Our hosts for tonight are Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, ACTUAL GODDESSES WHOM WE DO NOT DESERVE. If you find yourself in a Rip Van Winkle situation in which you fell asleep in 1999 and just woke up, I”ll catch you up on who these two ladies are (also, yes, that Donald Trump is running for President, and we”re all just as confused about it as you are). Tina Fey joined the writing staff of SNL in 1997 and went on to become its head writer, Weekend Update anchor, and beloved star. Amy Poehler joined her in 2001, later co-hosting Weekend Update with Fey and also being all around great. The two went on to write/produce/star in two of the best sitcoms in television history (you can check them out on this thing called Netflix, which is on computers that look very different than you remember). They can currently be seen on the big screen in their new film Sisters. They are hilarious best friends who will one day rule the world and we will all be better for it.
Cold Open: Wolf Blitzer conducts the final Republican debate. As ready as America is to finally have this election narrowed down to two candidates, so too is SNL. The overcrowded field made for some funny sketches early on, but as sad as I”ll be to not be able to view Jay Pharaoh”s Ben Carson alongside Bobby Moynihan”s Chris Christie anymore, it”s time for the writers to be able to focus their attention on a smaller cast of characters. As it is, they”re stuck in a loop of stereotype-based jokes for an overcrowded stage. Tonight got some good moments in– Darrell Hammond reappearing as Trump, Taran Killam as Ted Cruz discussing his status as the “candidate most people want to throw a beer at,” Moynihan”s Chris Christie spouting that “1 in 3 American babies born are already in ISIS”– but didn”t have the ability to hone in on candidates the way that the less crowded Democratic debate sketches can. Also of note: in a primary that appears to still be fairly up in the air (yes, Trump is the frontrunner, but let”s continue our collective denial, cool?), one has to wonder not only which real life person will emerge as the candidate, but which SNL player”s impression will advance. Marco Rubio has been suggested as a strong possibility, and tonight he was played by Pete Davidson, an unexpected but maybe kind of great choice. It will definitely be interesting to see where these political sketches go in the new year, but for now they”re starting to lose a bit of steam. C+
Monologue: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler perform a mash-up holiday hit they wrote; Amy”s part is a swinging holiday love song, and Tina”s is a dark religious number about the violence and fear surrounding Christ”s birth. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler may be actual goddesses, but just as with Jesus Christ, they have been placed in human flesh vessels, meaning that sometimes they have to do unholy things like musical monologues on Saturday Night Live. Listen, there”s no two hosts I”d rather watch just riff together on stage than Amy and Tina, but they are true pros so they took a musical monologue and made it better than it ever had any right to be. The suggestion that Amy was the fun and modern girl to Tina”s “traditional and dangerously religious” one was a bit random, but it gave Tina a chance to showcase her penchant for weird and dark comedy, and the two kept the energy so near-manic throughout the musical number that it wound up being more charming than I”ve come to expect from this overused monologue format. B
Hillary of Christmas Past: As Hillary Clinton celebrates her last Christmas before becoming President, her past self from 2008 shows up to warn her not to get cocky. As they discuss her chances, Sarah Palin drops in with some advice. If Tina and Amy hadn”t reprised their famous and celebrated political impersonations, we would have been furious. If they had reprised them in a sketch not worthy of their talents, we would have been disappointed. Lucky for us, Sarah Palin and 2008 Hillary were given a pretty great showcase in this A Christmas Carol riff. Nothing made me laugh harder all night than Poehler warning McKinnon that she, too, was once cocky about becoming President, until “someone named Barack Obama came out of a soup kitchen with a basketball and a cigarette and stole my life.” A close second, though, was Fey”s advice to Clinton as Sarah Palin: “You gotta do what you believe in your spirit but also America, but not teachers and their fat liberal books but also and even why worry about fast food wages with their status quo– which is another Latin word, status quo– meanwhile, Americans are being taken for a ride, and also the man can only ride ya when your back is bent so.” This sketch would have been the most likely to go viral tomorrow regardless of its quality, but happily, it proved itself pretty deserving of that treatment. Oh, and it ends with Kate McKinnon, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey in character as Hillary Clinton(s) and Sarah Palin dancing to hardcore rap, so looks like Christmas came early this year, kids. A
