In all, there were 21 Saturday Night Live episodes broadcast in 2022. With some 10 sketches (including Weekend Update pieces) per show, that’s over 200 sketches from which to choose the top ten sketches of 2022 from SNL’s 47th and 48th seasons—so that’s what we did. From monkey judges to singing meatballs to a pair of pieces tackling the repeal of Roe v. Wade, this year’s best of the best swing from politics to absurdity and back again.
“Monkey Judge” (February 22, 2022)
It’s in no way an insult to say that host John Mulaney was born to play a monkey judge. The stand-up and former SNL writer’s wordy fussiness fits the premise (the judge is a monkey) like the molded monkey hands Mulaney wears along with his glorious whiskers and scholarly half-glasses. Presiding over a case about a monkey-mauling (tough break for the plaintiff there), Mulaney’s simian jurist patiently breaks down his decision-making process and the necessary courtroom precautions (“As I approach, your honor, I would like to notify the court that I am wearing perfume but I am not fruit,” Cecily Strong’s experienced lawyer states), with a potently funny blend of alpha-ape menace and understated legal decorum.
“Meatballs” (March 6, 2022)
Dating life is hard. Especially when your new guy finally notices that your entire body is covered with meatball-shaped growths. That sing. And occasionally vomit poison. When stand-up provocateur Sarah Sherman (aka Sarah Squirm) joined SNL as a featured player in Season 47, some wondered if the show’s more mainstream sensibilities would soften Sherman’s predilections for gross-out, absurdist weirdness. Yeah, no chance there, as evidenced by this standout piece of jaw-dropping body horror, with the Cronenberg-esque meatball people (brought to grotesque life by host Oscar Isaac, and others) harmonizing a madness-inducing meatball theme song, all while horrified suitor Chris Redd can only gape in confused wonder. That’s pretty much Sarah Squirm in a nutshell.
“Aidy’s Dream” (March 6, 2022)
Season 47 was the last for 10-season all-star Aidy Bryant, and this sketch, in which the show rewards her for a decade playing “women named Diane, Susan, or Teacher” with a dream sketch all her own, captures Bryant’s infectious, adorable, and fearlessly funny spirit exquisitely. Roping host Oscar Isaac into an elegantly steamy period romance sketch called “The Sexual Woman,” Bryant’s self-serving dialogue is so giddily specific (“You are the most under-35 person I’ve ever met,” Isaac’s lisping Lothario purrs as he brushes Bryant’s hair) that Aidy’s singular comic sensibility sparkles. Even as Isaac breaks character upon hearing Aidy’s hastily improvised catchphrase (“Heya you, get your fat ass on my lap, bitch!”), Bryant refuses to let go of her big chance, cooing her chosen scene partner back into the groove, Isaac finally uttering the words every Aidy Bryant longs to hear, “I must confess, I have a big, cool boner right now.”
“We Got Her a Cat” (March 13, 2022)
Writing team Ben Marshall, John Higgins, and Martin Herlihy are Please Don’t Destroy, the latest pretenders to The Lonely Island’s in-house SNL video shorts throne. And they’re pretty good at it, the unassuming junior writers’ invariably shown in their dingy, crowded three-person office as their off-the-wall sensibilities seemingly infect the 30 Rock halls. Here, the guys hit upon the idea of giving host and current Catwoman Zoë Kravitz an actual female cat (they got Paul Rudd a man-ant), only to see the adorable but wily feline (named Sugglebucket) run amok. “Why did we ask for the smallest and fastest cat they have!,” exclaims Herlihy, as the trio and Kravitz tear the place apart in deftly edited frenetic chaos. During the fast-paced silliness, Kravitz’s The Batman co-star Paul Dano is uncovered hiding beneath the guys’ couch (he’s researching a script “about three guys who suck”) at one point, but Snugglebucket remains at large.
“Roe v. Wade Cold Open” (May 8, 2022)
If a conservative Supreme Court is going to cite a 13th century precedent to overturn women’s right to abortion, then SNL heading back to the source for a rebuttal is potent, acidly funny stuff. Host Benedict Cumberbatch presides over a court where people poop out of windows, drill skull-holes to let the demons out, and throw left-handed children in the Thames, so naturally he and his nobles have some thoughts on a women’s right to choose. There’s a Blackadder-esque wickedness to the historical satire, Cumberbatch’s airy assurance that 1235 has all the answers countered by serving wench Cecily Strong and seer Kate McKinnon’s objections that a society where women were burned as witches might just have a few issues with women.
