Saturday Night Live ended 2021 on a disappointing note, thanks to the surge of Omicron cases which necessitated the removal of the studio audience, the cancelation of Charli XCX’s performance and the absence of most of the cast and crew.
There was doubt the episode would air at all. But the show, as they say, must go on, and so we were given one more new (ish) episode before the New Year. Credit to SNL for deciding to go big even as they had to go small.
We open on the main stage, empty save for longtime band leader and saxophonist Lenny Pickett. He’s joined by none other than Tom Hanks, who breaks the bad news to some faint clapping and laughter from the “surviving crew members”. He’s then joined by Tina Fey and with Keenan Thompson they induct host Paul Rudd – People Magazine’s “Most Sexist Man of the Year” – into the five-timer club.
Joining the ceremony, via a pre-recorded video message, is fellow five-time host “Famous” Steve Martin, as well as his Only Murders in the Building co-star, Martin Short. When he admits to only having hosted three times, he’s violently shoved offscreen.
Rudd and co promise a great show made up of brand-new sketches taped this week and personal favorites from past episodes. Rudd compares it to the new Beatles documentary Get Back: “A lot of old footage but enough new stuff that you’re like, ‘Yeah, I’ll watch that.’”
It’s a melancholy opening to what promises to be a very odd episode, but it honestly is kind of moving seeing these members of the larger SNL family gathering out of love and loyalty. Plus, hey, who doesn’t love seeing Hanks, Fey, Martin and Short?
The first piece is a new sketch, a commercial for Home Goods. Rudd plays the director, Casey Home Goods (“I got this job on merit,” he assures his actors), while Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon play moms and customers. Asked what they want for Christmas, their only answer is “Grandchildren … a son for my son … fiiiive grandchildren.” This initially frustrates Casey, until he too realizes he wants grandchildren. (“Grandchildren are amazing – they don’t blame you for anything, they just play clarinet and get into college. I want that!”) A solid sketch, but it can’t help but feel awkward due to the lack of audience laughter.
Volgende, Fey and Thompson talk about their love of ice skating – “Mighty Ducks forever, bitches,” Thompson exclaims – before segueing into introducing the classic Christmas R&B number Dick in a Box, from Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake (as well as Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig).
Rudd introduces An Evening with Pete, a black-and-white short film set in 2058, in which a paunchy, balding, chain-smoking Pete Davidson performs a depressing nostalgia act on the future version of SNL, which is hosted by a robot Colin Jost. Davidson behaves like a boorish has-been, until he reconnects with an old writer and pal and has a change of heart. It’s an oddly structured, meandering sketch, but its somber tone feels of a piece with the episode. Ook, Davidson turns in an actual character performance, which is a nice change of pace.
Going back in time, Thompson introduces Santa and His Elves from 2015, featuring Bobby Moynihan as an angry Santa and Thompson, Vanessa Bayer and Ryan Gosling as his naughty, horny helpers who intentionally fall behind on their work in the hope that Santa will punish them. (“If I were you, I’d just pull my little green pants down and go to town on me,” Thompson’s kinky elf giddily recommends.
Hanks reminisces about the pre-pandemic Christmases, “when the scariest thing to worry about was global warming”. This leads into a sketch from his fifth time hosting, in 1991, The Global Warming Christmas Special. Mike Myers plays scientist and host Carl Sagan while Hanks plays crooner Dean Martin. The two perform a duet about Global Warming before Sagan attempts to explain the disastrous effects of climate change to the chain-smoking, boozing Martin, with some help from Sally Struthers (Victoria Jackson), Isaac Asimov (Phil Hartman), Crystal Gayle (Jan Hooks), Paul and Linda McCartney (Dana Carvey and McCartney herself), George Hamilton (Kevin Nealon) and Ralph Nader (homself). The sketch is prescient as well as extremely dated: there’s a joke about Lorenzo Lamas, byvoorbeeld.
On a very stripped-down version of Weekend Update, Fey and Michael Che read a series of dumb jokes with the goal of making Hanks, Rudd and Thompson laugh. Said jokes revolve around OJ Simpson (“I can’t believe I got out of parole early, but I did it, I did it!”); Time Magazine Person of the Year Elon Musk (“You can read more about it on your phone while your Tesla is self-driving you into a lake”); New York City’s first female chief of police (“Instead of stop and frisk, they’re going to go through your phone while you’re in the shower”); the firing of Jacksonville Jaguars’ head coach for kicking a player (“Worse, the player was somehow returned for a touchdown”); and the world’s largest pot brownie (“They came up with the idea after eating the world’s second-largest pot brownie”). It’s great to see Fey back on Update duty, even in this low-key form.
A new music video, The Christmas Socks, is a “heartfelt Christmas song about a magical moment between a boy and strange man at a department store”. It’s an incredibly weird sketch that starts out with Kyle Mooney as said boy, who is just trying to buy a pair of socks for his mom before engaging with Rudd’s strange man about his lost pet bird, TJ Rocks. It ends with TJ Rocks (Chloe Fineman) fronting a rock band, before Rudd proposes to the boy’s mother (Bryant) a few minutes after meeting her. It takes quite a while to get to that point, without ever really coming together.
Rudd then introduces one of his favorite sketches from the past, Steve Martin’s Holiday Wish (which Rudd memorized and performed in his high school speech class). In the sketch, Martin wishes for all the children in the world to join together in song … before adding unlimited wealth, power, sex and revenge to his wish list. It’s a short, bravura performance representative of Martin’s time on the show.
This is followed by a 2013 sketch featuring Paul McCartney and Martin Short as musical duo Caleb and Monty (Caleb sings, Monty plays the triangle), who audition for a spot in a Christmas special. The sweet but dim Monty continually misses his cue, which sends the manic Caleb into fits of rage. Like Martin’s Holiday Wish, it’s a perfect encapsulation of Short’s talents.
Hanks presents a Christmas-themed sketch from Eddie Murphy’s return in 2016. Murphy plays “a black elf in sweatpants” who freaks out on a live newscast after a fire and a polar bear attack wreak havoc at Santa’s workshop. Toe, Rudd plays an adorable but slightly menacing adult One Direction fan in a memorable sketch from his third time hosting, in 2013.
Fey returns to introduce season 39’s Now That’s What I Call Christmas, which sees Jimmy Fallon playing Michael Bublé, Alan Rickman, Pitbull and Harry Styles, Kate McKinnon as Shikira, Jay Pharoah as DMX and Bobby Moynihan as Andrea Bocelli –all of whom play Christmas standards. If you’re one of the people that finds Fallon’s impressions entertaining, you’ll probably have fond memories of this sketch, though the rest of us undoubtedly find it tiring. Of all the past sketches shown tonight, this is the least deserving.
Gelukkig, Fey is back to close the episode on the far superior Christmastime for the Hews, which she has fond memories of watching backstage with her newborn daughter. The claymation segment, set to a legitimately catchy Motown song, sees America’s Jewish population come out to run the streets while all the goyim are at home celebrating Christmas.
Rudd, Hanks, Fey, Che and Thompson take a bow and sign off with a heartfelt thank you to all who worked on the episode. Rudd also mangles a quote from Forrest Gump: “Life is like a big, weird chocolate bar. Sometimes it’s delicious, other time it got that orange cream filling in it and it’s like, OK, it’s not what I would have chosen, but it’s better than nothing.”
And with that, SNL says goodbye to 2021 with an understandably downbeat but admirably strong and at times moving episode. It’s too bad Rudd wasn’t able to host an entire episode but the show couldn’t have asked for a better guy to lead the ship. Here’s hoping things are back to normal – or at least some semblance of normality – in 2022.