Season 43 of SNL, which began on Sept. 30, faced a heavy news cycle, to say the least. Newspapers were jampacked for months with stories including the rise of the #MeToo movement, mass shootings in America and the ensuing debates about gun control, the ongoing circus that is the Trump administration, the groundbreaking popularity of “Black Panther,” and much, much more.
Which means the show had an awful lot to work with. Perhaps because of that, the writers’ focus widened out a bit from politics, which dominated last year.
As the season concluded Saturday, here’s a look back at the year’s best topical sketches — and one that was just pure, unadulterated fun.
“Black Jeopardy With Chadwick Boseman” (April 7)
One of the year’s most discussed sketches used the popular film “Black Panther” to highlight the difficulties of life as a black American. In the movie, Boseman’s T’Challa lives in the fictional, hidden and technologically advanced nation of Wakanda, which is blissfully untouched by the abominations of the transatlantic slave trade, colonization and the resulting horrors — so he doesn’t know what life is like for black people in 2018 America. The sketch mines this idea by dropping him into a game of “Black Jeopardy.” The most biting example comes with the prompt from host Darnell Hayes (Kenan Thompson): “The policeman says there’s been some robberies in your neighborhood and asks if you have ‘any information.’ ”
“What is, not only do I tell this man what I know, but I also assist him in tracking down the offender?” T’Challa answers. “After all, our ministers of law enforcement are only here to protect us. Is this correct?”
“I mean, it should be?” Hayes says. “But I don’t think you’ve spent much time here in America.”
“Roach Product” (March 3)
In the wake of the Parkland school shooting in February, in which a 19-year-old opened fire on his former classmates and killed 17 people, some gun-rights activists argued that teachers should be armed to prevent future school shootings. Many consider the idea, which was endorsed by President Trump, to be reactionary. The writers of SNL clearly feel this way, as they decided to skewer it with a fake commercial for a new type of pest control. Called Ned’s Roach Away, the product is simple: armed roaches.
Charles Barkley, wearing a cowboy hat and standing in front of an American flag, plays Ned. He explains his product as absurd footage of roaches shooting each other rolls: “At Ned’s, we know the only thing that can stop a bad roach is a good roach with a gun. That’s why I’ve spent years personally training an army of my own good roaches to carry and operate tiny AR-15 rifles to protect your homes,” later adding, “And for really bad problems, you need Ned’s Roach Away MAX with bump stock.”
“The Bachelor” featuring Robert S. Mueller III (March 10)
Much of this season naturally focused on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. One of the sketches that best captured the way many liberal Americans felt about the investigation parodied the intensely awkward finale of “The Bachelor,” in which Arie Luyendyk Jr. (the bachelor) broke up with an unsuspecting Becca Kufrin. The sketch brings in Mueller as the bachelor (Kate McKinnon) to break the news to Becca (Cecily Strong) that he might not have enough evidence of collusion to move forward with a charge. Throughout the sketch, an increasingly devastated Becca attempts to make sense of everything, asking, “You indicted like 13 Russians and like everything that happened at Seychelles, that means nothing?”
“No, I mean the Seychelles were amazing and it’s definitely something,” Mueller responds. “It’s just the more time that goes by, the more that I keep thinking about obstruction.”
The punchline comes when it dawns on Becca that she’ll “have to wait two more years for him to be out of office” and McKinnon’s Mueller responds, “Honestly, probably six.”
“A Kanye Place” (May 5)
One of the young year’s stranger news stories came when Kanye West announced on Twitter that he was writing a philosophy book, then that his tweets were the philosophy book. He also embraced Trump, which came as a surprise to many of his fans. Conversation about the rapper’s tweets filled media outlets and floated around water coolers so much that SNL put its foot down to say they don’t matter, people!
The sketch parodies “A Quiet Place,” the year’s breakout horror film about a family living among monsters that will kill them if they make a sound. Only, this crew of people, led by David (Donald Glover) can’t keep their mouths shut because they so desperately want to discuss Kanye’s tweets — which leads to a number of their deaths. The sketch’s point is laid out by Aidy Bryant’s character halfway through, when she says, “Kanye is a distraction. We should only talk about what’s important … like, the midterms. Because, what’s happening with that?”
“Welcome to Hell” (Dec. 2)
“All these big, cool, powerful guys are turning out to be … what’s the word? Habitual predators?” Aidy Bryant says to kick off this parody of a K-pop music video that firmly addresses the #MeToo movement by pointing out that women have been harassed for centuries — it’s just that people are starting to pay attention. Bubblegum pop plays as Bryant, Strong, McKinnon and host Saoirse Ronan sing bluntly about sexual harassment in the world. The lyrics of the song, called “Welcome to Hell,” certainly aren’t subtle. But the contrast of the dark truths with the overproduced, colorful music video offers a little comedic medicine to help those truths go down.
