At the risk of being a basic Grinch, the vibes were off on a Christmasy Saturday Night Live hosted by two of America’s most beloved funnymen.
The problem wasn’t Santa-adjacent, nor did it have much to do with either Steve Martin or Martin Short, whose off-the-charts chemistry elevated their joint monologue to a too-early episode peak. The problem might have been that hosting Saturday Night Live is simply a solo sport. Not that the show hasn’t dabbled in doubles acts before. Many times, in fact. The Smothers Brothers did it. Ditto the Bridges brothers, Beau and Jeff. Many married couples have also done it, from Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman to Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. (Let’s face it — that was the only way Nick Lachey was ever going to host SNL, and it still feels weird that it happened. Good for him, though.) Steve Martin and Martin Short have even hosted together once before, alongside Chevy Chase, to promote their 1986 comedy, Three Amigos, which I will take any opportunity to let people know was written by the astounding trio of Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, and Randy Newman. (Yeah, that Randy Newman. I guess the other two must have had a friend in him.) In any case, regardless of whether the stunt of a two-hander has ever succeeded on the show before, it did not happen this time.
Part of the issue is that the SNL staff has recently done incredible work getting the most out of each host. Show veterans like Dave Chappelle and Amy Schumer’s recent episodes were deeply imbued with their hosts’ established sensibilities, while first-timer Keke Palmer’s outing felt tailored to her particular talents. Individually, Steve Martin and Martin Short have distinct energies and deep benches of characters that could be mined for SNL gold as the pair enjoys the late-career success of their hit Hulu series, Only Murders in the Building. As a hosting duo, though, what they mainly bring to the table is that Martin2 chemistry, honed through 40-something years of friendship and creative collaboration. It’s an invaluable asset, which is why this team-up seems like such a slam dunk on paper. Unfortunately, it’s an asset that serves both parties better in a vehicle like their 2018 Netflix special, An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life, rather than an ensemble sketch showcase.
I hate to say it, but: bah, humbug.
Here are the highlights:
Steve Martin and Martin Short Monologue
Considering the palpable affection these two old pals have for each other, the only sensible thing for them to do with a dual monologue is engage in a vicious flame war. Martin steps all over Short’s lines intentionally, their comic timing so precise that they can wring laughs out of anti-timing. The roasts are brutal, and they just keep on coming, all leading to the macabre specter of the pair performing premature eulogies at each other’s funerals. If someone could turn into a ringtone the bereaved “Oh, Steve!” with which Short kicks off each of his lamentations, I’d appreciate it.
A Visit With Santa
The only live sketch in which the two actually worked together as a proper team offers a glimpse into how this episode might have succeeded more beyond the monologue. (I’m going to need a postmortem to explain how we didn’t get Short as Jiminy Glick interviewing Steve Martin as himself. Seems like a no-brainer.) It may be a warmed-over Bad Santa routine, but Short’s excitable Sprinkles the Elf bounces nicely off Martin’s reined-in mall Santa, and the possibly unscripted moment when Sprinkles forgets he’s not supposed to have legs is a gem.
Another banger of a “Weekend Update” all around. The topical bits connected hard, and when a dark joke about the exploitation at the heart of the World Cup bums out the studio audience, Colin Jost’s faux-exasperated “I didn’t do it!” gets a bigger laugh than most of the other jokes. Ego Nwodim stops by the desk to play a chaotic holiday shopper who simultaneously embodies both the pain of holiday shopping and those who create that pain. And while it’s hard to imagine a more random excuse to trot out Chloe Fineman’s expert celebrity impressions than a woman who vocally cosplays as Drew Barrymore et al. in her marital bed, it’s equally hard to imagine not laughing at Meryl Streep screaming “I’m finished?” after sex.
There’s no better evidence of a subpar episode than the fact that this sketch is among the evening’s bright spots. Everyone involved agreed to drop the requirement of putting both hosts into everything for just one sketch, and somehow what they landed on was How to Treat Your Man With Minky Carmichael. A misogynist talk-show host beloved by women? Haven’t we suffered through enough of that in real life? I was bewildered while watching initially, but this one’s a grower. There is no discernible reason why the set directly references The Arsenio Hall Show, for instance, or why the studio audience favors early-’90s Benneton streetwear, and yet it does, they do, and we are all the better for it. Martin Short’s Minky cueing DJ and hypeman Jen Fonger-Bhang (Heidi Gardner) with “Hit it!” is kinda funny, but his inexplicably switching to “Slam it!” midway through the sketch is far funnier. And while Minky’s comeuppance is not exactly a surprise, the mysterious disfiguration of his penis that prompts it certainly is. (“Oh no, what was there to close?” Punkie Johnson asks of Minky’s junk, and I never want to find out.)
Father of the Bride
HBO Max had a hit earlier this year with a Father of the Bride reboot in which Andy Garcia steps into the titular role. It was the only way to resuscitate IP that has been stagnant for nearly 30 years precisely for the reasons that this sketch works — because the bride of the earlier series is now in her early fifties. The writers have a lot of fun with the conceit of this supposed seventh sequel, with the trailer’s narrator unsure whether the accent Short’s Franck character uses is “still okay” and forgetting (along with the rest of us) that Succession star Kieran Culkin was in those movies as well. Also, it must have been fun for Bowen Yang to play the BD Wong role here after playing Wong’s son in Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens for two seasons, even if he didn’t get much to do in the sketch.
• Shoutout to Sarah Sherman’s real father for appearing in a Please Don’t Destroy video. He definitely looks the part of a dad not to be trifled with.
• Somehow, the idea of bears masquerading as humans in order to see snow but getting too sleepy to actually make it all the way warmed my heart quite a bit. If the setup for this deeply odd sketch looked familiar, though, perhaps you are half-remembering a long-ago family viewing of the 1954 musical, White Christmas, which it faithfully recreates.
• Between the Will Ferrell–fronted musical comedy Spirited and this ultraviolent Scrooge sketch, we are living through a mini-golden age of unconventional takes on A Christmas Carol. Also, this feels like the culmination of humanity’s long-standing obsession with whether dropping a penny from tall buildings could kill a person.