Saturday Night Live turned 40 years old this year, and the three-plus hour TV special in February was a great moment to celebrate the show and all that it’s meant to pop culture. It also was an opportunity to recognize what a great talent can do when he or she is surrounded by brilliant writers and performers. At one point during the lovefest, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, Tom Hanks, and Melissa McCarthy were among the stars who engaged in a conversation about which profession has produced the most number of great hosts: comedians, actors, singers, sports figures. No offense to Peyton Manning and the Singing Pauls (Simon and McCartney), but can we all agree it’s comedians and actors?
At least that’s been the verdict from four season of EW.com voting for Mr. Saturday Night. In 2012, readers crowned the first capital-C Comedian and former SNL star Jimmy Fallon as the first champ. To be fair, Justin Timberlake won in 2013, giving musicians a boost, and Fallon reclaimed the prize last year. With Bill Hader this season’s frontrunner, it could become the third time that a former cast member returns to Rockefeller Center to win the vote. It would be foolish to pretend that being an alum of the show doesn’t have its advantages: not only is there a comfort level, but as Hader demonstrated, returning cast members have a collection of beloved characters that fans are eager to revisit.
But though Hader is the pre-vote favorite, it’s hardly a runaway. Dwayne Johnson proved once again to be one of the most accomplished and versatile guests, and Louis C.K.’s finale was bold and weird. Reese Witherspoon and Scarlett Johansson are in the mix to become the first Ms. Saturday Night, and Martin Freeman is a possible threat after his fans voted him back into contention after he initially was eliminated.
Before we announce this year’s contest, though, there are six other awards.
Most Underrated Host: Jim Carrey (Oct. 25)
The show’s 40th season was off to a pretty underwhelming start when Carrey hosted the season’s Halloween episode, invigorating his third appearance as host with all sorts of weird wonderful, beginning with his musical performance as Helvis. The “Carrey Family Reunion” brought out the best of the cast, but it was the series of Lincoln ads, in which Carrey parodied Matthew McConaughey as he contemplated the meaning of life—and rolled boogers—that hit the sweet spot. Everyone seemed to like Carrey’s show immediately after it aired… but then they forgot as our voting continued during the season.
Best First-time Host: Martin Freeman (Dec. 13)
Quite simply, one of the best debuts for a host in a long time. Freeman is the star of The Hobbit and others adore him for his work on Sherlock, but he’s a gifted comic actor with a resume that includes the original Office and some hilarious nude scenes in Love, Actually. After starring in a billion-dollar franchise, perhaps he’d flinch at being labeled a “character actor,” but Freeman’s ability to sell daft without playing it huge was a gift to every sketch he was in.
Best Cold-Open Starring the Host: Dwayne Johnson (Mar. 28)
Hosts typically ease into the show, leaving the cold-open to the professionals. But Dwayne Johnson felt confident to anchor the first sketch with his character of Rock Obama, the Hulk-like rage monster that President Obama turns into when he can no longer tolerate idiots. Who needs an Anger Translator when you have The Rock, a larger, more violent version of the president?
Best Opening Monologue: Kevin Hart (Jan. 17)
Stick to your strengths. It’s the key to a great SNL monologue, an obvious strategy that too many hosts ignore in an effort to showcase a hidden “talent.” When Hart hosted for the second time, he performed a stand-up routine about living in the sticks where a gangsta raccoon made his suburban home as frightening as the ‘hood. If you never knew one thing about Kevin Hart before watching him on SNL, you quickly learned that he was a comedian with his own style and delivery.
Best Live Sketch Starring the Host: “WWE Promo Shoot” with Dwayne Johnson
Once upon a time, Dwayne Johnson was The Rock, wrestling superstar who specialized in his mic skills. So watching him play Koko Watchout, a grappler who digs up dirt on his opponent Trashyard Mutt and drops some embarrassing knowledge in the crudest terms possible, turned out to be one of the season’s highlights. Not only were all three actors pitch perfect, but it may have been one of the best written sketches of the season.
Best Pre-Taped Short Starring the Host: “The Office: Middle Earth,” with Martin Freeman
If you first met Freeman as his character Tim Canterbury from Ricky Gervais’ original Office, then this mishmash of Middle-earth in Slough was a little slice of heaven.
NEXT: The 2015 Ms. (or Mr.) Saturday Night is…