I”ve covered every episode of “Saturday Night Live” for HitFix for the past five seasons, and I can”t think of a more sustained level of quality than what the show has achieved during its Fall run. We”ve had two great episodes (Martin Freeman, Cameron Diaz), one interesting misfire (Chris Rock), and then six other episodes that have all had much more positive qualities than negative ones. The current cast doesn”t have a true alpha star, but that”s worked in its favor, as the ensemble measures favorably against any in the show”s history. This season”s focus on sketches that work regardless of the current pop-culture landscape has yielded segments that provide laughs now and will stand the test of time. It hasn”t been perfect, but “perfection” isn”t the point of “SNL.” The point is to constantly innovate within its established, successful framework, and this half-season has done that and then some. Will Amy Adams help continue that streak? Let”s find out.
As always, I”ll be grading each sketch tonight as they occur in liveblog fashion. As always, these are reactions made in real time that should be taken with a silo of salt. Even I don”t religiously adhere to these grades when revisiting the season as a whole, as I have been doing for next week”s “Best Of Season 40” gallery. The grades are ultimately unimportant, except to help quantify my in-the-moment analysis in an imperfect way. This has been a great season overall thus far, and no single grade will define it in either a good or bad way.
See you all at 11:30 pm EST when we kick things off properly!
A Very Somber Christmas With Sam Smith: Dr. Evil in the HOUSE! He”s mad that both North Korea and Sony have “giving evil a bad name.” The crowd loves it, and it”s quite the surprise that “SNL” pulled off here. A lot of Dr. Evil”s charm comes from the editing in the “Austin Powers” films as much as Mike Myers” performance, but it”s still great to see him back in this role. It”s a pretty toothless analysis of the situation, however. If the show delves more into the leaks throughout the ep, this was a fine intro designed to get show coverage rather than actually make a point. If this is all the show does, then shame on “SNL”. [Grade: B-]
Monologue: Adams thinks we could use some holiday cheer, and thus sings for our aural pleasure. Kristen Wiig shows up, and even Amy Adams thinks it”s weird that she”s onstage. I concur with Adams! We can”t miss you if you never go away, Kristen. By the time Wiig is wearing a Christmas tree hat shaking maracas and doing a split, I am hiding behind my couch trying to avoid this David Brent-esque display. Remember that thing I said about this show having an awesome ensemble? Wasn”t this a moment for Cecily Strong or Aidy Bryant to have this type of primetime exposure? Sigh. [Grade: C-]
Asian American Doll: “I”m going to add an Oriental rug!” “Your funeral!” A smart take on the perils of political correctness and how it can end up doing as much harm as good, this is a great pre-taped commercial that scores point after point. Kudos to getting some great child actors as well to deliver some biting lines as well. This wasn”t a stone-cold classic, but a sneaky great segment all the same. [Grade: B+]
Tenderfield Christmas 2014: I”m pretty sure most of us have seen the video series this is based on, and I won”t lie: I look for the desperation in the eyes of that family, because I”m not normal. But I”m also not alone, as this was a fun if often obvious deconstruction of that trope. Everything with the adults is pretty rote (if well-performed), but the segments about the children are fantastic. I”d watch an entire series of sketches about Dog Boy and Sociopathic Sister. IN THEIR CHRISTMAS SWEATPANTS. [Grade: B]
Serial: The Christmas Surprise: I”m mostly surprised it”s taken THIS LONG for the show to do a “Serial” sketch, even if visualizing a podcast is semi-contradictory to the nature of an audio podcast, but hey, that”s splitting hairs. Confession time: I”ve never listened to “Serial,” which is probably blasphemous to say. The audience goes nuts for Beck Bennett”s Kris Kringle, so I”m assuming his part is totally on point. The fact that this seems impenetrable without knowing the source material is on me, as the sketch just doesn”t even attempt to introduce the concept to those not already familiar with it. And I actually kind of admire that resolve, since in four minutes you can't simultaneously set up the premise AND mock it. So I can”t really assess a grade here in the normal sense. It”s kind of a cop out, but it”s also probably fairest. I'd love to hear what those who listen to the podcast thought. [Grade: N/A]
