Saying last night’s episode of SNL fell short of expectations would be the understatement of the year. Martin Short didn’t disappoint, in fact he was my favorite host of the season. His brand of physical comedy and impeccable comedic timing were refreshing, but he didn’t have adequate material to work with. As expected, the episode was star-studded – complete with cameos from other SNL alums and show favorites – but the celebrity guests acted as background props for the most part instead of contributing to skits. However, every time Paul McCartney took the stage, his tender voice wiped my memory clean of any mediocre jokes that preceded his stellar performance.
SNL was tasked with the challenge of putting on a show the day after the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn. In lieu of a comedic cold open (usually focusing on news and politics), it paid tribute to the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary with a moving performance of “Silent Night” by the New York City Children’s Chorus. The red-robed children sang solemnly before delivering the show’s time-honored introduction: “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” SNL acted in similar good taste when its 27th season premiered 18 days after Sept. 11. Producer Lorne Michaels asked then-New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, “Can we be funny?” during the cold open, to which Giuliani famously responded “Why start now?” Similar to that 2001 show opener, the children’s gleeful announcement of the show’s standard opener was meant to let the audience know that they should allow themselves to enjoy what was to come.
Short, an SNL Class of 1985 alumnus, hosted the show for the third time last night. The “comedy icon,” as he called himself, delivered a monologue chock-full of music and mock-humility. The actor declared that SNL has always been his first love, followed by movies, theater, money, and family. He channeled Ed Grimley briefly when mentioning the yuletide festival, but never performed a sketch as his most iconic character. Short later joined musician Paul Shaffer – David Letterman’s longtime sidekick, who was a member of the SNL house band from 1975 to 1980 – for a music number. Yup, that’s right, another musical monologue. Short’s medley was somewhat excusable though because music is a prerequisite for the Christmas episode and the song was preceded by a string of hilariously futile attempts to sit on Shaffer’s piano … like a man. After several awkward positions, Short gave up and belted out “It’s the Most Amorous Time of the Year” (also the most promiscuous, lascivious, randiest, lustiest, sexiest, horniest, and sauciest time) in recognition of all the baby-making brought on by the holiday season.
After he made out with an audience member’s wife and kissed the “new girls” on the show whose names he couldn’t recall, he made his way backstage to greet Kristen Wiig and kiss her Dooneese doll hand. (Wiig later joined the cast on stage for the goodbye.) She said a few lines, but didn’t appear in any other sketches, much to my disappointment (no “Californians” Christmas? No Target lady enthused about holiday sales? No Kat and Garth Christmas tune?). Jimmy Fallon, Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, and Tina Fey made silent cameos that offered short-lived excitement. And just when I thought Short was going to plant one on Fey, he dangled the mistletoe he was holding above Lorne Michaels instead and gave him a huge smooch. I was hoping Fey and Amy Poehler would both come back for a pre-Golden Globes awards season-themed sketch. I’ll just have to wait until next year to see the gal pals crack jokes together.
And the stars kept on coming! Alec Baldwin reprised his role as the music icon for the Tony Bennett Christmas sketch. Short portrayed his younger brother Jerry, who probably played second fiddle to his older sibling throughout his life. The hug-happy “barnacle” kept invading his brother’s personal space. Short fully committed to the character, but his spot-on physical comedy wasn’t enough to revive a skit that was dead on arrival. The pair spent a painfully long time discussing Jerry’s sharp suit. Jay Pharoah’s leather-skirt clad Kanye West didn’t help matters. He muttered a few “jokes” and unwillingly participated in an extensive suppository endorsement, but I wish he would have interrupted the not-so-dynamic duo’s hemorrhoid humor with, “I’m not gonna let you finish.”
In the best sketch of the night, Short played a buck-toothed liaison between Buckingham Palace and Kate Middleton’s OB/GYN (Bill Hader). Short, who somehow maintained his composure as Hader squirmed a few feet away, established ground rules for future visits that included naming conventions for Middleton’s nether regions. For instance, Hader must address Middleton’s baby maker as “ma lady” and greet it with the phrase, “fancy meeting you here.” Royal [clears throat], Thomas’ English muffin, and her Downton Abbey were a few other acceptable euphemisms; the latter being the audience’s and my favorite term. The skit turned even more preposterous when Short suggested that the royal [clears throat] would be wearing a small hat. He said it was imperative that the doctor waited for it to tip its hat before he tipped his own. Queen Elizabeth (Fred Armisen) came in as the two were discussing child delivery protocol, jumped in the stirrups, and waited to get her Judi Dench washed. The Queen hasn’t been acting like herself since that Olympics free fall.
