I love the annual Saturday Night Live Christmas show, because it's on of two (maybe three) times a year that the show really pulls out all the stops. There's guest stars galore, lots of big sketches and a sense that "what we are doing is fun and special." That became particularly important this week, as the show went on just one day after another tragic shooting in Connecticut. SNL handled it well without directly acknowledging the tragedy, for which I give them a lot of credit.
Martin Short was the host, which might have been puzzling to some who no longer consider him current or relevant, but he was another comedian (like Jamie Foxx last week) who proved just how much influence the host can exert over the energy of an episode. If you've got someone who knows what he's doing and immediately takes control, it can be a whole different show. This wasn't my favorite Christmas show that SNL has done, mostly because the majority of the sketches were disappointing and not on the scale as they've been in the past, but there was still an energy to the night that got me through even the rough patches. Most of the credit for that goes to Short, who, as a cast member for one season back in 1984, knows his way around the show. I was worried that the night would be devoted to his "greatest hits," but aside from a little Ed Grimley during the monologue and one appearance of Jackie Rogers, Jr., Short stayed away from his stable of SNL characters.
Most of the guests for the episode appeared during the monologue, which was one of those production numbers in which the host travels back stage while the camera follows him. There was Kristen Wiig (who didn't actually appear in any sketches), Jimmy Fallon, Tom Hanks, Samuel Jackson and Tina Fey, most of whom just appeared on camera without speaking. Alec Baldwin showed up to do his Tony Bennett for the first sketch of the night, and the piece mostly fell flat even though he was very funny. After that, it was pretty much a normal episode of the show. Not the best way to wrap up 2012, but not the worst, either.
- "Cold Open: Silent Night" - I have such mixed emotions about this week's cold open. It was the right call on the part of SNL not to just try and jump right into the comedy, since no one much feels like laughing right now. So this open, in which a bunch of kids sweetly sang a Christmas carol, was a nice way of a) acknowledging that fact; b) kicking off the annual Christmas show and c) reminding us that kids are precious and adorable, which then made us all sad again. My mixed emotions are not the fault of SNL. They did the right thing. In a different year, I would have really loved this. Instead, I just have to respect it while crying. (Watch the "Cold Open: Silent Night" video)
- "Royal Family Doctor" - There's currently no video of this sketch available, because something is wonky with the NBC site, but it was one of the better moments of the night (after the monologue, which was probably the highlight but which is also not available thanks to copyright issues). Martin Short's uptight Brit character was funny (any sketch in which he got to play a really exaggerated character was automatically better, because that's the kind of thing he does best), Bill Hader spent most of the sketch trying not to crack up and there were several good "joke carrier" moments. My favorite? Calling Kate Middleton's vagina "The Kingmaker." It was all pretty juvenile, but the joke of skirting around that fact (in the interest of propriety) is what made it work.
- "What Up With That? Christmas Spectacular" - This really will never change. I know people like it, and it's not the worst. It's dependable in its predictability. But there's not even an attempt to shake up the formula that's in place; the only thing different about this week's installment (was this the first time we've seen it this season? I think it might have been; 10 shows without it is positively restrained) was guest Samuel L. Jackson yelling out an ad-libbed swear off camera just moments after not swearing as part of the script. Kenan Thompson's quick "That cost money" was a nice improvisation. It was good to see Carrie Brownstein on the stage of SNL, though, since no one could have predicted she would become a kind of cult comedy icon back in her Sleater-Kinney days. (Watch the "What Up With That Christmas Spectacular" video)
- "A Charlie Brown Christmas" - I was so close to really liking this, but then it got kind of lazy. Bill Hader's Al Pacino is always pretty funny, and Kate McKinnon is proving to be really good at doing specific impressions of people that you wouldn't expect a person could do, but after introducing Martin Short's (amazing) Larry David, the sketch had nowhere to go. A series of "spot the impression" beats fell flat, with the worst offender being Kenan Thompson's non-existent Forrest Whitaker (was he even trying? Was the fact that he wasn't trying the joke?). When the production got to the point where nearly every word had to be bleeped, it was kind of funny -- especially when they kept cutting back to the faces of the confused kids in the audience -- but it only suggested the darker places to which the sketch needed to go. It was a decent sketch that showed flashes of greatness, which can sometimes be even more frustrating than a sketch that's dead from the outset. (Watch the "Charlie Brown Christmas" video)
- "Old Friends" - Speaking of sketches that are dead from the outset. Not sure what the thinking was here; just having Martin Short play a "normal" guy wasn't a great idea, and way too much attention was paid to the context that the sketch was set inside a Restoration Hardware store. It was fine as a joke carrier sketch, but too many of the jokes were just ok (the best one being Martin Short saying what his son was up to, but that was as much his timing as it was the writing). This seemed like the kind of thing that came straight off the stage of Second City. The punchline was particularly weak. (Watch the "Old Friends" video)
- "Holiday Pageant" - It's no surprise that musical guest Paul McCartney was incorporated into a sketch this week; musical guests of his stature usually are. It's too bad he wasn't worked into something funnier, though, since this just consisted of Martin Short berating him while he looked like he had checked out. Really, the point of it was to remove the set (which was neat, as it was done in real time) so that McCartney could join his band again and perform his third song of the night, "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time." It's one of my least favorite Christmas songs of all time, but I'll admit that it was an improvement over the song about VALENTINE'S DAY that he started with or that terrible song he played with the surviving members of Nirvana (it looked like the Make-a-Wish of someone's dad). Plus, it brought that kids' choir back, which gave a circularity to the episode that I liked. (Watch the "Holiday Pageant" video)
- "Malibu High" - Here's a sketch that didn't make it past the dress rehearsal, but which NBC has seen fit to post online a) because it probably cost some money to produce and b) so many of the sketches had to be left off this week that they needed content for the website. This isn't a great sketch at all, but it does feature Jim Downey acting and a guest spot from Patricia Clarkson, so it's worth checking out. Downey's "epic fail" joke was funnier than a lot of what ended up making the show this week, and, watching it, I couldn't help but think "They cut this but kept the two guys inside Restoration Hardware?" I guess the show would rather have a live piece than one on video. (Watch the "Malibu High" video)
- Original Air Date: 12/16/12
- Host: Martin Short
- Musical Guest: Paul McCartney