This week, Saturday Night Live closed out 2016 with the wry humor of Casey Affleck, the unfailing charm of Chance the Rapper, fun cameos from Fred Armisen and John Goodman, and a catchy new holiday carol from RUN-DMC.
It’s been a rocky year – both in general and for SNL, since this season has had its highs and lows – but this episode brings plenty of holiday cheer, thanks to Kate McKinnon’s usual array of lovable everywomen plus lots of great moments from Kyle Mooney.
I’ve spent, I guess, a lot of this column talking about SNL’s treatment of Trump: early in the season, when the recent host was still mostly a joke, it seemed okay to ignore his growing list of flaws in favor of more uplifting messages – broad acknowledgments of the year’s clusterfuck-ery capped with hopeful smiles, like Tom Hanks’ paternal pep talk.
After the election, when everyone (except Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock) wondered how such an upset could happen, it was hard not to look at SNL’s benign election coverage with a more critical eye. And for a few weeks, it seemed the show wasn’t sure which direction it’d go – Chappelle’s insincere “sorry, Lorne” was a disappointing indication they’d stay towards the middle of the road, and Baldwin’s increasingly deflated Trump is still far from scathing.
But looking at the last few weeks, SNL appears to be focusing its post-apocalypse outlook, with pieces like dreamy “Through Donald’s Eyes,” and now “Hillary Actually,” not only taking anti-Trump stands but, this week, calling for action rather than just reflecting (sure, it’s a long shot that electoral voters will be swayed by an SNL sketch, but at least the scene highlights an upcoming issue instead of just shrugging at something after it happens).
So, I don’t know. It’s been a long year, and next year will probably feel even more infinite – but, love it or hate it, at least we’ve still got SNL to distract us.
Donald Trump Christmas Cold Open
Up in Trump Tower, Don (Alec Baldwin), Kellyanne (McKinnon), and Melania (Cecily Strong) are surprised by a shirtless Putin (Beck Bennett). Tumbling down their chimney, more out of habit than as a nod to the holiday, Putin arrives to remind Trump of his undying friendship, embodied by an Elf on the Shelf. Deeply troubling Secretary of State pick Rex Tillerson stops by to plot with Putin, and hooray – it’s John Goodman!
Casey Affleck opens the show by wondering why he’s even hosting, which isn’t usually a good sign, but it turns out his convincing self-deprecation’s just an excuse to bring out Baldwin and Goodman one last time. There’s also lots of talk about a classic holiday topic – horribly depressing movies, like his latest, Manchester By The Sea – and a visit from Black Santa.
I grew up outside of Boston: the first coffee I drank was Dunkin’ Donuts’, I had an extra-large hazelnut every morning of high school, and I literally have that exact drink in front of me as I type this. So, to say this Dunks commercial speaks to me is an understatement. This spot features a few casual Dunkin’ fans – like Aidy Bryant, who loves their handy app – plus one kindred superfan (Affleck), an R-dropping South Shore townie who times his shits around his morning DD trips.
This pre-taped piece was directed by Paul Briganti, who was behind some of CollegeHumor’s best sketches back when SNL staffers Sarah Schneider and Streeter Seidell were still there; hopefully, we’ll be seeing more of his stuff on the show!
It’s 2016, bitches, so robots can be gay and they can talk about it as much as they want and you better not have a problem with it. Don’t even think of asking why or how Microsoft’s latest workbot, the Helix 900 (Bennett), knows it’s a proud gay man, or whether his upgraded cousin Helix 950 (Mooney) “talks gay.” Because when confused conference attendee Affleck questions this tech expo’s robots, woke demo leaders McKinnon and Armisen are quick to question just why he’s so obsessed with robots’ personal lives. Bennett and Mooney continue to be the fucking best at creating hilariously nuanced weirdos, and their plastic hair here is truly artful.
RUN-DMC’s classic holiday rap, “Christmas in Hollis,” gets a very timely update thanks to Kenan Thompson and Chance the Rapper in this celebration of Barack Obama’s last few weeks in office. In this version, instead of getting cash from Santa, our guys are gearing up for Trump’s America by stockpiling bunker supplies and partying like Christmas is about to be cancelled, all while sending some love to our outgoing Prez.
Even DMC himself (aka Darryl McDaniels) shows up to celebrate, right before Leslie Jones rides in on a rocket to profess her love for Joe “Eternal Ladies’ Man” Biden. The whole thing ends with Obama’s iconic mic drop, and the best part of this sketch is knowing 100% that he’s seen it and LOVES IT, because of course he has and of course he does.
One family’s Christmas Miracle is one family friend’s bizarre Christmas Nightmare, apparently, as this official inquest uncovers. For once investigating something that brings kids joy, theology professor Bryant and Catholic Cardinal Moynihan are questioning a backwoods father-daughter duo (Affleck and Strong) who claim to have been whisked away to Santa’s winter wonderland – and, they’re hearing the less magical side of the story from Colleen Rafferty (McKinnon), who didn’t meet The Real Santa Claus but did attract the interest of his stableboy, Shart.
Wrapping up the year in news, Update co-hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che focus on Trump’s impending inauguration, his uninformed cabinet picks, Russia’s involvement in the election, and whatever “phubbing” is.
Since Putin’s in the news, a few of his best friends (Bayer and Armisen) stop by to defend their pal – and share a few secrets, if you’re listening hard enough.
New York Now
If there’s one thing that sucks about Christmas, it’s how serious and boring the whole backstory is. Luckily, the minds behind “Silent Night, Hilarious Night: A Christmas Nativity Pageant” are live with newscaster Nate Rivers (Mooney), sharing tips on how to take the boring old story of the nativity from kid-friendly theatre fare to top-notch comedy. Spoiler alert: their big secret, according to actors Affleck, McKinnon, and Strong, is peppering in plenty of references to popular films, like Austin Powers and Borat. There are two particularly shining gems here, too:
1. Chance the Rapper in a huge Three Wise Men costume
2. And Bayer as newscaster Jen Jen Binks. JEN JEN BINKS. Holy fuck.
Part ode to holiday romance Love Actually, part last-ditch plea to the electoral college voters who are slated to officially nominate Trump today, this is an emotional pre-tape full of wide-eyed pantomimes. Paying an electoral college member a surprise visit, Clinton – pretending to be a band of carolers – begs via an armful of cue cards for the voter (Strong) to consider Trumps already shaky performance as POTUS-elect.
Mrs. Claus and the Elves
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a visit from everyone’s favorite S&M-loving elves, Thompson and Bayer. Along with Affleck, the elves sabotage Santa’s quiche and tremble in anticipation of their #1 most wanted present: hot, sexy punishment.
Two timid men (Affleck and Mooney) enter into a very civilized knife fight when they both invite a bar stranger (Bayer) over for Christmas Eve dinner. Normally, they totally wouldn’t, and they can’t even believe they’re doing it, but, the world’s two most apologetically self-conscious men end up slashing each other in a very relaxed fit of passion.