Saturday Night Live, Season 39: The DJY Awards

It’s been an interesting season for a show simultaneous described as both consistently enjoyable and a wheezing dinosaur. A major cast overhaul delivered some of the best and worst moments; and not everything that got thrown at the wall managed to stick. Even so, it set up what has the potential to be an absolutely killer 40th season of the show – and this run definitely wasn’t without its moments. Let’s take a look.

Best Host: Drake

The all-singing, all-rapping and all-Draking king of Toronto was game for absolutely anything; making his episode arguably the most consistently entertaining. His performances in the sketches were lively and he never came across as though he was too big for any part that was thrown his way. Would love to see back again.

Honourable mentions: Lady Gaga, Melissa McCarthy, Bruce Willis.

Worst Host: Jim Parsons.

Let’s ignore the fact that The Big Bang Theory is a piece of shit – this was Parsons’ chance to show us that he is, indeed, “not that guy” as he put it in the cringeworthy opening monologue song. He fell flat on his face in nearly every sketch. The episode’s only saving grace was a lush performance from Beck; who offered some brief respite.

Honourable mentions: John Goodman, Charlize Theron, Andrew Garfield.

Best musical guest: Arcade Fire.

Now that’s how you start a season. The band have never disappointed when it comes to their SNL performances, and this night was no exception. One of the best live acts in the world right now.

Honourable mentions: St. Vincent, The National, Pharrell Williams.

Worst musical guest: Eminem.

Not even a cameo from Rick Rubin could save this lifeless, blunt performance. The live band has added nothing to Em’s live sound – but, then again, Em doesn’t add very much to his live sound, either; relying heavily on guide tracks and his hype man.

Honourable mentions: Kings of Leon, Bastille, Imagine Dragons.

Best repertory player: Kate McKinnon.

It took awhile for her to prove it, but absolutely no-one on SNL right now gets as much out of so little. It can just be a look in her eyes, a twitch of her head or simply an off-hand phrase and she is away. You’re in stitches. A sharp character actor, a wicked improvise and one of the best additions that SNL has ever made to its cast.

Honourable mentions: Taran Killam, Aidy Bryant, Bobby Moynihan.

Worst repertory player: Kenan Thompson.

Oh, Kenan. You’ve had essentially nothing to work with this year, and the majority of your impressions and characters have been instantly forgettable. What’s up with that? It reminds me of Darrell Hammond towards the end – Kenan is evidently getting pretty tired. I wouldn’t be surprised if season 40 was his last.

Honourable mentions: N/A.

Best featured player: Kyle Mooney.

For every big goofy celebrity joke and pop culture reference, there has always been a few people in SNL‘s history that have thrived to keep the show weird. Kyle Mooney is one of them – and this season has been so much better for it. Highlight after highlight of bizarre, surrealist and absurdist sketches (often with partner Beck Bennett) have brought countless episodes up from good to great. When the revolution comes, Mooney will be leading the way with an awkward smirk.

Honourable mentions: Beck Bennett, Sasheer Zamata, Mike O’Brien.

Worst featured player: John Mihiser.

Oh dear. This is going to be a messy break-up, isn’t it? Look, John: You had some potential there for a second. Remember that dance scene with Lady Gaga? That was all-time, dude. But that’s one sketch out of one show of an entire year. This just isn’t going to work out. I’m so sorry. It’s not you, it’s us.

Honourable mentions: Noel Wells, Brooks Wheelan.

Best former cast cameo: Fred Armisen.

Despite only being gone for a year, Fred is just down the way from the SNL studio; working on Late Night with Seth Meyers. So any chance we get to see him again is always welcome. He provided two great cameos this season – appearing with Vanessa Bayer as Vladimir Putin’s best friends from growing up; as well as a fleeting, brilliant, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it return as David Patterson. If you saw it, you saw it.

Honourable mentions: Will Ferrell, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph.

Best cameo: Barry Gibb.

What divine intelligence would allow for Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake to reunite for not only the final SNL of 2013, but perhaps the final Barry Gibb Talk Show ever given the death of dear, sweet Robin. And what better way to end it by getting the man himself out for a bit of a dance at the end? Sure, it was an all-too-brief moment, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t make me laugh and giggle like an idiot. Talkin’ it up forever.

