The most vocal experts on whether Saturday Night Live sucks tend to be people who have not watched the show in at least six or seven years. It’s a logical fallacy that’s no fun to argue, but one quick way of doing so is to recommend to that said hater watch a recent episode — specifically the Emmy Award–winning one Jimmy Fallon hosted back in season 37. Unfortunately, anyone who needs convincing of SNL’s buoyancy is likely to also think of Jimmy Fallon as the break-prone cackle-monster of yore, rather than the stone-cold vet that years of leading his own late-night show have made him. Fallon had another chance to win over the unconverted last night, returning with the retooled cast to host a Christmas episode.
When departed cast members come back to host SNL, the material is nearly always elevated. The same season in which Fallon last returned also boasted an exceptional Maya Rudolph turn. But as Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig have demonstrated recently, these homecoming jaunts can also just be merely good rather than great. Also, recent back-to-back disappointments with Paul Rudd and John Goodman have prepped viewers to temper their expectations, no matter who is hosting. Perhaps in an effort to fortify the fortress against possible weakness, when Fallon returned to host last night, Lorne Michaels paired him with SNL fan favorite Justin Timberlake.
In a change of pace for Timberlake, the double-threat was set to take a backseat as just a musical guest, perhaps in penance for an overexposed 2013 which included two promotional junkets every bit as suffocating as Ron Burgundy’s, one of which was for a non-starter sequel album. Of course, it would be impossible for JT to merely sit on the sidelines at this point. After all the work he and Fallon have done together on the latter’s show, there would have to be a bunch of tag-teaming going on. Ultimately, the show felt a little crowded as a result, but if you’re going to have two hosts, it might as well be these bros.
Recycled Wrapping of the Week
Hate to be an SNL-grinch, but the cold open this week was more like a cold omen — a portent of lurking evil that does not bode well at all. At least, that’s how I took it. I’ve never been a fan of Timberlake’s recurring “bring it on down to (whatever)-ville” sketches, in which our guy dons a goofy mascot get-up and tries to one-up some sort of vendor. Seems like a long way to go to satisfy the people who just want to see Timberlake sing and dance — and especially in Fallon’s episode. Things quickly pick up here, though, when the host comes out and duets with Timberlake. Whether recreating the dramatic head-turns from that Gotye video or the easy back-and-forth of Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky,” these two are crazy coordinated.
This sketch is more about being charming than funny, I guess, and it succeeds in that regard. In 2013, though, it truly is starting to seem kind of cheap to have punchlines based on the mere suggestion that two dudes would bone down together, as was the case with a “deck-sacking” riff. Overall, the funniest thing in the opening might have been an audience member who raised the stakes on our hosts’ exuberance with something that sounded less like a cheer than a battle cry, and forced Aidy Bryant as the competing vendor to improvise a response (twice.)
Surprise Beatle of the Week
I complain about monologue songs regularly, but Jimmy Fallon is the rare host that should be permitted, nay, encouraged to do one, since he constantly is doing either funny songs or dead-on musical impersonations on his own show. Here, the impressions come out, with the conceit that a holy rock trinity comprised of Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and Paul McCartney got stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel en route to the show — leaving Fallon to fill in for all three. Luckily, longtime SNL friend McCartney arrives late, courtesy of CitiBike (#2013 #NewYork), to help bring it on home. After a decent joke at Dylan’s expense, they do just that, “Merry Little Christmas”-style.
Laugh Break of the Week
Kenan Thompson finally gets to take his Steve Harvey impression into the game show Harvey hosts, reportedly part of his goal of “being on mute in every waiting room in America.” Since this is Celebrity Family Feud, though, we get to see some more impressions the new cast has on deck. (Noël Wells as Alyson Hannigan! John Milhiser as Jon Cryer!) Well, except for Brooks Wheelan who calls out his lack of airtime in an even more cringey-funny way than Wells did back in the recent Hutcherson episode.
Jimmy Fallon got his job on SNL partly based on his ability to do impressions, including that of former cast member Adam Sandler. Having someone do an impression of him on the show now, on an episode in which he’s making a welcome return as host, must be immensely gratifying in ways none of us can ever know. That Timberlake’s command of the impression is not in the same league as everybody else present is of little matter. Now, if only we knew whether Timberlake breaking during the sketch was a meta-tribute to Fallon, or just a thing that happened.