“ManningCast Cold Open” (October 2, 2022)
Season 48 kicked off with an unexpectedly canny bit of self-parody in the guise of a sports talk parody. With host Miles Teller doing an excellent Peyton Manning alongside Andrew Dismukes’ perpetual second banana brother Eli, the season’s very first sketch saw the two former QB’s critiquing the very first sketch of Season 48. “Oh good, Trump sketch. Way to mix it up,” Peyton scoffs, as the requisite political cold open kicks off. Breaking in to take the show to task for everything from predictably watery political takes, to the underuse of the new cast, to pointless celebrity cameos (snowboarder Shaun White?) with a merciless edge, the piece addresses the various backstage elephants in the room while managing to be legit hilarious throughout.
“A.A. Meeting” (October 30, 2022)
Singer Jack Harlow may not have been the most natural host, but he ably anchors this excellent, loopy sketch about a support group member’s infectious Pixar pitch about anthropomorphic lost luggage. With Bowen Yang’s nonplussed moderator trying to keep things on track, the group just gets more and more into the proposed animated movie, their pitches (obviously, that uptight briefcase will be voiced by Jason Bateman) sparking with Harlow’s creative vision. (“I drank recently, by the way,” he states in an aside, before getting back to the brainstorming.) It’s when Cecily Strong’s previously silent attendee asks, “What about the song?,” that the sketch blasts off into absurd heights, her inexplicably handy keyboard accompanying the group’s improvised, Oscar-bait musical number, “Pack Yourself With Love.” Toss in a timely visit from Tom Hanks (who’s researching a role, and may also be an alcoholic), and we’ve got a hit, people.
“Tammy the Trucker” (November 6, 2022)
Cecily Strong made one of the boldest personal statements ever seen on Update when her Goober the Clown provided the actor a vehicle to express her own, deeply personal history with abortion in the face of the then-impending Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Strong returned in the aftermath of that fundamentalist nonsense as Tammy the Trucker, Who Promises She’s Here To Talk About Gas Prices And Definitely Not Abortion, to, you guessed it, rail once more about fifty years of progress and precedent being swept away. Strong adopts a trucker’s cadence and drops hastily Googled slang as her outraged driver slips in and out of character in response to Colin Jost’s questions, Strong’s impatient ire brushing aside all pretense of caring about anything but the next day’s pivotal Midterm election. Like Goober, Tammy is a Trojan horse for the righteously pissed off Strong to smuggle one of SNL’s most forthright political broadsides, something Strong delivers with irresistible passion.
“Peppa Pig Fan Club President on the Show’s Gay Characters” (December 4, 2022)
Less direct than Strong’s Tammy but just as pointed in its mission to piss off the right people, Sarah Sherman’s wild-eyed adult Peppa Pig fan takes the hysterical “Won’t someone think of the children?!” rhetoric of conservative cultural critics and cranks it to a loony eleven. Channeling her anger at a cartoon show incorporating two gay polar bears into its innocuous world, Sherman’s fever-pitched dudgeon emerges as a cartoon of repressed sexual mania itself. Sherman, never afraid to go big, is essentially an unhinged human Muppet here, her high pitched, mouth-agape panic at the thought of what those two polar bear daddies get up to when not helping Peppa with her homework ratcheting the satirical point to unassailably silly heights.
“A Christmas Epiphany” (December 18, 2022)
A holiday themed black-and-white short in the It’s A Wonderful Life vein sees host Austin Butler’s self-obsessed loner have his requisite emotional epiphany—right in the view of the petrified family whose seemingly blissful Christmas Eve dinner inspires his repentance for a life ill-spent. The juxtaposition of Butler’s dead serious emoting with the family’s stiff attempts to ignore the ranting stranger stripping off his confining business wear in the snow of their front yard is exquisitely played by husband and wife Andrew Dismukes and Heidi Gardner, the couple’s buried resentments emerging through clenched jaws. “Your mother stepped outside of our marriage,” Dismukes eventually blurts to his horrified children, as Gardner’s abuse at his cowardice in not confronting the seeming crazy man reaches its peak. A meticulously crafted period piece in service of a very silly premise like this is a perfect holiday present.
Dennis Perkins is an entertainment writer who lives in Maine with his wife, the writer Emily L. Stephens, and their cat, (Special Agent Dale) Cooper. His work has appeared in places like The A.V. Club, Ultimate Classic Rock, and the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. You can find him on Twitter, where he will anger you with opinions, and Instagram, where you will be won back over by pictures of Special Agent Dale Cooper.