Honourable mentions: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jon Hamm, Liam Neeson.

Worst cameo: Zooey Deschanel.

I can deal with Franco – he even appeared in a brilliant sketch later on this episode. Tay-Tay? Any time of the week. But there was no reason for Deschanel to show up and do her dazzled-frog look. At least she didn’t play her uke.

Honourable mentions: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Miley Cyrus.

Best digital short: Flirty.

Mooney is finally allowed some proper cross-over with the main cast as he strikes up an exceptionally awkward romance with Bayer. Not only really, really funny; but also strangely sweet. I think that sums up Mooney’s contributions to the show really well, actually.

Honourable mentions: Dyke & Fats, Girls Promo, Boy Dance Party.

Worst digital short: Dongs All Over the World.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love it when the ladies of SNL come together. But if I wanted that in season 39, I’d have watched Twin Bed. Not this shit. Also, who the fuck in the writers’ room was thinking “Mmm… needs more Icona Pop?”

Honourable mentions: White Christmas, What Does My Girl Say, Dragon Babies.

Best live sketch: Heshy: Career Week Speaker.

If there was an award for most underrated cast member, I’d give it to Nasim Pedrad in a heartbeat. This had the potential to be her true breakout character and it was given next to no love, apart from a small reprise towards the end of the season with a very game Charlize Theron. The timing, the movement, the accent, even the quick cuts to Mike O’Brien in character as her son… I absolutely loved this. Not a great deal came close to entertaining me nearly as much this season.

Honourable mentions: Guess That Phrase, Black Ops, Bill Brasky.

Worst live sketch: Undercover Sharpton.

Yeah… anyone want to cover this one? Any idea what in all of fuck happened here?

Honourable mentions: Murder Mystery, Oliver, Three Wise Men.

Best Weekend Update character: Jebediah Atkinson.

A star is born. This may be one of the single best Weekend Update characters of the last 10 years. Killam is consistently on fire in the role of the 19th-century critic; going all out on every one of his targets. Even minor slip-ups and ad-libs have provided some of the biggest laughs of the season. More, please. NEXT!

Honourable mentions: Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy, Bruce Chandling, Angela Merkel.

Best recurring sketch character: Mr. Patterson.

Beck Bennett isn’t just Kyle Mooney’s right-hand man – he’s a creative force in his own right; and that is no clearer anywhere else than when he becomes Mr. Patterson, the boss of the company with the body of a baby. His physical commitment to the role is astounding, perfectly detailed and amazingly funny. It’s such a simple idea, but one that could shape the rest of Bennett’s time with SNL. The future’s here – and it’s a big, big baby.

Honourable mentions: Ex-Porn Stars, Kimye, Shallon.

2012 – A Year in the Front Row. Part Two: April/May/June

Jan // Feb // Mar
Jul // Aug // Sep

APRIL

It’s somewhat fitting that I saw Hands Like Houses play a show on April Fool’s Day. Despite international acclaim and touring, they proved to be one of the most lifeless and uninspired bands I’ve seen live this year. What a joke. Still, at least I got to see Sound of Seasons tear it up at that show. Great live act, those kids. Onto the gorgeous surrounds of the Enmore, where I was fortunate enough to see ska legends The Specials tear the joint a new one. This was honestly one of the most energetic shows I went to in all of 2012 – I had no idea things would get this wild! For nearly two hours a solid crowd of roughly 1500, the band tore through their classics with all the energy and vitality that came with their release some thirty years ago. What a treat, what an honour. Definitely a major year highlight.

Milhouse launched their debut seven-inch in style, with a show at the venue they’re practically the house band of now: Black Wire Records. A very fun night indeed. The very next day, I had the chance of doubling up on a tour yet again – this time, twice in one day. Brisbane brats Bleeding Knees Club were playing in the afternoon in Sydney before playing that night in Wollongong. While it was fun to watch some kids going completely mental at what was quite possibly their first gig, the Gong show was something else entirely. Shit got decidedly loose, especially when local legend Jack Reilly got on stage with the boys to tear through a blink-182 cover. Oh, what a night!

