And so we wrap on the first half of Season 42 on SNL with the annual Christmas episode, a sigh of relief as we try to get in good cheer and restack and refresh for the upcoming year. Usually this is the return of an alum or an reunion with an old favorite, but this year we had a first-timer (though the brother of a member of the Five-Timers). How’d it work for ’em? Let’s find out.
How’s the Cold Open?
But first, let’s take our big stop at Trump Land, in hopes that an angry Tweet will soon be there.
SNL seems to have its handle on who Baldwin’s Trump (which I’m beginning to believe might be here to stay) is as a piece of satire. It’s taking the tack of Trump not as an evil dictator, but rather as a blustering and easily distracted buffoon who’s being used by much smarter people for their nefarious ends. His constant interruption with unrelated surface issues in this one is pretty damn cutting. How much you buy it is up to you, but we’ve actually seen it get under the skin of the person it’s going after, so the effectiveness of it is absolutely undeniable.
And the sketch itself is pretty funny. Bennett’s Putin is an increasingly welcome presence, owing to Bennett’s weird ability to play sinister guys, and John Goodman’s arrival as Rex Tillerson is also a genius stroke, given Goodman’s documented history playing the blustery sort of evil that Trump’s cabinet seems largely composed of. And Baldwin is selling the hell out of each of his one-liners. While not as flashy as campaign Trump, he’s a much more nuanced performance at this point. This is the kind of sketch we need, just brutal enough and finding its own distinctive voice and direction.
The SNL stage is very familiar to five-timer Ben Affleck, but this is his brother Casey’s first time. And weirdly, it is perhaps no appearance more than has illustrated the difference between the two of them than seeing them both on SNL.
Ben is a movie star, he’s got the charm and the weird energy that really helps him play well. He always seems like he’s having fun and like other people are having fun around him, very game. There’s an extraordinary amount of confidence.
Casey is an artist, he’s got clear talent but feels uncomfortable out of his wheelhouse. While he’s never necessarily bad, he feels more nervous than one would expect. Except one would expect it, because Casey’s never really done this live-wire comedy stuff before, especially comedy this broad. The talent is there, but Casey never feels sure enough to keep up with the game.
What Sketches Are Worth Watching?
“Dunkin’ Donuts Commercial”
Keeping that in mind, it’s kind of no surprise that this is the sketch where Casey Affleck shines the most. I’m sure it being pre-recorded helps, but this is also letting him play a character I can imagine that he’s fairly familiar with. Playing that stereotypical Boston Masshole in the most New England of places is right up his alley and this one is just a whole hell of a lot of fun, it’s a shame he didn’t get a chance to get more like this.
This is like the second parody of this scene SNL has done (they did one with Pete Davidson in 2014) but this one works way better. McKinnon’s Hillary is absolutely a welcome return for the show, and the performances are all just a right parody. Plus, this is one of those that’s designed to go viral, owing to the general sense we’re all doomed. It’s pointed and the idea that Trump’s real deeds are more insane than any joke they could make is an approach having increasing satirical dividends.
“He’s Going to Kill Us All”
This is a pretty dead-on parody of “Christmas in Hollis” with just the right amount of our performers having fun and the jokes about the transition into a possible worst case scenario for our country hitting just hard enough to work. Great fun, and dancing Casey as Jesus is all I need to know I’m gonna see this again and again.
But can we talk seriously here? Why isn’t Chance the Rapper hosting? He could not be more fun here or in the other sketch he appears in, he’s clearly game to host, and his positive energy could really be good for the show. Get on this SNL!
This one is all about the performance. Everyone is weirdly committed to this weird shy, apologetic character combined with a New York bluster and the repetition just drills it down to the point of hilarious. It’s what a 10-to-1 is about, a weird and high-concept bit sold more through performance than necessarily being the best idea. That ending is great too.
Sometimes a sketch isn’t necessarily good or bad. It just sort of…is. This is for the occasionally slightly less binary thinking.
“Microsoft Tech Expo”
This sketch is pretty much about where the joke is. It’s all over the place and weirdly low-key for a higher concept sketch. Is the joke about the gay robots? About the reaction to raising objections to them discussing being gay? Is the joke about tokenism or about shoving representation into everything? While the performances and the reactions are all about right with Casey’s laid-back thing actually helping this one, I just felt the writing was too hard to pin down to necessarily find my feelings on it.
What Didn’t Work?
Can we just admit this only worked the first time because Gosling couldn’t keep his shit together? McKinnon is having a lot of fun, but not necessarily doing anything she doesn’t do in other characters. Gosling breaking added the little bit of chaos this sketch needed, same with Brie Larson. Affleck keeps it straight-faced, in fact pretty much everyone does. So the sketch doesn’t work. McKinnon is still good and there are plenty of bizarre images and turns of phrase, but the X-factor is gone and this one just feels limp.
WHY IS THIS A RECURRING THING? It’s a weird concept and just sort of off-putting after a while. It might have been funny in that “I can’t believe they’re actually doing this” way once, but by the time we come to expect it, it doesn’t work.
“New York Now”
The less said, the better. Sometimes there’s just an embarrassing sketch, this is that one. Remember this when Affleck is accepting Best Actor this year, for funsies.
“Casey Affleck Monologue”
A fun run or two, but just not much here. Perfectly perfunctory to get this going. See Manchester by the Sea, people.
I’m gonna get the correspondent out of the way up front. It’s Armisen and Bayer’s “Dictator’s Best Friends Growing Up.” Cool to call Putin a dictator. This sketch goes on forever and harps on one same joke. Like all of Armisen’s Update characters. Love the guy, but always groan a little when he shows up here.
Jost and Che have vacillated throughout this season, but since the end of the election, they seemed to have finally snapped fully into focus. Their delivery seems set and they’ve got a clearer set of targets.
Jost on the Order of Friendship Award given to Rex Tillerson: “The only higher honor Russia can give you is President of the United States”
Jost on Trump knowing about Russian interference in the election: “Trump was just acting like a Patriot.”
Che on Women’s March on Washington logo: “It’s a good logo because like many feminists, it puts the white women first.”
They seem to be hitting more often and they feel a little more righteous and focused. It’s good, Weekend Update has definitely improved over their tenure, the shakier early days have passed for a much better team, let’s see how they do with the Trump Presidency.
Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?
You bet your ass I did.
Chance the Rapper is one of our great hip-hop artists, relentlessly positive and talented and tons of fun. His performances here were amazing. =
CHANCE FOR HOSTING.
Beck Bennett deserves a win anytime he pulls out Putin. His conception of that character is riotously funny and dead-on with the creepy KGB vibe he always has. But he had some other strong starring roles and generally felt pretty comfortable all around.
Season so far:
Kate McKinnon – 2
Cecily Strong – 2
Beck Bennett – 2
Jost and Che – 1
Leslie Jones – 1
Kenan Thompson – 1
Ensemble – 1
Casey Affleck was just a little too nervous to sell this one which reeks of the exhaust fumes they must be running on by this point. Some decent stuff but you see the cracks all over the place. It’s been a hell of an interesting season, in the world and on the show, and I’m curious to see what they do now that their paradigm has shifted and they’re back into the counter culture, rather explicitly.
Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)
- Dave Chappelle
- Tom Hanks
- Lin-Manuel Miranda
- Emma Stone
- Kristen Wiig
- Margot Robbie
- Casey Affleck
- Benedict Cumberbatch
- John Cena
- Emily Blunt