Martin Freeman seemed like a solid but unusual choice to host “Saturday Night Live” when he was first announced. Had you asked me twenty possible hosts for the show”s December run, I”m not sure I would have put him anywhere near that list. (I”d have gone with Ian McKellan returning to host over Freeman making his debut.) Quite frankly, I”m surprised the star of “The Hobbit”/”Fargo”/”Sherlock” even had the time or energy to host at all. We”ve seen his comedic chops in all of those programs, as well as in the original version of “The Office,” so we know he has the bonafides to host. But how will he integrate with the show”s current cast? That”s what we”ll find out tonight.
As always, I”ll be liveblogging as the episode progresses, assessing grades to each segment. As always, you the readers will weigh in as well, and in no instance will a disagreement between the two sides be anything less than civil.
Be sure to refresh often throughout the night, starting at 11:30 pm EST!
Charlie Rose: Two clinical psychologists mentioned in the recently released torture report appear to discuss their role and the $80 million they received to provide the CIA with unsavory techniques. And yet, they want Rose to know that this is only part of what they do: They also work with Time-Warner Cable (doing their customer service), the TSA, and…helped facilitate the rise of one-man shows? THOSE BASTARDS. I”ve slammed “SNL” for having tepid cold opens, but this is pretty great, even if equivocating actual torture with the self-checkout line at grocery stores seems a little callous. Still, I don”t think the sketch is actually doing that, but rather pivoting away from a very unfunny topic into something to which people can actually relate. Like Auto-Correct. Ducking Auto-Correct. [Grade: B+]
Monologue: Did you know that all English celebrities are friends? Apparently it”s true, as Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman prove. (Taran Killam's Rickman is out-of-this-world good.) Not a lot besides, “I”m British and most likely you don”t know who I am, which is why I say my name at the beginning and end of the monologue,” but Freeman had a lot of fun improvising a few lines based on audience reaction, which bodes well for his overall confidence. [Grade: B]
Sump”n Claus: “He sees you when you”re sleeping! That”s weird!” God bless you, Kenan Thompson. I”m going to make a weird comparison, but this reminds me of the “Mokiki And The Sloppy Swish” sketch from a few years ago, in that this sketch manages to tell an entire story inside of a three-minute song. As a disgraced former elf, Sump”n Claus gives money to help those that Santa Claus crosses off from his “Nice” list. Works for me! Also? I”m a sucker for a sketch in which adults still believe in Santa. I”m getting soft in my old age, I guess. A catchier song might have yielded this a higher grade, but this was still very amusing. [Grade: B]
Wedding: Martin Freeman and Leslie Jones want to get married, but apparently no one else wants them to go through with this. This includes the groom”s current wife, her father (“You just adopted the Wu-Tang Clan!”), and an emergency room doctor who tended to the groom”s “shattered penis”, comparing the current situation to a “late-stage Jenga tower.” What takes this from good to great is Kate McKinnon”s elderly woman, who comes off the street to “shut this down.” Great writing, great performances, and a great build make this one of the best sketches of the Fall. [Grade: A-]
The Office: Middle Earth: If for nothing else than Killam”s Gollum-as-Gareth, this theoretically stale premise was worth actually airing. McKinnon”s Elven Pam is great, albeit underused, and Bobby Moynihan”s Gandalf/David Brent eventually transcends the surface-level impression and reaches something worthwhile. The sketch really peaked with Gollum, but WHAT A PEAK. This episode is on absolute fire right now. Strongest start to any episode I can honestly remember in recent years. [Grade: B+]
Right Side Of The Bed: Well, this is probably my fault. I just said the show was on fire, and here”s a momentum-killing sketch involving Martin Freeman”s handyman unsure what to do with all the screen time afforded him. I thought this was going to be a sketch about the “Chrisley Knows Best”-esque married couple hosting the talk show, but this really wasn”t about anything. Great energy from Killam and Cecily Strong, but this was a messy sketch that never knew where it was going. (Kate McKinnon”s Keith Urban, though! That needs to be a recurring character in every sketch for the rest of the night.) [Grade: C-]
