“Hey man, nice Kavanaugh. You ever think about hosting again?” This, I imagine, is the way Matt Damon came to nab his second hosting gig—after flying across the country on short notice to play the aggro bro who had yet to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. Damon’s hosting debut was back in 2002, hot on the heels of his first big action hit, The Bourne Identity. Sixteen years later, Damon has settled into a rhythm of acting in both blockbusters and well-meaning indies. Surprisingly, he isn’t plugging any big project on SNL this weekend; maybe it was a lark, maybe it was some plan to goad his nemesis Jimmy Kimmel. He may not be a natural goof, but Damon still has a sense of humor.
1. Westminster Daddy Show
Two announcers (McKinnon and Damon) provide color commentary for this competition, which features not dogs but daddies — you know, “men over the age of 46 with a little salt-and-pepper at the temples, some play money to throw around, and a smug smile that says, I do sex good.” Georgina Mont-Blanc (Bryant) judges the daddies as they prance around the ring and represent their breed. The West Palm Golf Daddy (Bennett) and the Wall Street Business Daddy (Chris Redd) could win “Best in Show” thanks to their new veneers and wallet density. Then, in a twist, Mont-Blanc calls down the male announcer, who is a pedigree Broadcast Daddy. This sketch delivers on its promise with some very funny parallels, and Damon’s delighted, performative lope around the ring might alone be enough to make it worthwhile.
2. Oscars Host Auditions
As Kevin Hart withdrew from hosting the Oscars last week, a bunch of comics and celebrities audition for the gig: Michelle Wolf (McKinnon), Chris Hemsworth (Damon), Tiffany Haddish (Ego Nwodim), Hannah Gadsby (Bryant), Rami Malek (Pete Davidson), Michael Strahan (Thompson), Rachel Brosnahan (Strong), Amy Sherman Palladino (Bryant), Sarah Silverman (Villaseñor), Allison Janney (Gardner), Terry Crews (Thompson), Kanye West (Redd), Roseanne Barr (Bryant), Matthew McConaughey (Damon) and Ellen Degeneres (McKinnon) all give it a shot. For such a jam-packed sketch, the impressions are excellent across the board.
3. Weekend Update
Update’s first half weighs in on Trump’s difficult week. With investigations into his campaign, transition, inauguration, business, and presidency, anyone watching might have hit “impeachment bingo.” While Trump tweeted that Michael Cohen was “supposed to know the law,” Michael Che asks, “Know who else is supposed to know the law? The frigging President of the United States.” Then there’s “Where’s Wes?” a bit about a travel contest Update has done before — a long walk for the same gag. Heidi Gardner returns as Angel, Every Boxer’s Girlfriend from Every Movie About Boxing Ever. Though it’s a great conceit, and Gardner plays it well, there are diminishing returns here. There are only so many times the sentiment, “I’m taking the kids to my sister’s” can feel useful. Things do pick up a bit when Damon comes on as the boyfriend, Tommy Ray Donovan.
Though Avenue Q is closing after 15 years, the Update guys have a message for people who want to see raunchy puppets: Just go to Times Square, where all the life-size mascots hang out, to watch “Elmo kick a pigeon.” The shorter second half includes not a character, but a new feature in which Che and Colin Jost tell jokes they wrote for one another but have not yet read. This means Che is forced to tell slightly off-color sex jokes while Jost has to talk race — including a gag about his family calling Rosa Parks Day, “Uppity Bus Passenger Day.” This last stretch of jokes really brought new life to the segment and is definitely worth revisiting.
4. It’s a Wonderful Trump Cold Open
This parody of the Frank Capra classic features a morose Trump (Alec Baldwin) in the George Bailey role, wondering what his life would be like if he weren’t president. Thanks to the angel Clarence (Kenan Thompson), Trump floats into an alternate Washington in which Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Aidy Bryant) does PR for lettuce, Kellyanne Conway (Kate McKinnon) got her soul back from Satan, Eric Trump (Alex Moffat) is just a bit smarter after taking adult ed classes, Melania (Cecily Strong) got remarried to Papa John, Michael Cohen (Ben Stiller) is preparing for the opening of Trump Tower Moscow, Mike Pence (Beck Bennett) is DJ’ing, Brett Kavanaugh (Damon) is just a beer-drinkin’ dude hanging out with pals, and Robert Mueller (Robert De Niro) … well, he still knows things. Though Clarence tries to convince him otherwise, Trump returns to his life as president, where “every time a bell rings, someone you know quits or goes to jail.” As this long list makes clear, the sketch is a string of gags. Nothing sharp or striking, really, but they’re all fine.
5. Jingle Bells
The big act at the Carnegie Lounge tonight: Diane Gellerman (Strong) and her pianist Sonny (Damon). The formerly married duo bring their banter and a snappy, speedy version of “Jingle Bells” to entertain the crowd. Between the verses, Diane and Sonny trade corny jabs about the mundane (“How do we remain friends?” “We were never friends to begin with”) and the serious (“I got into my career, he got into a busboy named Kevin”). While there isn’t a big arc here, it’s not needed. The perfectly silly “Jingle Bells” adaptation and Strong’s full-throttle performance are enough to, erm, make it sing.