At least until the end, when Ronan sings, “Now, ‘House of Cards’ is ruined, and that really sucks,” referring to the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against Kevin Spacey, the show’s star, before adding: “Well, here’s a list of stuff that’s ruined for us: parking and walking and Uber and ponytails, bathrooms and nighttime and drinking and hotels and vaaaans.”
“Kellywise” (Oct. 14)
SNL has long mocked Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, known for her outlandish cable news appearances. But this season, the show turned the tables and satirized cable news through Conway by imagining her as Pennywise, the evil clown from Stephen King’s “It,” enticing cable news hosts like Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper.
The prerecorded sketch finds Cooper (Alex Moffat) chasing a piece of paper that blew out of his hands into the sewer, only to find Conway-as-Kellywise (McKinnon) waiting there, dressed in clown makeup. The sketch, a close re-creation of the first scene of the 2017 movie adaptation of “It,” shows Cooper being lured more and more by Conway’s promises of outrage quotes that will boost his ratings, such as “Puerto Rico actually was worse before Hurricane Maria, and the hurricane did actually blow some buildings back together.”
The sketch’s true punch comes when Kellywise points out to Cooper, “We need each other to survive.”
“Dinner Discussion” (Jan. 27)
#MeToo has been an overwhelmingly positive social movement, exposing many sexual abusers then eradicating them from various fields including Hollywood, law and politics. It’s also sparked many a discussion about what constitutes sexual harassment and abuse. No story served as a better sexual harassment Rorschach test than that of Aziz Ansari. An anonymous woman published a first-person account of a date with him in the online publication Babe and accused him of pressuring her into sex acts despite her protests.
Debate raged over who was wrong in this situation, and SNL caught that lightning in a bottle. The sketch features three couples attempting to discuss their views on the situation at dinner, each one awkwardly beginning sentences to see how the others will react. Not only is the sketch funny in its absurdity — who doesn’t like seeing Will Ferrell slowly mush his face into a plate of spaghetti or Thompson stabbing himself in the hand with a knife? — but it managed to present both sides of a loud argument without endorsing one.
“Meet the Parents” with Michael Cohen and Robert S. Mueller III (April 14)
SNL faced heaps of criticism for its reliance on outside celebrities throughout the season, but one sketch used outsiders in a hilarious and affecting way: the cold open that brought in Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro to reenact the “Meet the Parents” lie detector scene. Only this time, they were portraying Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen and Mueller, respectively. The sketch came after FBI agents raided Cohen’s Manhattan office to seize records about his clients.
“If you’re innocent, you have nothing to worry about,” De Niro’s Mueller says as he subjects Stiller’s Cohen to a polygraph. “How’d you like that pee-pee tape? I’m kidding! Relax. We’ll get to that later.”
He then asks a variety of questions, including about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. “It was supposed to be a surprise for Stormy,” Stiller’s Cohen responds. “A gift, like a rock thrown through a window with a note tied to it that says, ‘Stop talking.’ ”
Much like the “Bachelor”/Mueller mash-up, the brilliance of the sketch comes from Trojan horsing a real world news event through a beloved franchise.
“The Game of Life: DACA Edition” (April 7)
The Trump administration has continuously seesawed on whether it supports Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program announced by President Barack Obama in 2012 that helps protect some immigrants from deportation who were illegally brought to the United States as children. SNL had to get in on the action and did so through a fake commercial for the classic board game “The Game of Life,” only with a twist. The video shows Melissa Villaseñor, SNL’s only Latina cast member, getting the “dreamer” card, as a voice-over explains the game.
“Only dreamers get to jump through bureaucratic hoops, duck from ICE officers and work three jobs just to get by,” the voice-over says, later adding: “It’s fun! You’ll wander aimlessly down the path to citizenship. But do it fast or you’ll get sent back to Honduras.”
As Trump tweets things such as “DACA is dead,” the board — and Villaseñor’s role in the game — become endlessly more complicated and confusing, until she finally quits — and her game piece is immediately deported.
“Diner Lobster” (April 14)
SNL didn’t always pull from the headlines — and thank heavens for that. Some of this season’s best sketches, such as “Papyrus,” were just ridiculous bits of absurdist humor. “Diner Lobster” was by far its best.
The premise is simple: Pete Davidson orders the rarely requested lobster at a diner. Thompson, dressed in a lobster suit, is wheeled out in an enormous tank and launches into a riff of “Who Am I” from “Les Miserables.” The sketch turns into a full-out musical from there, even featuring his lobster daughter, played by McKinnon, also in a lobster suit.
Even Davidson can’t keep it together, instead guffawing at various points throughout the sketch.