With the Dig It Up! Festival in town, I had the chance to see the legendary Redd Kross play their cracking debut album, Born Innocent, in its entirety. While the Oxford Art Factory isn’t usually a great rock venue, this was the perfect room for these guys to thrash through the album and bring to life their wild younger years. Getting to press the flesh with the legendary Steve McDonald was also a total honour. A few days later, I was back at the same venue to see Brissie ex-pats An Horse play a rare Sydney show. A great audience and some top-shelf songs – wish these guys came back more often. Finally, I wrapped up the month with a show at Yours & Owls, which you’ll be hearing plenty more of later in the year. Here, I got to check out the frighteningly good Adelaide crew Night Hag grind to their heart’s content, with ample support from The Reverend Jesse Custer and Endeavours. Good times.

TOP 5:

  1. The Specials
  2. Redd Kross
  3. An Horse
  4. Bleeding Knees Club
  5. Night Hag

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Hands Like Houses. For all the hype, potentially the blandest band in all the land.

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MAY

Holy fuck. What a heavyweight month this was! Aside from maybe November, I can’t think of another period where I saw such incredible music being performed at such a consistent rate. An exhausting, exhilarating and life-affirming time in 2012. I kicked things off by farewelling The Butterfly Effect‘s vocalist, Clint Boge, with their final Sydney show with him at the UNSW Roundhouse. I’ll be the first to admit how daggy this lot can be, but I decided early on that I’d get there early, get the barrier and party like it was 2006. What a fun show this was, a complete nostalgia trip and a great send-off to a band that genuinely meant the world to me back in my mid-teens. Excellent fun, probably more than I should be admitting.

The next night saw me regain some of my “cred” by attending a packed-out show from the wonderful Frank Turner. In support was folk-punk’s first lady Jen Buxton, your new favourite punks The Smith Street Band and the jolly travelling bluesman William Elliott Whitmore. All four acts put on sets that superlatives simply cannot do justice to. It was a night to celebrate the arrival, if you will, of Frank. After selling out Wembley, he came to Australia with high spirits and an arsenal of anthems spanning all four of his albums. This man is honestly one of the reasons why I make music, so it truly was an honour to watch him bring his fervent folk-punk energy to the Manning Bar. You had to be there to get it.

Groovin’ the Moo – bit of a rubbish festival, but they bring the goods every now and then. Case in point: City and Colour & Wavves, who both put on great shows in Sydney. Having never seen C&C as a live band, it was quite fulfilling to hear so many tracks that I’ve loved over the years come to life so classily. Dallas is a great performer, understated and charming. I really appreciated the fact he asked everyone to put away their camera phones – one of my biggest vices at shows, so it was nice to get a break from it, however momentary. Although a totally different style of performer, Nathan Williams (aka Wavves) put on a cracking hour set at the Oxford Art Factory. All the best tracks from his own arsenal, plus a Sonic Youth cover (100%) and some gut-bustingly funny inside jokes made this a super-fun show.

Nearing the end of the month meant shit got increasingly more real. And it doesn’t get more freakin’ real than Prince. Holy shit, this was a spectacle and a half. To walk in and see the Allphones turned into a house of purple – complete with a stage shaped like Prince’s symbol – was breathtaking enough. Then, he decides to make things even more insane by OPENING with a fifteen-minute version of Purple Rain. Read again: OPENING with that. Where do you go from there, exactly? Pretty simple: Hit after hit after hit. This was a joyous, funky thing to be a part of; and I’m so glad I got that chance. Truly memorable stuff right there.

Following on from that, I got to see two long-time live favourites across two consecutive nights at the Patch – Dead Letter Circus and Tonight Alive. The former brought a meaty, volatile crowd with them; which was to be expected, really. Thankfully, I had myself a nice spot on the corner of the front row, tucked away and just enjoying their groovy tunes. Great live act, only getting better. As for Tonight Alive, this was the start of a pretty special run of shows with those guys – one show in Wollongong and two shows in Sydney, as a part of their final Australian tour for the year.

