by Julian Spivey
10. Uncle Ben (Nov. 7, 2020)
Our social climate has led to some products needing to be altered like Aunt Jemima pancake syrup and Uncle Ben's rice and 'SNL' playfully pokes fun of this during the episode hosted by comedian Dave Chappelle with Kenan Thompson playing Uncle Ben and Maya Rudolph playing Aunt Jemima. Things truly go off the rails when Chappelle portrays Dennis Haysbert, the All State Insurance pitchman, and Pete Davidson portrays Count Chocula. Chappelle, Rudolph and Thompson seem to be having a blast.
9. AMC Movie Theaters (May 22, 2021)
It's rare that the final sketch of an episode (the 12:55 p.m. eastern slot) is the best of a show, but that's what happened during the season 46 finale hosted by actress Anya Taylor-Joy. In fact, it was the very last sketch of the season. The sketch is actor Vin Diesel, impersonated brilliantly as a dumb oaf by Beck Bennett, doing a commercial for AMC Theaters returning after closures due to COVID-19 and all the great things we've missed about "the movies" (which be enunciates hilariously), including butter that doesn't look like butter, sticky floors and that one boy that uses the urinal with his pants all the way down. It's hilariously spot on.
8. Cathy Anne on Capitol Insurrection (Jan. 30, 2021)
Cecily Strong's recurring Weekend Update guest Cathy Anne has been one of best recurring characters of the last few seasons and her take on the Capitol insurrection in January is easily one of her best. On the surface the character, with her white trash habits, would maybe be the kind of person you'd have expected to attend the insurrection, but her take on the events of that day are refreshing.
7. Tiny Horse (Dec. 12, 2020)
Sometimes I just see something so absurd it hits my funny bone perfectly and I'll go into a fit of laughter so hard and uncontrollable that it takes minutes to break out of - this is what happened the first time I saw Tiny Horse from the episode hosted by actor Timothee Chalamet in December. Just the image of Tiny Horse set me into hysterics. The sketch is set like an old timey movie like "Old Yeller" or "Where the Red Fern Grows" and the farm animals must be sold to save the family farm from foreclosure and the son of the family sings a song about losing his best friend, Tiny Horse. Of all the sketches on this list it probably holds up the least upon second viewing, but I'll never forget the first time seeing Tiny Horse.
6. Drivers License (Feb. 20, 2021)
Singer Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” absolutely took the world by storm in early 2021 and the idea ‘SNL’ had for a bunch of men’s men shooting pool at a bar to bond over the song about cast members of the Disney+ series “High School Musical” having and ending a relationship is genius. They really get into the odds and ends of the song and identify with it and by the end of the sketch all break into the bridge together. It’s one of those moments of ‘SNL’ really getting into the pop culture of the moment.
5. The Last Dance Extended Sequence (May 15, 2021)
While the ESPN Michael Jordan/Chicago Bulls documentary “The Last Dance” was a year old at the time of the airing it was a terrific idea for ‘SNL’ to pit host Keegan-Michael Key as the incredibly competitive and egotistical Jordan taking his security guard John, played by the incredibly underrated Heidi Gardner, to task for beating him at a game of quarters against a wall. Jordan goes to non-stop lengths to embarrass the security guard and Gardner’s portrayal as the middle-aged white man is one of the best ‘SNL’ performances of the season.
4. Hot Ones with Beyonce (March 27, 2021)
Maya Rudolph is an American treasure and the idea of her playing Beyonce going on the Hot Ones YouTube show where host Sean Evans (played in the sketch by the underrated Mikey Day) interviews celebrities as they try out incredibly spicy hot wing sauces is genius. Rudolph has this great ability to take a one joke sketch and wring every ounce of laughter out of it – often just by extending syllables and verbalizing non-words and this is her at her absolute best.
3. Murder Show (Feb. 27, 2021)
A few times a year ‘SNL’ comes up with an original song that truly knocks it out of the park and the ladies of the cast singing about loving “murder shows” was that moment. Many of my female co-workers love watching documentaries or listening to podcasts about serial killers, which made me realize how accurate this sketch truly was. Host Nick Jonas even gets in on the act to sing about loving “cult shows,” which also has this wildly big following on streaming.
