Saturday Night Live Recap: Good-bye, Cecily Strong. Hello, Austin Butler

Saturday Night Live

Austin Butler
Season 48 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating 3 stars

Saturday Night Live

Austin Butler
Season 48 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: NBC/Will Heath/NBC

It’s rare to describe an episode of Saturday Night Live, that vaunted vessel of spoofs and goofs, as heartfelt — yet here we are.

A couple of major shake-ups preceded last night’s show. First, musical guests the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had to pull out of what would would been their first SNL appearance since 2009 due to guitarist Nick Zinner’s ailing health. (They were replaced by Lizzo, who reliably Lizzo’d all over the place.) That unfortunate announcement first arrived a week ago, however. What caught far more people off guard was the news that broke just hours before the taping: The final episode of 2022 would be Cecily Strong’s final episode as a cast member. (I can almost guarantee she’ll be back to host sometime in the next two years.)

While SNL notoriously shed almost all of its familiar faces just before the start of this season, Strong’s departure hits hard both because of its abruptness and because she had lately settled into her role as the backbone of this show. True to her name, Strong was always a hardworking, dependable presence who seemed lit from within during every character she created, every tune she belted out, and every famous weirdo she skewered. As fellow vet Kenan Thompson gushed in one of two fourth-wall-breaking farewell scenes in the episode, “[Every week] she’d have a power and joy to her performance that made you remember why you love working at … Radio Shack in the first place.” (The sketch was ostensibly set at Radio Shack.) But as Strong herself said in her other good-bye moment, as “Weekend Update” character Cathy Anne: “Everybody has to go to jail at some point, right?” (The character is ostensibly going to jail.)

If those good-bye vibes didn’t already lend enough wistfulness to the proceedings, there was more to go around in Austin Butler’s poignant monologue. The host, who shot to fame in Baz Luhrmann’s hypnotically excessive Elvis — and whose speaking voice sounds like Brad Pitt doing Elvis — recalled watching SNL as a child with his mother, who has since died. Like many unfathomably hot people, Butler claims he suffered from “crippling shyness” as a child. That might not earn him much sympathy in a vacuum, but Butler’s sweet story of learning to come out of his shell by being silly with his mother during SNL viewings is irresistibly touching.

“Anytime you see me doing a silly voice or making a funny face,” he says, closing out his monologue, “that’s for you, Mom.” While that lovely thought didn’t quite eclipse the thrust of any particular sketch during the night, it hung in the background like a sunbeam throughout Butler’s solid debut as a funny-face-maker and silly-voice doer.

Here are the highlights from the rest of the episode.


It’s fun to imagine some abundantly caffeinated SNL writer saying, “What’s the deal with marzipan?” at 4 a.m., resulting in this very strange sketch. British people love marzipan on their Christmas cakes, and so British children would naturally have strong opinions about the brittle, almond-y foodstuff, pronounced here as “marzy pan.” The contrast between how enthusiastic these ankle biters all sound and the terrifying marzipan factoids they convey makes it all delightfully weirder.

Jewish Elvis

Nobody is having a better season than Sarah Sherman. Last year, she had been a “Weekend Update” scene-stealer who occasionally got to flex in bit parts. Lately, however, she has starred in at least three showcase sketches that have all been fire while still killing it on “Weekend Update” and enjoying some increased visibility overall. That she hasn’t yet been promoted from featured player to cast member feels like straight-up category fraud. She’s so in the zone here as Jewish Elvis, the moody crooner who is light on singing but heavy on complaining, it would be easy to exclude Austin Butler from praise. However, that would be a mistake. Butler goes full Coffee Talk mode, only far hornier, as Jewish Elvis’s biggest fan. It’s the most fun he has all night, and his infectious exuberance almost breaks much of the cast on hand here. Whatever a “zizzaster” is, this sketch is the opposite of that.

Krampus on Kidnapping Naughty Children

It’s been a minute since Bowen Yang sank his teeth into a meaty “Weekend Update” character, which makes his turn as a Brené Brown–quoting Krampus feel more eventlike. Luckily, he fully embodies the role of a Christmas demon who’s just trying to live his best life. (His stab at relatability: “You ever watch five straight hours of TV and turn around and you’ve eaten 40 kids?”) What Yang does deftly here is take empowering slogans from marginalized communities that are 10 seconds past their sell-by date and deliver them as though his character is the first person ever to utter them. (“I’m sorry, my culture is not your costume!”) You can’t help but root for this over-it Krampus to get some much-deserved me time — and not just because that means he might stop gobbling up naughty children for a bit.

Please Don’t Destroy — Plirts

Last week’s Please Don’t Destroy video might have been the first time the seams started to show; the first time the PDD guys’ bag of tricks actually felt like a bag of tricks. This week, however, the boys are reinvigorated and fully in the pocket — the plastic pants pocket, to be exact. Their hard sell of plastic clothes starts off at a zany frequency and evolves in unexpected ways, as all their best videos do. As a bonus, Lizzo’s appearance here carries some continuity from her last PDD video, where she was improbably attracted to Martin Herlihy. (In the world of these videos, they’re now an item.)

Jennifer Coolidge Is Impressed by Christmas Stuff

In the tradition of Kristen Wiig’s memorable Liza Minnelli Tries to Turn Off a Lamp, Chloe Fineman has a hilarious impression on deck and a perfectly flimsy pretext for trotting it out. Here’s the thing about Jennifer Coolidge: It’s easy to put your finger on what her tics are, and they seem to have downright Schwarzeneggerian imitability, but the barrier to entry on them is way higher than you might think. Go stand in front of a mirror and be Jennifer Coolidge for a few lines. Not as easy as it looks, huh? Of course, Fineman makes it look easy as she adds syllables where they shouldn’t be and aggressively doesn’t know the song “Jingle Bells.”

Stray Observations

• Speaking of impressions, Austin Butler: Not bad at doing Gollum!

• It’s amazing that a Better Than Ezra reference in the Trump NFT cold open was the first joke of this entire episode, considering that you had to have been alive and of MTV-watching age in 1995 to remember that band at all. It’s also amazing that so many of the Trump cards depicted here, like the one featuring Trump as a cowboy, are actually real. What’s most amazing of all, of course, is that those cards all sold out in one day, to the tune of $4.4 million.

• I loved the look of delighted surprise on Butler’s face each time his contestant guessed correctly on The Phrase That Pays, even though the sketch itself was mid.

• Let’s face it: “He’s trying to freak us out; that’s what gets him off” is probably the conclusion any of us would draw from witnessing a drunk man go through an It’s a Wonderful Life–style Christmas epiphany.

• While we’re contemplating hypotheticals, the Great Gatsby probably did love to be greeted by “a boop on the gooch,” as Colin Jost’s great-aunt Pat (Heidi Gardner) suggests while visiting the “Weekend Update” desk.

• Lizzo’s second song of the night is officially billed on YouTube as “Someday at Christmas (Amazon Music Original).” Shout-out to Jeff Bezos, I guess, for allowing Lizzo to write Christmas music?

• No lies detected in the white elephant gift exchange sketch. Gift-giving should absolutely not be a cutthroat blood sport, and stealing a present someone will clearly cherish is indeed “mean as hell.”

Saturday Night Live Recap: Good-bye, Cecily Strong