Stuck in Your Head Song of the Week
The first digital short of the week is a song called “(Do It on My) Twin Bed”, sung by the ladies of SNL whilst looking super-fierce. It’s a seasonally appropriate gem calling out the awkwardness of bringing one’s mate back to the old bedroom for Christmas. Childhood signifiers like The X-Files on VHS and trophies are on display, as are the kind of petty squabbles that present as hot gossip at home, like from whom your mom got a cough. (Answer: “Now it’s a whole thing with Jean.”)
It all culminates in each female cast member dancing in front of a gargantuan blown-up picture of herself in the 7th grade. This sketch works even better if you were watching it live with your significant other and your parents, which much of the audience was.
That’s More Like It of the Week
Unlike the cold open, “The Barry Gibb Show” is a classic sketch that dates back to when Fallon was still in the cast and Timberlake first hosted. It was inevitable that this sketch would happen, and for good reason: It’s great. The premise is so nonsensical and random that you have to just accept it on its own terms. Why would Barry Gibb ever have a political talk show? Don’t care. Was Gibb even known for having an explosive temper? Doesn’t matter. Even though the actual Robin Gibb died in 2012, Timberlake is back to play him, and with as little commentary on the issues at hand as ever. Despite a fun bit with Madonna, and a walk-on by the actual Barry Gibb, the “skeleton selfie” moment here was not only the best of the sketch, but perhaps the whole night.
Grand Exits of the Week
Mayor Bloomberg finally makes his SNL debut now that his embiggened tenure is powering down. There are a lot of New York in-jokes here, including an El Bloombito reference, which is pretty consistent with SNL canon. Bloomberg’s appearance is tied in with Jimmy Fallon leaving Late Night for The Tonight Show, and letting his Weekend Update heir Seth Meyer take over. It’s always sweet to see generations of SNL roles colliding. Trumping this segment, however, is Kate McKinnon’s Billie Jean King. After President Obama picked the openly gay King to join the US delegation on the Sochi Olympic games, a lot of people saw it as a protest against Putin’s stance on homosexuality. (He is against it, if you can even believe that.) McKinnon, who is openly gay herself, seems to take joy in playing “BJK” as a plucky firebrand who knows she’s being used symbolically by the president, and approves.
Successful Sophomore Outing of the Week
This is the second time we’ve seen Jay Pharoah and Nasim Pedrad bring their respective Kanye and Kim Kardashian impressions together in a talk show. The performers wisely kept the main focus on Kanye’s frustration with Kim not living up to his selling of her as a genius. Also, this now-recurring sketch got an early Christmas gift back in November when the notorious “Bound 2” video happened, so now we get Pedrad’s take on Kim’s turn as sex-puppet motorbike adornment, with a Christmas twist.
Full Court Fallon of the Week
After the Family Feud sketch earlier, another round of celebrity impersonations didn’t seem necessary, but then again, this is Fallon’s bread and butter so why not have him play an assortment of singers, and also Alan Rickman, recreating Christmas classics. Community pillar Bobby Moynihan’s Andrea Bocelli reminds us we haven’t seen him this entire episode, which is unheard of.
Whoops of the Week
Taran Killam plays a gray-mutton chopped Ebenezer Scrooge channeling Christopher Lloyd for some reason; only here, the Ghost of Christmas Past is trying to impart the realization that young Ebenezer was actually (dramatic pause) gay. It’s the second sketch of the night where the punchline is that sometimes men do it with other men. In a week when ignorant comments from a Duck Dynasty dude should be inspiring the entertainment establishment to present homosexuality as a normal thing, this is a step back. It’s not that one simply can’t make jokes involving gay people now that the shifting tide of public opinion is beginning to crest, it just has to be in good faith — and more importantly, it has to be funny. This was neither/nor. Also, in the next presidential election, I’ll gladly vote for whichever candidate promises a moratorium on feline-based double-entendres.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
The legendary rapiness of Academy Award-winning song “Baby It’s Cold Outside” has been with us for well over half a century. In fact, one sure sign of imminent Christmas is when people start making fun of that aspect of the song on Twitter and in your office. Of course, that level of cultural saturation just makes it even more impressive when somebody is able to get a good joke off about it. Here, the jokers simply toss aside the creepy aspect of the song altogether and reveal its aftermath. After 30 seconds or so of a faithful cover, with Jimmy Fallon and Cecily Strong nailing overlapping verses that must be tricky on a live show, the performers go to town on each other. What happens next is inspired: Fallon has so convincingly impressed upon his female visitor the dangers of leaving that now Strong wants to hang out all day, thus reversing their roles. It’s a strong and fitting way to cap off a pretty solid Christmas episode.