6. Christmas Ornaments
As a couple (Mooney and Villaseñor) decorate their tree, she relegates his “drunk Santa” ornament to the back. There, Drunk Santa (Bennett) meets the other decorations too ugly and tacky to be seen on the front: an airport souvenir from Cleveland (Thompson); a 20-year-old promotional ornament from Good Will Hunting (Damon); a Rudy Giuliani simulacrum (McKinnon); a broken Harry Potter (Day); a messy ornament made by a kindergartner (Bryant); and an angel who had her face melted by a Christmas tree light (Strong). Whether he likes it or not, Drunk Santa has to get used to his new life among the “freaks and the fuglies.” Even if most of the sketch just introduces characters, the writers definitely get credit for teasing out an unusual premise.
7. Happy Christmas, Britain
After surviving a vote of no confidence, British Prime Minister Theresa May (McKinnon) does her best to wish her beloved country a Happy Christmas. It’s problematic, given that a good portion of Britain isn’t too happy with her leadership. May’s first guest, former PM David Cameron (Damon), wonders why he’s not more disliked, given that he was the one who called for the Brexit vote. Meanwhile, Elton John (Bryant) delivers gifts from the people of Britain: feces wrapped in lovely packages. Finally, Harry Potter’s nemesis Voldemort (Day) comes on, though even he is worried to be “lumped together” with May. Though the details feel a little predictable, McKinnon’s May is a delight.
8. Weezer Dinner
A small crowd of people (Bennett, Gardner, Damon and Strong) welcome new neighbors (Thompson and Jones) with a holiday dinner. All is calm and bright until Weezer’s cover of Toto’s “Africa” comes on the playlist. A “ride-or-die” Weezer fan (Damon) goes toe-to-toe with a woman who only loved the self-titled blue album and Pinkerton (Jones). As their friends and spouses wonder whether this is a thing people care about, things only get more heated. When she tells him Raditude and Pacific Daydream “aren’t music,” he tells her she doesn’t know “what Rivers is going through.” It’s silly, but anyone who loved the Shrek family dinner sketch will dig this, which makes another mountain of a molehill.
9. Best Christmas Ever
With the kids in bed and the dishes done, a husband and wife (Damon and Strong) relax after a long holiday. As they relive the details of what they agree is the “best Christmas ever,” it’s clear that their memories have already fogged over just a bit. The husband had a smile on his face the moment he woke up? In flashback, it’s 5:41 A.M., the kids are screaming and he is rubbing his face saying, “Are you kidding me?” While both of them say they loved hosting her family, there was a lot of heavy drinking involved, plus parenting emergencies, the cousin with the MAGA hat, and a silly present of novelty slippers from the kids. But, as the sketch reminds viewers, even when Christmas is the worst, “it’s the best.” This is one of those seasonal sketches more about the warm and cozy feeling than real surprises.
10. Cop Christmas
While they knock back a few at Frankie’s Ale House, the boys on the force bust Paul’s balls. It’s that time of year, though, and Paul (Mooney) is in a forgiving mood. It’s okay that Carl (Thompson) is sleeping with Paul’s sister, although Paul is sleeping on the couch and the walls are paper thin. Hell, it’s all right even if multiple guys on the force are having their way with her: “Better she’s with you guys and not some jerks.” Paul is even fine with the fact that Connor (Bennett) shot Paul’s wife on their wedding night, and that’s probably the reason she left him. Paul is feeling so good, he wants to buy everyone’s drinks — too bad they’re already using his card, and there’s a $2,000 tab. There’s a fun idea at the heart of this, but the delivery is just too clunky.
11. Matt Damon Monologue
Damon reviews the life he’s led in the 16 years since his last hosting gig — he’s done five Bourne movies, gotten married, and had four kids. He’s actually happy he doesn’t have something to promote this time, because if he sucked, the “movie wouldn’t suffer.” For the rest of the monologue, Damon has Christmas on his mind. He tells a story about being 8 years old and staying up to watch SNL because his dad said it was okay. Though he made the same deal with his kids, his youngest wanted to know who was hosting and who the musical guest was going to be. This is geared more toward the charming than outright funny, and it succeeds on those terms.
Though it was difficult to out-Christmas last week’s pre-Christmas Christmas episode, this one did the job. For all the resources that went into the It’s a Wonderful Life cold open, it felt overstuffed; the Trump jokes on Update were a bit more pointed. Cecily Strong delivers another excellent character with Diane Gellerman, mangler of Christmas tunes, but most of the best sketches didn’t have anything to do with the holiday season. Damon is steady and playful throughout, never stretching far from his persona and only dipping into the tried-and-true Boston blue-collar routine only when necessary. No word on hosts for 2019 yet, but presumably SNL will remain dark until early January. Happy new year, everybody!