I think for anyone who grew up watching SNL in the 90s, John Goodman is a goddamn tradition. As he noted in his monologue, he hosted the show every year from 1989 to 2001, and then stopped for whatever reason, but especially once you factor in the Linda Tripp cameos he was basically an honorary cast member throughout the decade. So for this humble reviewer, it was fantastic to have him back for a generally strong episode that managed to muddle through some dud sketches.
The cold open continued saw an exasperated Obama try to explain himself while Kenan Thompson vamped behind him as the Nelson Mandela funeral sign language fraudster. All well and good, but the strongest part of the sketch was definitely Kate McKinnon reprising her “lonely Angela Merkel” impression to nicely skewer “selfiegate” in there as well. Either that, or the idea of Obama mistaking Raul Castro for Edward James Olmos. Then Goodman came out to overwhelming goodwill from this reviewer, and did his best to demolish that by performing a lifeless song called “All I Want For Christmas Is Booty” with Kenan. I was not amused, but hey, it’s the monologue, I powered through.
Guy Fieri’s Christmas special didn’t do much for me (though I could have used more of this insane animation they devised for it), but that’s partly because I’m very disconnected from the current reality TV scene. I’m told Kate McKinnon’s Big Ang impression nailed it, I just don’t know who that is (I’m not being snobby neither, things just change around so rapidly in those parts). I at least got the Verne Troyer, Dog the Bounty Hunter and Mimi from Drew Carey references.
Things felt a little despairing but the leadoff sketch really turned things around. The dancing snowflakes (Goodman, Thompson, Vanessa Bayer and Aidy Bryant) all undercut their embarrassing performance with ashamed internal monologues, that escalated ridiculously (Bayer hit a man with her car and kept going) but managed to keep things within the realm of reality. It was silly stuff, obviously, but I liked that this was vaguely plausible as something a town doctor might actually decide to perform at a Christmas pageant.
I will say I was surprised at the amount of Christmas sketches (pretty much all of them) considering that next week is the Jimmy Fallon episode, which will (I’m sure) include the “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” number and a bunch more holiday material. But next up was the Three Wise Guys (oh boy) which featured a sleepy Sylvester Stallone and a comatose Robert De Niro (boy oh boy) making a bunch of jokes about New Jersey and meatball parms and you know how it goes. The thing is, as lazily written as this sketch was (and the performances were even lazier, bordering on confused), I’ll admit it pretty much worked anyway. De Niro can still sell half those lines even if he’s actually asleep. “It’s frankincense. It’s what it is, it’s nice!” might sound stupid out of anyone else’s mouth, but not his.
Weekend Update was the highlight of the episode for sure, with Kenan’s magnificent performance as Santa the best refuting of Megyn Kelly that I can imagine, and a goodbye to Seth Meyers from Drunk Uncle (and a brief appearance by Goodman as Drunker Uncle, a natural choice given less material than he perhaps deserved). Drunk Uncle has now reached such star status that Bobby Moynihan is clearly allowed to do whatever he wants with it, including make weird noises and funny faces for 15 seconds with no punchline. Drunk Uncle is awesome enough that this does not present any issue.
A Linda Tripp sketch would be too hopelessly out of date to attempt now, but you gotta get Goodman in drag at some point, and the courtroom sketch was one of the funniest of the night from a pure laughs perspective. Goodman in drag is actually funnier when he’s just sitting still and making a face. I almost didn’t want him to move or speak. Beck Bennett got in there with some physical comedy (he’s overwhelmed by his former employee’s dance moves), and Taran Killam simpers better than anyone, but the point of that sketch was “Goodman in drag,” and it delivered.
The return of the Nasim Pedrad classroom sketch was nice for Pedrad, but it was kind of a bungled sketch, with a bunch of missed cues and awkward pauses (it happens, it’s live TV, whaddaya gonna do). There were some good moments, especially in Pedrad’s final victory over Goodman’s fire inspector (Bryant yelling about the “corrupt fire department” was priceless). But the star of the sketch was definitely Kate McKinnon as the exhausted teacher with her bag of carrots.
Things slowed down until the end of the night. The Hallmark Christmas movies got in a dig at Dean Cain, always welcome, and “Phylicia Rashad’s Christmas Nap” is something I’d pay money to watch. “The Christmas Whistle” was difficult to watch because it was punctuated by loud whistling, an audacious choice that I’m not sure the writers fully intended (rarely is SNL quite so atmospheric). The H&M rap was as well-produced and performed as “What Does My Girl Say,” but ultimately similarly forgettable (I doubt I’ll re-watch). We concluded with Donnelly’s, always a winner, and Goodman and McKinnon’s chemistry was just electric as they ate whipped cream off each other’s faces with abandon. A lovely way to end a mixed episode that certainly didn’t lack for passion.
- “I felt like Lemony Snicket. Because I experienced an unfortunate series of events.” Oh, it’s funny to hear Obama say these words.
- Bud Lime gazpacho is the greatest, grossest thing imaginable.
- “Have you ever known a white man to wear an all-red suit?”
- Goodman probably had the best/most horrifying Drunk Uncle line. “All I want for Christmas is my two neighbors not to be Chinese anymore.”
- “Please stay focused and curb the wiggling. I’m going to sit in my car and eat this bag of baby carrots.”
- McKinnon nails her order. “I’ll have a white wine with cocktail onions.”