To be a truly great host on Saturday Night Live requires a multitude of skills that elude even some of our favorite stars. He or she needs to be fearless. A willingness to be, as Josh Brolin said this year in his SNL monologue, “career-endingly stupid.” On top of that, things have to go just right — even the most game guest is at the mercy of the show’s writers and ensemble and they’d be the first to admit that all their shows are not created equal. But as Seth Meyers has often said, the show often takes on the personality of the host. Lackluster sketches can be blamed on the writing sometimes, but drab material might also reflect the mood and enthusiasm of a tentative or distracted host during the week leading up to the show. So when everything comes together and Saturday Night Live delivers a show that has you snorting till Tuesday, well, the host deserves the lion’s share of the credit. Happy accidents don’t typically happen on SNL. There’s simply no place to hide. When the show is great, it’s because the host is, and that’s why we revere Tom Hanks and Justin Timberlake, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. They make it look easy, but as we know from many other guest hosts, it’s not.
This year for the first time, EW.com readers have voted after every episode to determine who was the season’s best host. The most recent host was pitted against the four most popular previous hosts in a popular vote, and the one with the least number of voters was eliminated while the four survivors advanced to the next week. Like any democracy, it’s a system that’s not without its flaws, but judging by our Final Five, the process performed reasonably well. Melissa McCarthy, Jimmy Fallon, Daniel Radcliffe, Will Ferrell, and Mick Jagger were all excellent hosts who boldly epitomized Brolin’s credo. McCarthy coated herself in ranch dressing, Radcliffe mocked Harry Potter, Mick deigned not to be so cool (and hence became even cooler).
Before we announce the inaugural winner of Mr. (or Mrs.) Saturday Night Live, though, there are three other non-democratic awards to present.
Most Underrated Host: Maya Rudolph (Feb. 18)
At the time, everyone raved about Rudolph’s return to SNL, when she reunited with Amy Poehler on “Bronx Beat” and played Maya Angelou on a prank reality show. A few weeks later, though, she was voted off in favor of Sofia Vergara. Ever since, readers have commented that Rudolph’s show was the best of the season. (Stop blaming me, commenters! Democracy can be cruel and unjust!) I loved this episode from start to finish, and its resonance with fans can’t just be attributed to voters’ guilt for neglecting to keep her in the game. She crushed it.
Best Non-host Host: Jon Hamm
Bummer that Jon Hamm didn’t host this year, but he almost made up for it by becoming a de facto member of the cast. He popped up at 30 Rock numerous times, playing Snooki’s baby-daddy, shirtless sax-playing Sergio, and Italian crooner Johnnie Prosciutto. Should he officially host next season, he’s got to be the frontrunner for Mr. Saturday Night Live 2013.
Best Sketch Starring the Host: “Taste Test,” with Melissa McCarthy
“There’s a Hidden Valley Ranch party in my mouth!” I still have McCarthy’s desperate Trekkie, Linda, cued up online as a go-to laugh break. She ends up coated in ranch dressing, but the more subtle line that gets me every time is when she motions disparagingly to Abby Elliott and says to the moderator, “She’s gonna ruin it, Roger.”
NEXT: The first-ever Mr. (or Mrs.) Saturday Night Live is…