Meet Your Second Wife: A game show in which a panel of happily married guests are introduced to the young women, all significantly under the age of eighteen, who will grow up to be their second wives. This was savage, and I loved it. When Bobby Moynihan”s twelve-year-old future wife walked out, he was insistent that he would never leave his wife, who had been supporting him while he wrote his novel. “But what if I told you that in a few years one of your novels becomes a surprise bestseller and is even optioned for a movie?” Tina asked. “Oh yeah, then yeah, no, I get it now,” Moynihan replied. From there it just got worse/better, as Taran Killam”s next wife was revealed to be his future daughter”s college roommate, who is currently only five years old (“How many years old are you Stacy?” “That is five fingers. I believe she”s trying to say she”s five.”). Kenan Thompson appeared to be doing a little better with Cecily Strong”s college sophomore, but she was then revealed to actually be the pregnant mother of his future wife (“Already a beauty,” Poehler stated as the sonogram photo was revealed). My only complaint was that this was yet another game show sketch, a dead horse format SNL continues to beat; this felt like a concept that could have worked in another format instead, though admittedly, the game show framework fit it fine. Overall, a pretty great vehicle for the no apologies comedy style of Fey and Poehler. After all, bitches get good sketches done. A-
Hoverboards: An ad for hoverboards boasts all of the popular toy”s cool features, like how it goes wherever you want it to based on your thoughts, it can do sweet spins, and also it catches on fire at random due to shoddy craftsmanship. A riff on the recent revelations that the trendy new hoverboards are facing numerous technical difficulties including literally catching on fire, this was not one of the all time great commercial parodies, but it was funny and timely enough to get a pass. As they often do, Pete Davidson and Beck Bennett showed that they have their finger on the pulse of both the strangeness of modern youth culture and the even stranger strangeness of the way modern youth culture gets marketed to (Davidson”s “Disney Channel Star Goes to College” costuming was pretty inspired). Though this is a complaint I never thought I”d make about an SNL sketch, it felt like this one could have gone on a little longer, like it had the potential to veer into more absurdist territory but stopped short. Although if it had continued I probably would have found something more to complain about so perhaps I should take a cue from this holiday season and be thankful for what I have. B
Sarah”s Desire: On the set of a 1940″s period piece about two lesbians, the director uses his background as an acting coach on sitcom The Jeffersons to encourage more over-the-top performances from his two actresses. We saw this same sketch concept once before on Chris Hemsworth”s hosting gig last season, and as I said with last week”s Brother to Brother sketch, while I wasn”t necessarily clamoring for this one to come back, I also wasn”t upset that it did. It”s a funny enough concept, particularly when the players of the scene-within-a-scene are willing to really give it their all, which Tina and Amy reliably were. Setting it in an Oscar bait-y drama was a step in the right direction, as performances that demand extreme subtlety were met with instructions to copy some of history”s least subtle performances. The main issue with this bit is that the writers don”t seem to know exactly how to end it. As such, the final beat of the actors walking out feels a bit abrupt, and with the ending of the sketch matching that of the one from the Hemsworth episode beat for beat, it feels a little too repetitive. One thing that might help mix it up is to introduce Kenan”s same character pulling from other shows than The Jeffersons; though that”s clearly a great show to use, this character and concept might have a longer shelf life if there was a bit more to play with. B
Weekend Update: Honestly, this felt like a fairly lackluster Update segment with which to end the season. Though the jokes gained momentum in the second half (a personal favorite was “PBS series Finding Your Roots has discovered that Bill O”Reilly and Bill Maher are actually distant cousins, having descended from the same ancestor: a screaming potato”), the first half was disappointingly lackluster (at this point I fully understand that the Update writers think Ben Carson is stupid, and the Jumanji documentary joke was borderline groan-worthy).
Kate McKinnon as Someone”s Mom Deedee was a bright spot because Kate McKinnon playing a rock would be a bright spot. It was a fairly funny character though, made all the better by McKinnon”s weirdly familiar act of eating tupperware-enclosed baked salmon as she spoke about soap opera characters whose names she couldn”t remember (while I”ve never experienced someone doing exactly this in real life, I felt like I knew the concept of it in my soul, which I think is what makes for a great Update character).
The segment ended with Tina and Amy getting to deliver the last two Update jokes of 2015, which was great, but honestly why didn”t they bring them out to do more? Hell, they could have (and probably should have) just had Amy and Tina do the entire Update segment themselves. You”re getting better by the week Colin Jost and Michael Che, but come on– give the people what they want.