Christmas Mass Spectacular: All the energy of the old “Underground Music Festival” sketches, but now set in church! This went on about twice as long as it had to, but there were a number of people depicted here that are all too familiar from my own upbringing. Sweaty Palms Guy, I”m looking at you. I see you as well, Overly Enthusiastic Liturgical Reader. [Grade: B-]
Weekend Update: Sasheer Zamata comes on to talk about the lack of diversity in tech companies. She focuses on the world of emojis, which has two dragons and nine cats but no African Americans. It”s a good idea for a segment, and a good opportunity for Zamata to make her mark on “Update,” but everything is unfortunately slightly stilted in execution. (The emoji Pictionary segment would have been fine if not flubbed on several occasions.) Afterwards, Cecily Strong appears as “A One-Dimensional Female Character From A Male Driven Comedy,” because every “Update” character she plays has a name too long for Twitter. Her robotic delivery is dry at first, but gets funnier with repetition. (Strong”s reading of “Wow, you”ve really changed!” killed me.) Lastly, Jacob The Bar Mitzvah Boy returns to discuss Hanukkah. More than almost any recurring “Update” guest, Jacob makes me miss Seth Meyers. Michael Che is fine here, but HE”S ALSO DOING SETH MEYERS. It”s not good when Jost does this (which is 90% of the time), and it”s not good when Che does it. We have one more “Update” in 2014. How about we see Leslie Jones behind the desk come January? A Jones/Jost “Update” is an “Update” I want to see. Jost is a different person when she's interacting with him, and it's bracing each and every time. [Grade: C+]
Heinz Assembly Line: “Remember that scene in ‘Monty Python And The Holy Grail” when the two guards couldn”t understand the instructions to not let the prince out of the room? What if we set that in a modern-day factory? Wouldn”t that be funny?” No. [Grade: D]
Pine River Lodge: This is “What”s Up With That?”, only with a little “Serial” thrown in. I can”t tell what Thompson is actually singing, as its melody and phrasing have nothing to do with the music being played. But I kind of like that disconnect. He also says “red boots” about 400 times, and each time is funnier than the last, and holy hell is this sketch super weird but I love it super hard anyways. I can see many people hating this sketch, and I can totally understand why. But Killam kicking up his newly-acquired red boots capped off what seemed initially like a TERRIBLE sketch but ended up closer to a triumphant one. What a comeback! [Grade: B+]
Waterbed Warehouse: Freeman”s “Fargo” redux is overshadowed by Aidy Bryant”s overbearing wife Janine, who got a recent taste of fame at a local talent show and bullies her way into her husband”s commercials. I kept waiting for a water-related murder to occur, but no, it”s just a simple sketch featuring a simple catchphrase. Freeman and Bryant look like they are having a lot of fun, which goes a long way to cover up the semi-tepid premise. [Grade: B-]
Best Sketch: Wedding
Worst Sketch: Heinz Assembly Line
How Was Charli XCX: Well, her first performance was snooze-worthy, but her later one displayed the energy and verve that she had at the American Music Awards. She could have done with some extra production value to help things along, but unlike how I felt after watching Iggy Azalea perform a few weeks ago, I can see Charli XCX actually producing some interesting music in the future.
One More Note On “Update”: Michael Che has a valuable comedic voice and is a worthy member of “Saturday Night Live.” I just don”t think that his role as co-anchor of “Weekend Update” is working out. He started off fairly strong, but has regressed in weeks since. Replacing Jost probably isn”t the answer, unless the show removes both and starts over completely fresh in January. I don”t think the show will do that. Heck, I don”t think the show will do anything from a casting perspective. But “SNL” needs to let these two men be themselves and help define a new era of “Update,” and needs to do it fast at this point. Seth Meyers is gone. Yet his non-presence dominates the segment at this point.