2. The Muppet Show (May 15, 2021)
The idea of bouncers taking issue with Statler and Waldorf, the heckling critics on The Muppet Show, was ripe for the picking and Keegan-Michael Key (who was past due to host ‘SNL’) and Kenan Thompson are the perfect sketch comedians for the task. Just the image of Key laying a smackdown on Statler, when he refuses to stop heckling, was enough to send me into hysterics and the image of the Muppet with black eyes was enough to nearly break Thompson, which is rare to see from the veteran sketch comedian. Thompson’s “we didn’t know that y’all was veterans” is also one of the best lines of the season of any sketch. I also love that Key’s character refers to Kermit the Frog as “Kramer.”
1. Dave Chappelle's Monologue (Nov. 7, 2020)
The monologue is a tradition that dates all the way back to the first episode of 'SNL' in 1975, but more often than not it's kind of a waste of time. However, when a stand-up comedian hosts the show it's often one of the night's highlights. Comedians Chris Rock, Bill Burr and John Mulaney all had funny monologues this season, but the best was without a doubt Dave Chappelle's, which came the evening after the Presidential election results were finally official and hit on some hard-biting and timely topics like the election and COVID-19. The monologue, which at over 16 minutes might be the longest in the show's history, showed why Chappelle is an all-time comedy great, even though some aspects of it were deemed controversial by some viewers. How about we just let comedians be comedians and not P.C. police comedy?
by Julian Spivey
CBS canceled legal drama "All Rise" last week after two seasons and while the decision wasn't exactly surprising given the show's Nielsen ratings it does seem to suggest an issue with the network and with network television in general.
While speaking about "All Rise" (as well as recently canceled CBS sitcom "The Unicorn"), CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl told Deadline.com: "We creatively love both shows, it's literally a numbers game on the schedule, and it's a number game when it typically comes to getting a renewal. I think these shows were not living up to the potential in terms of an audience that we hoped to see in their respective time slots."
That makes sense. Network television has always been a numbers game. If enough people watch the show it lives (sometimes seemingly forever as "NCIS" is showing on the same network) and if not enough people watch the network gives it the ax.
So, I can't really lay as much blame on CBS for the decision, as much as the folks deciding the show wasn't worth their time. Except ... CBS knows their audience, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it also knows its audience is old and white and let's face it "All Rise" was too diverse for the network.
"All Rise" has followed newly appointed Judge Lola Carmichael (Simone Missick), who immediately begins to challenge the boundaries and expectations of being a judge. The cast is filled out with attorneys, played by Wilson Bethel, Jessica Camacho and J. Alex Brinson, trying to do their best within the system.
"All Rise" also has taken on systemic racism, especially within law enforcement, during its second season and that's a storyline that definitely doesn't fit with the demographics mostly watching CBS. The show, along with some others on different networks (most notably "The Rookie" on ABC and "New Amsterdam" on NBC) have seen some criticisms of being "woke" (which is now evidently the dirtiest four-letter word on the right) for taking on real-life problems within the world.
It's just easier for viewers of CBS to swallow crime procedurals where everything is wrapped neatly in a bow and viewers don't have to think about outside problems affecting the real-world. That's why CBS has added another "NCIS" series (the fourth, though it's replacing one that's leaving), another "FBI" series (the third) and is reviving its "CSI" series. White guys solving crimes is the CBS modus operandi. It's just easier for the old white folks to stomach than folks of color trying to make a difference from within.
by Julian Spivey
SEAL Team (CBS)
I honestly didn't think I'd like "SEAL Team" that much before it premiered - so much so that it was a late decision on my part to even give it a shot. I just didn't think I'd be that into a military drama that felt like it would be all "hell yeah America" and testosterone. The writers of the show, however, have done a terrific job at building relationships on and off mission between these band of brothers and the story of these characters is one I'd like to see continue. CBS has already renewed many shows and there's only a handful left on the bubble, so it's probably a toss-up for a fifth season.
The Resident (Fox)
I watch three network medical dramas: "The Resident" (Fox), "New Amsterdam" (NBC) and "The Good Doctor" (ABC). Of the three "The Resident" is my favorite, but unfortunately it's also the only one not yet renewed for another season. Almost four seasons complete I still find myself enjoying everything about the show, which sports one of the best ensemble casts on network TV that includes Matt Czuchry, Emily VanCamp, Bruce Greenwood and Malcolm-Jamal Warner. As long as the series didn't end on an unfortunate cliffhanger I think I'd be OK with "The Resident" ending, but I hope to see it continue on to a fifth season.