Chad and Mrs. Douglas Show: A commercial for a Time Life retrospective DVD collection of a 1970s variety show features clips of a drunk woman slurring through the 12 Days of Christmas, a woman high on cocaine frolicking manically in snow, and a woman realizing she might be in danger while singing Baby It”s Cold Outside with Bill Cosby. I feel an actual guilt saying this about a sketch that involved the holy trinity of Fey, Poehler, and Rudolph, but this sketch really didn”t do it for me. Of course, I”m always up for Maya Rudolph combining a weird voice with manic energy and singing, and God bless Tina Fey for skewering Bill Cosby with more ferocity than SNL has really shown the guts to do since his scandal broke, but the framework of the sketch as a whole never really made any sense to me, and it felt like Fey”s bit was the only one that had a definitive and understandable ending. Though I laughed at Taran Killam”s realization that all he and his wife had to offer the retrospective were “these three short, very awful things,” it also sort of proved that this sketch ran out of steam before it began. This one was more of a first draft than a final product, and the veteran performers in it deserved better. C-
Dope Squad: In a parody of Taylor Swift”s Bad Blood video, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler reveal the squad that keeps them going, including Amy Schumer, their nannies, the man who returned Amy”s wallet after she lost it, and their shared gynecologist. A decent fight back against the falsely glamorized “squad culture” of Swift and other celebrities, this sketch felt like pure Fey and Poehler with its commitment to representing the real life of a woman (albeit, an absurdly famous one who can afford two nannies). But before Fey and Poehler could get too full from humble pie, they assured Aidy Bryant that their squad isn”t too “down to earth.” After all, it hosts some impressive names, like Gayle King, Robert Downey Sr., and Amy Schumer, who was there to return the favor of Tina appearing on her show, but by the end threatened to sue everyone involved for almost blowing her up. The sketch as a whole was a bit all over the place, and one of a few too many Taylor Swift-themed sketches of the past couple seasons (I understand she”s taking over the world, but does she have to take over SNL too?). Overal, though, it was a fun commentary on Poehler and Fey”s brand of feminism that never took itself too seriously. The main problem was, no offense to Tina and Amy, that the actual song within the sketch didn”t sound too great; I”m not sure if it was the fault of the stars” voices (they sounded pretty good in that monologue!) or the music mix behind them, but it wasn”t quite as easy on the ears as it could have been. B+
Bronx Beat: Bronx Beat hosts Betty and Jodi discuss all the bad news they”ve been hearing lately, then welcome Betty”s cousin Karen from Philly to promote her homemade Christmas ornaments. This was a good choice of an old Amy Poehler character to bring back and, as usual, Poehler and Rudolph didn”t disappoint. There wasn”t that much to the sketch, but there didn”t really need to be; Bronx Beat is a classic example of a reliable SNL sketch that doesn”t require any bells and whistles (or, as Betty and Jodi might say, nothin” fancy). I could”ve watched Rudolph, Poehler, and Fey”s dueling pronunciations of water (Bronx”s “wata” versus Philly”s “wooder”) for at least another five minutes. A nice, comforting closer. B+
Quotes, Extras, and Final Thoughts
Pete Davidson as Marco Rubio: “Let”s face it– I”m the only person here you”d swipe right on.” Perhaps truer of real life Marco Rubio than of adorably weird-faced Pete Davidson, but that just kind of made the joke even funnier.
Jeb Bush: “You”re never gonna be President, Donald.” Donald Trump: “Yeah, no kidding; none of us are, genius.”
And New Guy gets his second role as debate moderator, playing Wolf Blitzer (a general step up in impersonation accuracy from his uncomfortable Anderson Cooper). New guy! Here”s to more screen time in 2016.
In the monologue, Tina and Amy flow in and out of their dialogue together, concluding by explaining that they “finish each other”s sente-” “-pedes. Human centipedes.”
Sarah Palin on her running mate: “Oh God, that was a great election. I was paired up with that cute little John McCain fella, may he rest in peace I”m guessin”.”
What makes hoverboards catch on fire? “We take a battery from a 90s cell phone and make it power a motor designed for a small car”
Michael Che describes Kwanzaa as “an African-American holiday that”s celebrated by only Rachel Dolezal and McDonald”s”
Say, what is in that drink in Baby It”s Cold Outside? According to Cosby, “Oh, well, it”s like a vitamin for when you”re bummed out about your career”
Bronx Beat”s Betty on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Chewbacca: “Dog man that flies a plane, PASS”
Cousin Karen on life in Philly: “My brother Dave and his friend Dave and their other friend Dave saw a guy beat a Salvation Army Santa with a car battery in a Wawa parking lot. Philly”s a war zone.”
If there is a purer distillation of joy than the SNL cast dancing on stage to Santa Claus is Comin” to Town with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Bruce Springsteen, and Paul McCartney just chillin” and playing some jingle bells because he can, then I have yet to find it. Dear readers, a confession: I may have cried a little. A MERRY CHRISTMAS TO US ALL.
And now, for the hiatus! We”re back in four weeks with Girls star turned Star Wars bad guy Adam Driver. A weird but decidedly interesting choice for host, and one I”m tentatively excited about. See y”all in 2016!