In the only faux commercial of the night, the New York Actor’s Studio presented “You’re a Rat Bastard, Charlie Brown” starring Hader’s Al Pacino as Charlie, Jason Sudeikis’ Philip Seymour Hoffman as Pig-Pen, Kate McKinnon’s Edie Falco as Lucy, and Short’s Larry David as Linus, among others. All the impressions, especially Short’s, were impeccable and the shots of the horrified children in the audience were hilarious. I only wish the play wasn’t “in previews now and forever;” I would have paid good money to watch the new twist on the old classic. Appropriately enough, NBC aired a disproportionally high number of commercials (in New York City, anyway) for Broadway plays throughout the night.
Paul McCartney hit the stage for a performance of “My Valentine.” The Beatle played the piano while Joe Walsh accompanied him on guitar (Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp were nowhere in sight). Just when I thought he couldn’t top that number, McCartney took the stage again later that night and brought the house down. On the heels of their performance at the 12-12-12 Hurricane Sandy relief concert, McCartney re-reunited Nirvana’s surviving members, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear to play “Cut Me Some Slack.” The jam session was epic, to say the least. My ears were ringing by the end of the performance, but it was worth going deaf for.
“Weekend Update” was filled with a few laugh-out-loud one-liners, including jokes about the Pope tweeting in Latin, Google searches for porn, and a baby born on 12-12-12. Special guest Jacob, Seth Meyers’ podiatrist’s recently Bar Mitzvahed son, was unbearable though. Instead of engaging in conversation, Vanessa Bayer’s character insisted on giving a history lesson about Hanukkah in the form of a speech. The “low-level roast of his family,” as Meyers described it, with the recurring kicker “but don’t tell my parents I said that,” was a flop. Then The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party walked in and I wished I hadn’t been subjected to the dry segment. Equipped with “words” that included tragesty, mercialism, and bipartisan ships, she needed to be taken out of her misery. Her only redeeming line was, “Why can’t Secret Santa just be openly gay? Like, hello, it’s 2010.”
Samuel L. Jackson made another appearance in the recurring sketch ”What Up With That?” – a BET talk show hosted by Kenan Thompson. The only memorable moment from the Christmas spectacular was Jackson’s foul-mouthed contribution. The premise of the segment was that Thompson would interrupt his guests mid-story. When he started singing as Jackson began to talk about his charity, the Django Unchained actor swore not once, but twice. He first dropped an f-bomb, then said bullsh**. The actor tweeted that he actually said “fuh,” but the letter k was clearly audible during the live show (the word is cut off in the video below). Thompson even said, “Come on, Sam, that costs money,” after the utterance. The skit also featured Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein, who didn’t make a peep (I wish she would have interacted with costar Armisen), Hader as Lindsey Buckingham, who intended to talk about the meaning of Christmas he learned from his six trips to Israel, and Short as his classic character, the incomparable Jackie Rogers Jr., who unsuccessfully tried to talk about his late father. I’m not sure why the show decided to bring back Rogers Jr. instead of Grimley or chose a sketch that wouldn’t allow him to speak, but I’m not pleased. There’s still a chance that this man could be our future president!
The weakest sketch featured Short and Armisen as old friends running into each other at a Restoration Hardware store. The two asked each other a series of questions to embarrass and one-up one another. “How’s your son?” Armisen asked. “The waiter or the porn star?” Short wondered. “The waiter,” Armisen said. ”Oh, he’s doing porn now,” Short responded. Quite frankly, the two of them were funnier together in the show’s promos.
McCartney joined Short for the final segment of the night. The “singing duo” auditioned for a community center’s Christmas pageant. Well, for the sake of accuracy, Short sang, while McCartney hit a single note on the triangle. After McCartney missed his cue several times and insisted he wanted to sing, the verbally abusive Short yelled at his puppy-eyed partner and quit the team. The set opened up, McCartney walked to the stage, and finally got the chance to sing. He didn’t perform a Beatles song, but collaborated with the New York City Children’s Chorus for a rendition of “Wonderful Christmas Time.” It was a wonderful time, indeed.
Golden Globes nominee Jennifer Lawrence will host with musical guest The Lumineers on Jan. 19, 2013, after the show’s hiatus. Ho, hey, that’s going to be awesome!
Here’s an inappropriately funny pre-recorded fake TV show trailer that didn’t make it on the air: