It feels weird and incorrect to evaluate this week's cold open along with the rest of the segments. In a touching — and not at all mandatory — moment, the show opened simply with the New York Children's Chorus singing two pristine verses of "Silent Night." It was a touching nod to Newtown, Connecticut, and to the national mood at the moment, as the usual feel-good sentiments like children and the holidays have an extra air of melancholy to them for now.
Good, classy decision by the show, and the fact that it prefaced one of the more unexpectedly great episodes of the season was even better. I confess I wasn't sure what to expect out of Martin Short. I was trying to think of the last time I'd seen him perform in any capacity, and beyond the laugh-riot season of Damages he was on (and Emmy-nominated for, but still), the last time I saw him do comedy was that one Arrested Development. And it wasn't great.
But Short's comedic chops, and his standing as comedic royalty, fit right in with the super-loose "put on some sketches while we have the holiday party backstage" vibe. Speaking of which...
Holiday Party of the Year
I confess, I got nervous when Short went into Ed Grimley so soon into his monologue, and then again when Paul Shaffer showed up. Sometimes the classic cast members return and just pull out the old characters and sleepwalk through it. But Short kept that stuff to the monologue — with one appropriate exception — and before long, he was taking a backstage tour of all the alums and various celebs on hand. (Tom Hanks just lives there, is my theory.) Nice to see Kristen Wiig back and making jokes with the Dooneese hand. Nice that Aidy Bryant got to be on camera for two seconds since it was her only appearance tonight. Nice that there's a llama back there. Okay, so nobody seemed very happy, but I guess that was intentional (or else Tina Fey is really watching that clock until 30 Rock is finished).
Bum Humor of the Night
Additional guest Alec Baldwin showed up to play Tony Bennett to Short's Jerry Bennett, as the Bennett Brothers did their Christmas show. Incredible work by Jay Pharoah on his Kanye West impersonation. (Kanye's wearing shades because he got conjunctivitis from one of Kim Kardashian's "little rat dogs.") The uncommonly brief sketch centered mostly on butt jokes courtesy of Bennett Show sponsor Dulcolax, including Short calling them "lucky little suppositories" as Kanye took them home for Kim.
Fanny Humor of the Night
My gosh, I was dying during the Royal OB/GYN Protocol sketch. It was such great fun watching Bill Hader go toe-to-toe with Short, the latter unleashing a barrage of vagina puns in the guise of advising Kate Middleton's OB/GYN how to best address the royal "ah-hem." (It is proper to address it as "milady" and to tip your hat once it's done the same). Hader nearly faltered a couple times ("her Downton Abbey ... the Chunnel ... Dame Judi Dench"), but he managed to hold it together even through Fred Armisen's punchline appearance as a decidedly un-posh Queen Elizabeth, here to get her "Judi Dench washed." This one probably would have made a late-breaking threat at the Top 10 Sketches of 2012, for what it's worth.
New Impersonation Alert
I do love a cavalcade of celebrity impersonations, which was the whole point of Al Pacino and Philip Seymour Hoffman's Broadway-bound "You're a Rat Bastard, Charlie Brown." (By the way, I went to Forbidden Broadway the other night and they too had a Pacino/Hoffman thesp-fest parody, so I guess the universe IS shrinking in preparation for the Mayan you-know-what.) Anyway, if we're doing power rankings for the impersonations, Kate McKinnon's sitting at the top for her Edie Falco, though obviously Short's Larry David was great. (Okay, fine, it was "pret-tay, pret-tay, pret-tay good," happy?) Also, can Michael Keaton get famous again so we can let Taran Killam run wild with THAT character he's got in his back pocket?
Recurring Character of the Week
Very good weekend update, bolstered by two guests. I'm sure the first will prove divisive, but I was delighted by Vanessa Bayer as Jacob, the Bar Mitzvah Boy. Such commitment to the gag, and he was SO proud of his jokes!
But the headliner was Cecily Strong back as Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation With. Third time since the season started! It's always a double-edged sword with these early repetitions of popular characters. I was so happy to see her show up and address the hard-hitting issues like why can't Secret Santa just be openly gay? (Seriously, though, why can't he? It's 2010.) But in the back of my mind was the sensible, rational voice that said they're only going to burn her out sooner at this pace. And they are, just not yet.
Priciest Sketch of the Week
Ooooh-Wee! The triumphant 2012-13 season debut of What Up With That! I am a fan of this sketch's dumb, goofy charms, if only because there are three things in this world more delightful than Jason Sudeikis dancing in that red track suit, and all of them involve Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes. Short got to reprise his Jackie Rogers Jr. character (ask your grandparents) for the precisely correct length of time (I clocked about 10 seconds). But the part that everyone's going to be talking about is Samuel L. Jackson's f-bomb. Did he go the full "fuck"? Sam says no, and also that Kenan didn't cut him off when he said "bullshit" either, but Kenan was too bust reacting to what really sounded like a full "fuck." I only harp on this because if he really did say it, that means that, by the transitive property, Jenny Slate is now entitled to all benefits and privileges of being Samuel L. Jackson. Enjoy your Tarantino movie, Jenny!
"A" for Effort of the Week
On a show as overall enjoyable as this was, it makes it really easy to smile and give a pass to the sketches that don't work. The Restoration Hardware sketch where Short and Armisen play old friends catching each other up on their terrible lives isn't abominable. It's just another one of those Armisen Portlandia-esque sketches that just kind of meanders around for a while and then ends. It ended quickly enough.
Sneaky Beatle Strategy of the Week
The "Community Christmas Pageant Auditions" sketch was riding along on its simple charms — watching Short berate Paul McCartney for being slow on his triangle chimes had a fun energy to it. But then, oh dear, as we all might have feared, the whole thing segued into McCartney performing "Wonderful Christmastime," which has been determined BY SCIENCE to be the worst Christmas song of all time. But — BUT — that diabolical McCartney wasn't finished. Out came the New York Children's Chorus, those same wonderful, darling kids who were so poignant at the beginning of the show. And like a deflector shield made of Teflon and choir robes, the children did repel all criticisms of Paul's lamest contribution to music and everybody had a merry Christmas after all. See you in 2013 with Jennifer Lawrence and the Lumineers, everybody!