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Saturday Night Live Recap: The Thirteenth Time Is Not Quite the Charm

Scattered amongst both talent and riff-raff, there's an elite cadre of Saturday Night Live guest hosts who could easily be cast members. Plenty of famous folks have acquitted themselves admirably on the show — some on multiple occasions—but consummate pros like Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Alec Baldwin, and Candice Bergen are on a whole other level. They consistently nail their hostly duties and they've proven their chemistry with all permutations of the evolving cast. Despite not having been on the show in a tween's lifetime, John Goodman is a member in good standing of this overachievers club — which makes it even more difficult to see him in a subpar episode.

Goodman has a big, expressive face that radiates pure joy at the opportunity to mix it up with a sketch ensemble (when he's not killing it in Coen Brothers movies.) Much like Paul Rudd last week, however, Goodman proves that the right host can't always hoist up a show in which all the moving parts aren't quite working. It's like when a huge stand-up act does a pop-in at a tiny comedy club in Brooklyn: For the first five minutes or so, the audience is going to be so high from goodwill fumes that they'll laugh at just about anything. After that, though, the material has to rise to the occasion. This week, it didn't.

Interpretive Dance of the Week

After a perfunctory Obamacare website slam, the cold open last night went about the business of recapping a series of tepid presidential non-troversies all stemming from Nelson Mandela's memorial service. The selfie heard 'round the world gets its due, along with the apparently un-vetted sign-language interpreter at that event, and a Raúl Castro handshake that set tongues a-wagging. Soon, Kenan Thompson shows up as the unfortunate interpreter, complete with non-sequitur T-Rex arms and nipple rubbings in tow as Obama drones on. Marking the beginning of a big night for herself, Kate McKinnon reprises her role as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who seems nervous in a very German way as she asks Jay Pharoah's Obama for both a "serious" selfie and a "fun" one. (Her fun one is equally alarmed-looking.)

Unnecessary Song of the Week

Some elements of John Goodman's filmography, I'd just as soon forget — and chief among them is his role in The Blues Brothers 2000. Even if seeing him sing didn't remind me of that Belushi grave-robbing nightmare, though, I'd still have rooted against Goodman doing a monologue song because it's a device too often deployed, and rarely to comedic effect. But it's the dude's thirteenth time on the show, so if he wants to sing "All I Want For Christmas Is Booty" with Kenan, there's no stopping him. In many ways, this song turned out to be an accurate preview of many of the sketches to come. Once the one joke is out there — in this case, the song's title — there's nowhere to go and too much time to get there.

Impersonation-Hurricane of the Week

 It's insane that we live in a world in which Guy Fieri exists. As that famous New York Times takedown of his Times Square eatery demonstrated, it's so easy to rip on the guy that doing so with any vitriol can make Fieri look sympathetic. Thankfully, the writers on SNL have been smartly frugal about unleashing Bobby Moynihan's glorious impersonation sparingly. Tonight's first digital short is a preview for Guy Fieri's Full Throttle Christmas Special, a TV event which, as far as I know, is not real, but entirely too plausible. Moynihan's Fieri introduces the guests on his program as "the human equivalent of the food I make." It's a rogue's gallery that includes Z-grade celebrities Verne Troyer, "Mimi from The Drew Carey Show", Criss Angel, and Bret Michaels. John Goodman shows up as something called Big Ang, who I am not personally familiar with, but who I can safely conclude will not exceed Goodman's impression in her actual being. This sketch also featured a brief riff on Fieri's rumored homophobia, in which the greasy chef tries to turn a fruitcake into a straight cake. Weirdly, there was an ad for Diners and Drive-Ins during the commercial break, for those who doubt the Illuminati is real.

Slow Burn of the Week

It takes a long time for the premise of this sketch to sink in. As the players in a local performance called "Dance of the Snowflakes" get into the seasonal spirit, we hear their thoughts. The gulf between their wide smiles and self-effacing internal monologues is vast. "I don't deserve flowers," Vanessa Bayer's chipper dancer observes, "I deserve a slap in the face." It's a slow burn, and eventually the contrast between thoughts and actions builds to a fun and surreal level, but we in the audience spend a little too much time waiting to laugh before that actually happens.