I always love these shows, if anything just for the company that comes with them and the incredible circle of people I’ve met through the band and its fans. It gets better, however: My boys in Totally Unicorn were the opening act, which meant that they got to terrorise a bunch of unsuspecting pop-punk kids and blow their freakin’ minds. All three shows had their good points, but the highlight of the bunch was easily the all-ages show at the Factory Theatre. There’s just something about AA Tonight Alive shows that have such an unshakable energy to them. The crowd is always mental, the kids up the front know the score and we can all go mental in unison. I usually have a pretty low tolerance level of AA crowds, but this was totally fine. In fact, it enhanced the experience.

May ended with not so much a bang as an absolute freak explosion. Two words: Janelle. Monae. Friends from across the country came out for this one, as the petite dynamo turned the Opera House concert hall into a next-level party. I can’t begin to tell you how much I needed this fucking show. After admiring Janelle for over two years, it was a complete thrill to finally get the chance to see her and her electric band do their thing, playing songs that still meant the absolute world to me like they did when they first came out. All roads truly felt like they lead to this very show. I can’t really give you much more detail than that. It was out of this world. Amazing. Life-changing. Pretty damn sure this was the one. As awesome as the rest of the year was, nothing quite compared to this night, these songs and this moment in time.

TOP 5:

  1. Janelle Monae
  2. Prince
  3. Frank Turner
  4. The Butterfly Effect
  5. Tonight Alive

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Young Guns, the main support for Tonight Alive. Sorry, lads; you seemed lovely but you were trying to do an arena show to an audience of about 50 people and it really didn’t work in your favour.

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JUNE

By contast, June was actually one of my quietest gig months. Not that it was a barren wasteland or anything, but I felt like a senior citizen compared to my frequent travels of the month prior. Even so, I probably needed the break more than I was willing to admit. I eased back into gigging post-Janelle (or PJ, as I so measure my life these days) with a small gig at Goodgod, one of my favourite new Sydney venues. My chums in Mrs. Bishop were launching a new single, and it was great to catch up with them and bask in their cooing harmonies. The week after, I bid farewell to an old mate in Trial Kennedy, who decided to notch up the nostalgia factor a little extra by adding After the Fall to the line-up. Getting in one last sing-along to Damage on Parade was a year highlight, as was the chance to FINALLY hear Mississippi Burn live; which is my all-time favourite TK song.

After having a ball (pardon the pun) at her last show in 2010, there was no way I was going to miss Lady Gaga on her Born This Way Ball tour. Although I wasn’t as big a fan of BTW as I was of her previous efforts, this was still an absolutely awesome show, full of wonder and big pop sing-alongs – which, if you know me well enough, are pretty much my bread and butter. The thing I love about big-arse pop shows like this one are that, even if it’s only for just a couple of hours, you can escape from whatever’s going on in your life and dive headfirst into a whole new world, Aladdin style. Gaga is a great entertainer and someone who can keep up energy levels like few others can. It’s truly a sight to see. Put aside your doubts and try it out sometime.

The end of the month came quickly, with two more shows before it was done. First was a trip all the way out to Epping, where I ended up at a cafe called Pablo’s in order to see my dear buddies in Collarbones and Fishing; as well as Dappled Cities side-project Swimwear. This was put on by The Gate, aka Joe Hardy, who puts in great efforts to bring great original live music to unconventional places. The show was an absolute treat for the senses, squishing in with a stack of other music lovers to soak up some glitchy goodness. You KNOW a show’s gone well when it ends with an en-masse sing-along to Jenny From the Block. Finally, there was my dear old buddy Jonathan Boulet, hitting the big time with his largest hometown show ever at the Metro Theatre. Having followed his work for years across all of his projects, to see this show go so well was a big thing for me. Jono continues to amaze and inspire with his work, and his live shows (starring his remarkably handsome band) are no exception. Good times!

TOP 5:

  1. Lady Gaga
  2. Trial Kennedy
  3. Jonathan Boulet
  4. Fishing
  5. Mrs Bishop

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: None! Everyone ruled! How good is that?