There was something inherently exciting about Jimmy Fallon returning to host Saturday Night Live for the first time since leaving the show as a cast member, because one of the most endearing things about Fallon was always his palpable love for the show and his excitement to be a part of it. Making it into the cast had to be a dream come true for him, but becoming a big enough star post-SNL (as host of his own very good late night talk show, probably the only one on TV I can tolerate) that he can come back and host was more than he ever could have hoped for. He brought all of that excitement and enthusiasm to the show this week, and SNL matched him every step of the way. There were so many things that I loved about this week's show -- even if it wasn't the most consistently funny episode in recent years -- that I couldn't help but smile all the way to the end. The opening number was my favorite of the season, from the great Buble-on-cocaine joke to Andy Samberg and Vanessa Bayer singing about Hanukkah to the whole cast joining Fallon and dancing on stage (I wish the show would bring the whole cast out together more often, for more than just the 'goodnights'), it was high energy and a ton of fun. A ton of past cast members came back, including Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Tracy Morgan, Tina Fey, Chris Kattan and Horatio Sanz, most of whom got to be funny in addition to trading on our nostalgia for casts past. Even the 'goodnights' portion featured Fallon and his past cast mates ice skating outside 30 Rock, with Fallon dressed as one of the bees from the show's first season. Everything about the episode was a love letter to Saturday Night Live, and it's nice to be reminded of how much fun it is to be on the show.
- "Cold Open: Sully and Denise" - I fully expected this episode to be a "greatest hits" show for Jimmy Fallon, so it was no surprise to the the show open with Sully and Denise. I was glad, though, that it was really the last of Fallon's recurring characters we saw for the night. Plus, it brought back Rachel Dratch and Amy Poehler, which was the first indication of the night that the episode would be a celebration of all things SNL past. (Watch the "Cold Open: Sully and Denise" video)
- "Today Show" - After such an exciting opener and coming off the high of watching the whole cast dance together, I'll admit that I deflated somewhat after realizing the show proper was kicking off with another installment of The Today Show. There were more good jokes than usual (Kristen Wiig's dialogue was pretty well written, actually), but I wish something stronger would would have appeared in its place to keep the momentum going. Jimmy Fallon's Regis impression is fine, but he seemed inserted into the sketch without much to do. (Watch the "Today Show" video)
- "Holiday Party" - And the hits continue, unfortunately. This relied really heavily on Kristen Wiig doing a voice and saying a single thing over and over again, plus it was a repeat. Those are a lot of strikes against the sketch. Like The Today Show, it wasn't a horrible sketch, per se, but it wasn't all that strong, either. I'm able to overlook them, though, because the overall vibe of the episode was so fun and energetic. (Watch the "Holiday Party" video)
- "Buble Duets" - SNL has done so many rapid fire spot-the-impression sketches this season, and this was easily the best of them all. Instead of just having cast members try to look or sound like other celebrities, the writers figured out what might be funny about the celebrities on top of the good impressions. Kristen Wiig giggling her way through Taylor Swift was very funny, as was Jimmy Fallon doing Justin Bieber and (especially) Russell Brand. My favorite by far was Lady Gaga, which offered the kind of quick visual joke that SNL rarely has the confidence to do. (Watch the "Buble Duets" video)
- "Jimmy Mirror" - Not one of the best pieces of the night, though it, too, skated by on the enthusiasm and energy of Fallon -- by making a joke of those things, no less. I have some issues with Andy Samberg as a performer, and this sketch underlined a lot of what I find to be his weaknesses (Fallon used to have a lot of the same ones, but came off like an absolute pro compared to Samberg). I did like the spit take, though, and the incredibly long pounding-the-mirror business. (Watch the "Jimmy Mirror" video)
- "One Man Show" - Fred Armisen is so good at creating characters who are exaggerated and funny but still utterly believable, and this "One Man Show" sketch was such a well-observed piece about bad, self-indulgent theater. There were so many touches I liked, from the title to his inability to get his technology to work to the fact that he pretended to be the janitor before the show would begin, because that's exactly the kind of dumb, hacky thing a show like this would include. And "too much business" might have been my favorite joke of the night. (Watch the "One Man Show" video)
- "Christmas Treat" - I was as big a fan of this sketch when it was first done in the early 2000s as anyone, and I still have enough affection for it that I don't mind so much when it gets trotted out every few years. It was enough to keep the nostalgia high going for the night, even if it never deviated or grew from what we already expected. I kept hoping for it to open up into something more ambitious, but such was not the case. Oh well. It still makes me smile.
- "Weekend Update Joke Off" - No, the jokes weren't as good as I would have hoped (though there were at least two really good ones), but I didn't care; the thrill of seeing these two teams of "Update" anchors square off against one another provided another highlight of the night. They should have all just sat in for the whole segment, even though I know that's not really realistic. If nothing else, this just reminded me how much I miss what "Update" used to be. (Watch the "Weekend Update Joke Off" video)
- "Beethoven" - I really liked this sketch. It went on entirely too long, but there were a lot of good jokes ("This guy puts the dick in tuba") and a great performance by Fallon, who really had to carry the whole thing. It got repetitive -- again, too long -- but the idea was great and I liked the execution enough that this was actually one of my favorite sketches of the night. Possibly my favorite.
- "War Horse" - I'm always fascinated when SNL does sketches that are pretty specific to New York, like this week's piece about the insanely popular Broadway play starring horse puppets. I did like that the sketch goofed on the idea of an incredibly emotional story being told with puppets, and it was fun to watch the cast be silly. Too long and far from perfect, but I really can't complain. The good time being had by everyone was infectious.
- "Tebow" - Want proof of just how strong this episode was? In another week, this would have been the lead-off sketch; here, it's the 11:55 sketch. I can't say I laughed all that much, but I still really liked this sketch if for no other reason than because it was finally saying what the news media has failed to mention during all their coverage of quarterback Tim Tebow -- he needs to cool it on the Jesus talk, and we need to cool it on the him/Jesus talk. It's just football. (Watch the "Tebow" video)
- Original Air Date: 12/17/11
- Host: Jimmy Fallon
- Musical Guest: Michael Buble