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist (NBC)
I thought the first season of NBC's "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" last year was one of the all-time great first seasons of a show I've ever seen. The show was unique (it still is) and the creator Austin Winsberg had something he wanted to do and say and did so supremely. Had the show only received one season it would've been complete in my book, but I was happy to see it renewed. Season two hasn't been as good, but honestly how do you top perfection? Jane Levy's lead character is one of my favorite on television and the show is still a must-watch for me regardless. There are shows on NBC, including Sunday nights with fewer live viewers, but I still feel like this show is probably ending with its upcoming season two finale.
The Rookie (ABC)
Overall, season three of ABC's "The Rookie" has been the best season of this series when it comes to quality, but the ratings are lower than season two and I was frankly a bit surprised the network renewed "The Rookie" for a third season. It's dumb, but it seems the series taking on bad cops within the system of policy has turned off some fans of the show, as you can tell by how many times you see "woke" used as a criticism on IMDb.com reviews of episodes. I'd like to see the show continue and the fact that it airs late on Sunday evenings with little competition is helpful. It's probably a toss-up.
I felt CBS's freshman series "Clarice," which follows FBI agent Clarice Starling (played by Rebecca Breeds) shortly after the happenings of "The Silence of the Lambs," got off to a slow start, but has picked up the pace and has been the best new drama of a weak slate of new network dramas this TV season. That slow start is probably why a fanbase never really formulated for this series and it's more than likely to be one-and-done at CBS, but I think if the network were to take a chance on it the show would only continue to get better.
by Julian Spivey
From Cradle to Stage - Paramount+ - May 6
Paramount+'s new music docuseries "From Cradle to Stage" started off as a book by Virginia Grohl, mother of Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, in 2017 called From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars. The series, which premieres just in time for Mother's Day, takes a look at the special bond between musicians and their mothers and the first season features Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, Pharrell Williams, Rush's Geddy Lee, country superstar Miranda Lambert, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and folk-Americana singer Brandi Carlile. I'm particularly looking forward to the Carlile and Lambert episodes.
Hacks - HBO Max - May 13
HBO Max is doing a good job at rolling out original comedy series that aren't part of its mother channel HBO and stand out on their own and recently released the interesting "Made for Love," starring Cristin Milioti and Ray Romano. Now comes "Hacks," which looks like a terrific vehicle for Emmy-winner Jean Smart. In "Hacks," Smart plays a over the hill comedienne looking to appeal to a younger audience and hires a 25-year old, played by Hannah Einbinder, to freshen up her material and a mentorship is formed.
The Underground Railroad - Amazon Prime Video - May 14
Barry Jenkins, director of the Academy Award Best Picture winning "Moonlight," is bringing the limited drama series "The Underground Railroad," based off Colson Whitehead's novel to Amazon Prime Video. The series is set in an alternate timeline in which the Underground Railroad is an actual railroad system complete with conductors, engineers, tracks and tunnels in which freed slaves help others ride to freedom. The 10-episode series features Thuso Mbedu as its lead and will also star Joel Edgerton and William Jackson Harper.
The Woman in the Window - Netflix - May 14
"The Woman in the Window," directed by Joe Wright who had a lot of success with "Pride & Prejudice," "Atonement" and "Darkest Hour," features a stellar cast and is seemingly another modern take on the Alfred Hitchcock classic "Rear Window," one of my all-time favorites. Amy Adams plays the titular woman in the window who is an agoraphobic psychologist who believes she's seen the murder of a neighbor, only to have nobody believe her. The supporting cast features Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Brian Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Julianne Moore.
MLK/FBI - Hulu - May 14
One of the most critically-acclaimed and talked about documentaries of 2020, "MLK/FBI," premieres on Hulu on May 14 and is sure to infuriate those who maybe don't know a whole lot about the relationship between Civil Rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and the FBI. The documentary, directed by Sam Pollard, follows the investigation and harrassment of King by then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who went so far as trying to encourage King to commit suicide, and this asshole somehow still has his name on the FBI headquarters to this day.
1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything - AppleTV+ - May 21
This year marks 50 years since 1971, perhaps the greatest year in the history of popular music. AppleTV+'s documentary '1971' focuses on that terrific year for music, which saw some of the greatest albums ever released like Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, Joni Mitchell's Blue, Carole King's Tapestry, Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers and tracks like John Lennon's "Imagine" and Don McLean's "American Pie." This will be a can't miss docuseries for music lovers.