay little attention to the actress’ creative interests, but allow her to continue on with dramatic monologues anyway. The dramedy becomes more impactful in the final half, as a montage details the performer’s connection to her porn character, and all the imagined situations with “Jared” that will never actually take place. By the end, “The Actress” amusingly references Hollywood stars who become especially connected to their roles, and it also highlights the sticky realities of working on a porn set.
“Sandler Family Reunion”
In “Sandler Family Reunion,” the performers emphasize Sandler’s nonsensical comedic approach, with Kenan Thompson’s character outright acknowledging the “invisible clarinet thing.” While the first half covers the Sandler basics, the final bits introduce former Saturday Night Live cast members Kristen Wiig and Jimmy Fallon, with the former referencing a more cryptic Sandler character and the latter offering a more nuanced Sandler impression. If you understand the context for Sandler’s final line “Stop looking at me, Sean,” then you probably enjoyed the rest of the callbacks in “Sandler Family Reunion.” The sketch’s premise was preceded by the 2014 Jim Carrey bit “Carrey Family Reunion.”
“A New Kyle”
In 2018, Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson made headlines for dating pop star Ariana Grande. This sketch shows the effects of his newfound fame on cast member Kyle Mooney. In the bit, he plays up his regular-guy persona and contrasts it with Davidson’s more colorful vibes. The comedy ramps up when Mooney decides to make “a statement” and fully bites Davidson’s millennial style.
As a comedic performer, Mooney touches upon contrived bravado. In “A New Kyle,” he taps into the nonchalant, care-free attitude that Davidson incorporates into his Saturday Night Live appearances. The sketch offers an astute commentary on modern celebrity culture, as Mooney seemingly works from a check list in order to be perceived as relevant and interesting. “A New Kyle” also references a different side of Davidson’s public persona when he states “Don’t you know I have, like, mental problems.” In the final moments, a violent and surrealistic twist appears to end the beef, and ultimately brings Mooney and Davidson together through a classic banana gag. “A New Kyle” is smart, timely, and just strange enough to be memorable.
John Mulaney wrote for Saturday Night Live from 2008 to 2013, and a 2019 hosting gig allowed him to produce one of the season’s most wonderfully weird sketches. For the comedic premise, Pete Davidson’s character inexplicably requests to use a bodega bathroom; a location not typically known for being clean or pleasant. “And so it shall be,” Mulaney’s bodega man proclaims, which sets the tone for a blend of situational surrealism and classic Hollywood themes.
One one level, the appearance of Kenan Thompson’s singing “Bodega Cat” adds a magical aspect, hearkening back to the cinema classic The Wizard of Oz. In this case, however, the wizard is replaced by a talking toilet, which is revealed to be quite disgusting, thanks to a black light revelation. At over six minutes in length, there’s a cinematic quality to “Bodega Bathroom,” whether it's the fluid camera when the characters enter the titular location, or the costume design and choreographed performances. Midway through “Bodega Bathroom,” it's already a classic bit, and that’s before Kate McKinnon’s moving rendition of “Memory” (in the form of Virgin Mary candle) and the climactic “Bodega of Love” number that elevates the sketch even more. Overall, “Bodega Bathroom” sets a high bar for Saturday Night Live season 44 and reminds of past years when the series prioritized original comedy over a steadfast commitment to political and topical humor.