Unexplainable Plug of the Week

What is even happening here? Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro stop by to promote their forthcoming mutual return to the cinematic boxing ring in Grudge Match, playing two thirds of the magi, along with our host. The twist is that the three wise men are actually three wise guys, a concept that ends up invoking every Sopranos-era Italian goombah gambit, and applying it to the birth of Christ. There's a glimmer of hope when you see the premise and who's involved, but unless the word fuggedaboutit and spookily swaying camel-puppets are your jam, this inexplicable sketch is pretty much DOA.

Extended Family of the Week

Kenan Thompson's Black Santa is a response to Megyn Kelly's widely derided comments on Fox News about the objective whiteness of noted fictional character Santa Claus. It was a funny bit, and the only major racial commentary this episode, during a week when SNL "secretly" held auditions for a black female actor to add to its repertoire. Well, it was the only major racial commentary except for some statements from this week's other Weekend Update character, Bobby Moynihan as Drunk Uncle. This week, Drunk Uncle has a Drunk uncle of his own, played by John Goodman, who declares: "All I want for Christmas … is for my two neighbors to not be Chinese anymore."

Linda Tripp Flashback of the Week

I didn't realize it, but I suppose I'd quietly been hoping for John Goodman in drag all episode, and my Christmas wish came true in a sketch where he played a young female employee supposedly fired for her good looks. The host seemed to be having a lot of fun here, all dressed up in a way that recalls his legend-cementing turn as Linda Tripp on SNL so long ago. Despite the fact that he featured prominently in the promos for this week's episode, Taran Killam showed up for the first time in this sketch, as a harried attorney. New cast member Beck Bennett showed up here, as a lawyer moved to dance by Goodman's R. Kelly-assisted body-rocking, and it was the first time he made a splash since his wonderful Adult Baby turn a couple shows ago.

Dismissed Class of the Week

The recent Edward Norton episode introduced us to a classroom where bad ideas are contagious, and this week it's back. Nasim Pedrad deftly plays the ringleader, Shallon, who is way too cavalier in her dangerous plans to help out Santa Claus. John Goodman plays the hapless fireman trying to keep the class alive, and Kate McKinnon leaves a fine impression just by announcing that her teacher character is leaving to "go eat a bag of baby carrots in my car." As far as classroom characters go, though, I much prefer Shallon to Kristen Wiig's Gilly.

Too Real Promo of the Week

Much like Guy Fieri's Full Throttle Christmas Special, any of the shows mentioned during this very quick series of promos for Hallmark's Countdown to Christmas could be real. Unlike that sketch, however, all we get are the names of fake titles and actors that populate Hallmark's safe, lame, holiday feast. The best part of this brief bit is the tagline, "While you're waiting for your food to cook."

Way Too Much Whistling of the Week

As mentioned earlier, this week was heavy on sketches with one joke that sort of just hang around until they finish. In this It's a Wonderful Life parody, the joke is that the signal that lets you know an angel is watching over you — here, it's a Christmas Whistle instead of a bell — gets annoying with repetition. The only problem is that what's supposed to be annoying for the characters in the sketch is annoying for viewers as well, and despite a decent reveal and some fine reactive work from McKinnon, there's not much that can save this sketch.

Reasonably Priced Joke-Bin of the Week

Jay Pharoah raps about the sensible prices at H&M in a loud, flashy digital short that didn't quite seem to have a central joke at its core. Yikes.

Last Call of the Week

There is a certain meta element to having a recurring final sketch that is about Last Call. It's a moment at bars when you see people desperate to close the deal and salvage the night — a metaphor that could easily be applied to the cast and crew of SNL on an off-night like last night. I don't know if the show exactly got into our pants with this last sketch, but they certainly got our digits. We've seen this sketch before with Louis CK and Kate McKinnon as two pathetic patrons of Donnelly's bar, trying to out-gross each other. This iteration was a worthy successor with Goodman filling in as the undesirable trying to woo McKinnon, who is wearing a purple flannel shirt that has some reggae-colored Vermonts sewed on. Their whip cream-covered make out sesh is a happy ending for an episode lacking in laughs.

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With one show left in 2013, and reportedly in Seth Meyers' run on the show, let's hope next week finds the writers firing on all cylinders.