Girlfriends Talk Show: I think I”m being punished for admitting I don”t listen to “Serial.” This is not one of my favorite recurring sketches, mostly because I think its premise is inherently cruel to Aidy Bryant's character, which makes each iteration an exercise is sadism. Then again, this sketch is really about getting One Direction onstage for another big internet splash over the next few days. At one point, Amy Adams” character actually says, “Know what would make great TV? Us dancing!” Well, that”s about as bald as admission as there can be. But when you have one of the biggest acts in the world on your show, why not do something that shamelessly plays to the crowd? [Grade: B-]
Office Christmas Party: “Someone control Carol from New Media!” OK, that”s my new go-to statement at meetings. This had SUCH potential to be another classic Christmas sketch, but never really got out of second gear. The idea of Pete Davidson and Jay Pharaoh leading this song filled me with eager anticipation, but other than Bryant”s aforementioned Carol, this was just a montage of people getting drunk. There wasn”t much specific beyond Carol other than Adams” mousy payroll employee cutting loose on the karaoke machine, and specificity is what truly pushes sketches like this from good to great. Oh well. I”d like to send the show back in time six days and work on the next draft, based on what we saw tonight. I bet it would be fantastic. [Grade: B-]
Weekend Update: “Look, Kimberly…” There”s the Michael Che I”ve been looking for! His short monologue to the North Korean dictator was focused and on point. Afterwards, Bobby Moynihan appears to portray Kim Jong-Un, but Colin Jost breaks the fourth wall (albeit in a scripted way) to try and stop his talking head segment. A series of sniper lasers works where Jost's pleading does not. Later, Che”s neighbor Willie (Kenan Thompson) arrives to spread some Christmas cheer. Unfortunately, all of Willie”s aphorisms are incredibly depressing. (“It”s like my pastor always says: You can”t sleep here, Willie!”) Finally, Garth and Kat (Fred Armisen, Wiig) appear to sing some Hannukah songs. Armisen and Wiig are having their usual blast doing this bit, and their joy is certainly infectious for those in the audience. Overall, I”m mostly disappointed the segment didn”t do more with the Sony hacks, since the material they did do was pretty strong. Nothing about tonight”s episode has been particularly bad, but there hasn”t been a classic segment thus far. (Even allowing for the fact that the “Serial” sketch might have been brilliant, that will probably play to crickets in ten years time.) [Grade: B-]
A Very Cuban Christmas: Gloria Estefan (Strong) and Pitbull (Taran Killam) host a holiday special celebrating the thawing of the tensions between the United States and Cuba. Among those attending: Hurley from “Lost,” Elian Gonzalez, and…Cuba Gooding Jr? Raúl Castro (Armisen again) mocks President Obama via satellite conversation, because why not, and oh Lord this is one of those sketches where the writers throw thirty ideas at the wall and hope something sticks. Very little did here, unfortunately. [Grade: C-]
A Magical Christmas: “I get to yum yum garbage!” Three raccoons make a Christmas wish to turn into singing sisters for one night? What a bizarre idea. And yet the execution is just about flawless: Everyone watching knows SOMETHING is off, but not what, and that provides a great amount of comedic tension. The audience is trying to figure it out along with the hapless men at the bar. It helps that everyone is on point in this sketch, getting the 1940″s-esque patter down cold. Most impressive? The songs, which are absolute jibberish but sound completely polished in terms of performance. I could have watched Adams/Strong/Kate McKinnon do that for 20 minutes. This sketch also confirmed that Bobby Moynihan/Kyle Mooney is a pairing this show should exploit as often as possible. Man, this was faaantastic. [Grade: A]
Whiskers R We: Never thought I”d see this sketch again after it debuted when Charlize Theron hosted. It”s a simple premise with seemingly dozens of absurdist non-sequiturs, most of which land. (“Toby goes for long walks at night…and he WON”T tell us where he”s been!”) The McKinnon/Adams chemistry is great here, even if this is essentially a carbon copy of the last time this sketch aired. [Grade: B-]
Best Sketch: A Magical Christmas
Worst Sketch: A Very Cuban Christmas
How Was One Direction?: I like that these five don”t pretend they are anything but overly earnest dudes that don”t want to dance under any circumstances whatsoever. I”ve never heard a song by them that moved me one way or another, but the gentlemen have singing chops and always blend well together. Maybe after I download “Serial,” I”ll listen to some One Direction on Spotify and see if there are some pop gems I”ve overlooked.
The Takeaway: I very much want to see a comedy starring Amy Adams and Kate McKinnon on the big screen sooner rather than later.
What did everyone else think? Sound off below!