Amy Adams (NBC)

“I’m not an actor, I’m a [movie] star!”

Amy Adams gets saddled with labels like “well-scrubbed,” “America’s sweetheart,” and “America’s well-scrubbed sweetheart,” but I think back to the first time I saw on an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer her for evidence of her versatility. (Sure, she’s got five Oscar nominations, but this is my anecdote.) In the season five episode “Family,” Adams plays a seemingly demure and obsequious Southern belle, dragged to Sunnydale to convince Tara to come home to her terrible, patriarchal family, and there’s one moment, after Tara tells Adams she’s not coming back, where a cloud passes over Adams’ features as she instantly shifts from doormat to harridan that’s absolutely chilling. (It’s a really good episode, with the Willow/Tara relationship taking the next big step, and—I’ll just let Buffy go at this point.) Adams has skills, is what I’m trying to get at, and she brought her various talents and utter willingness to be silly to everything she did tonight—even if the episode lost sight of her from time to time.

Weekend Update update

It’s not unprecedented for SNL to make room for seemingly any alumni who want to drop back in with a recurring character under their arms, but Garth and Kat? Really? (By the way, Seth and Amy popping around for a “Really? With Seth And Amy” would always be welcome.) With Kristen Wiig and Fred Armisen in the house (Wiig crashed Adams’ monologue earlier), Lorne Michaels’ open-door policy may have made a G&K Update reunion inevitable, but, in an overcrowded year where the existing players are fighting (with mixed success) to establish their individual identities on the show, allowing such a long-winded, indulgent bit from two former cast members who are doing just fine outside of the show evinces a complacency—and a lack of faith in the current cast. Update correspondent bits are where marginal cast members make their bones—bringing back two departed stars to giggle their way through a bit that tried everyone’s patience years ago? Garth and Kat is a moderately amusing improv exercise, a moderately charming chance for two old pals to crack each other up. It’s also, in this case, a chunk of time where someone actually, you know, on the show could make an impression.

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Kenan Thompson fares better as Michael Che’s irrepressibly (and ill-advisedly) optimistic neighbor Willie, whose tales of his gradually-revealed terrible existence are told with an unrelenting enthusiasm that should get repetitive, but which are consistently surprising and funny in the delivery. (“But it’s like my pastor always says, ‘You cant sleep here Willie!’”)

The Bobby Moynihan Kim Jong-un bit (sniper dots keep following him) was brief, which is probably for the best. The Dr. Evil cold open took care of most of the (for SNL) heavy lifting, so the truncated bit here fled before it wore out its welcome. And at least it wasn’t of a piece with Moynihan’s previous appearances as the (undeniably awful and insane) dictator, where the conceit of a white actor spouting gibberish as an Asian head of state was played for cheap, vaguely racist yuks.

As for the Update meat, the Jost and Che partnership continues as it’s been—toothless jokes, uneasy delivery, incremental improvement. Che, in an appeal to Kim Jong-un (aka “Kimberly”), talks about taking heat on the Internet, but said heat—to which I have contributed—isn’t unwarranted. There’s an uncertainty to his and Jost’s personae on Update which would render even strong, biting material less effective. With the flaccid gags Update has been peddling all season, the lack of confidence makes the segment even wobblier. There are a few good jokes sprinkled in this week (and Che, his bizarre mispronunciation of “sedatives” notwithstanding, has started to put a little snap into his punchlines), but the work-in-progress is becoming a chore. Update should be a centerpiece, its satirical stability anchoring every episode, but under Jost’s leadership, it’s been more a source of disappointment and uncertainty. Still—marginal improvement.

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Best/Worst sketch of the night

“A Very Cuban Christmas” was just dead air from beginning to end. A showcase for mediocre impressions, and without purpose, that thing just sat there. Plus, why is Kyle Mooney’s equally mediocre Tony Montana included? It’s like the writers ran through their roster of actual Cubans and had to resort to fictional ones. I suppose if the sketch were building up some sort of loony surreal momentum to deal with the reopening of relations with Cuba that could work. But here, it’s just lazy—it’s this week’s weak sketch whose inclusion everyone will second guess once the show puts some better dress rehearsal sketches online tomorrow.

Apart from that, there’s weren’t any other clunkers, with genial professionalism prevailing. The “Office Christmas Party” was, like last week’s digital musical short, good but not great, with Jay Pharoah and Pete Davidson’s rapper angels showing up to grant an office drone’s wish that the holiday gathering be a little less lame. Anyone who’s working in an office environment will recognize the references, though. (“The hot girl from payroll is sort of dancing,” “Someone control Carol from new media.”)

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The Serial filmed sketch was meticulously crafted, accurate, and not inherently funny except as a reference machine. Transplanting the Serial format to a Christmas episode-friendly investigation of Santa’s propensity for climbing down chimneys and leaving toys for little kids is seasonal, I suppose, but nothing in this “parody” (I guess you’d call it) is especially necessary. (Disclosure that I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but this riff on the topic from former SNL-er Michaela Watkins at least has a cleverer twist at the end):

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The Final Episode Of Serial from Funny Or Die

My pick, though, is for the “Asian American Doll” commercial, a relentlessly satirical take on both perpetually tone-deaf, often racist marketing, and oversensitive parents’ groups. From the very name of the doll “Asian American Doll—the doll that’s Asian American!,” to the barely concealed exasperation of the commercial’s narrator (“You ask a lot of questions. Why don’t you go play outside?”), the joke is simultaneously that marketing anything in this world of hypersensitivity is complicated, that corporations can’t get away with releasing casually racist toys, and that the exec in charge of the release of this particular toy is just trying to get through the fucking process of releasing a fucking doll. The humor’s got layers. (“I want to give her an Oriental rug!” “All right, but you did that, not us.”) It’s appreciated.

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“What do you call that act?” “The Californians!”—Recurring sketch report

While Dr. Evil never showed up on SNL, he was patterned on Lorne Michaels’ speech patterns (and presumed evil), and the return of long-gone all-star Mike Myers was certainly a nostalgic treat. It makes sense that he’d have some advice for fellow dictator Kim Jong-un, and the rarity of Myers’ appearance here makes the jokes sound funnier than they are. (Sony hasn’t had a hit since the Walkman, the requisite, self-effacing Love Guru slam.) Still, Dr. Evil is a great creation, his inhabited eccentricity elevating the material. Plus, seeing Myers on SNL again is just fun. It’s been a long, long time.

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“Girlfriends Talk Show” always gives Aidy Bryant the opportunity to do her desperately panicked thing, which is never not funny. (“This is a girl-trap, I can feel it!”) Nothing special, but she and Cecily Strong’s obliviously cruel popular BFF play their roles with customary aplomb.

The “Whiskers R We” sketch—tonight’s actual Ten-To-Oneland bit trafficks in Kate McKinnon’s penchant for loony characterization and, as ever, it’s a weird, giddy delight. The “crazy cat lady” stereotype is just that—except that, in McKinnon’s hands, the character, with her elaborately insane backstories for the shelter cats she’s trying to give away, is an indelibly lived-in comic creation. (And Adams, as McKinnon’s equally squirrelly new girlfriend, matches her note for oddball note.)

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I am hip to the musics of today

Going back to the Buffy well, I quote Rupert Giles: “We listened to aggressively cheerful music sung by people chosen for their ability to dance.” Look, I get that the One Direction-ers aren’t as invested in synchronized moves as other boy bands, and that I’m not anywhere near the target audience for this act. I get that. Boy bands have been part of our lives for decades, and they’re not going anywhere, so more power to them and their fans. (God knows, I never thought that the likes of Justin Timberlake and Mark Wahlberg would emerge from that inherently silly genre to become actors I actually look forward to watching, so what do I know.) I will say that, as the cold open expressed in Taran Killam’s spot-on impression of Sam Smith, fawning to the camera while singing is deeply mockable.

Most/Least Valuable (Not Ready For Prime Time) Player

Kate McKinnon was all over the place tonight, lending her signature comic intensity to roles as diverse as the crazy-eyed cat lady, the crazy-eyed lounge singer, a crazy-eyed Diana Nyad, and the alarmingly sociopathic daughter in the family Christmas video sketch—who had crazy eyes. McKinnon can do other things, but she’s really good at the crazy eyes.

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Leslie Jones had nothing to do tonight, unless you count the fact that Harry Styles was conspicuously hugging up on her all through the good nights. (Which I do not.)

“What the hell is that thing?”—The Ten-To-Oneland Report

While “Whiskers R We” was a creditable contender for this position tonight, its recycled status makes the next-to-Ten-To-Oneland sketch the actual Ten-To-Oneland sketch tonight. (My definition, my rules.) Besides, “A Magical Christmas” is just the sort of acutely-realized, strange comic premise SNL traditionally saves up for last. The sketch—about a trio of suspiciously odd 40s lounge singers propositioning a pair of confused guys in a saloon—showcases McKinnon, Adams, and Strong and slyly springs its out-there premise with a reveal that’s both brilliant and silly. (And brilliantly silly.) Rewatching it reveals little details in the lines (“What do we look like?” “Do we look like the way we’re supposed to?”) that make me want to applaud.

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Stray observations:

  • That was not a confident musical monologue. Everyone was tentative, and the audio was pitched too low and muddled.
  • Alarmingly bold splits from Wiig, though.
  • Che’s joke that Kathie Lee Gifford resisted Bill Cosby’s advances in the 70s marked the “only time she rejected a glass of wine” earned a gasp or two from the SNL audience.
  • Che on Serial, “For much more on this story, talk to white people.”
  • Bryant’s Morgan says that her commitment to being fourth alternate on the dance team has ”totally eclipsed loom art.”
  • Morgan’s half-step behind her peers in sophisticated cruelty leads to a touchingly inept insult: “You better take your chewable vitamins along with your bitch sandwich, and then go ahead and sit on the sandwich… as well!”
  • “Remember, we’re not swallowing, just chewing.” “Because sometimes there’s dead mice in there!”
  • “The tings are really tinging and the bungs are really bunging—for Christmas!”
  • “A cat is like a glass of champagne, but it’s a cat.”
  • “He’s incredibly manipulative and deceitful—but I guess I’m the dummy for giving him power of attorney.”
  • “I call this one Cat Stevens because he has a beautiful voice and recently converted to hardcore Islam.”
  • “Cat prices as low as we give you twenty dollars!”

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