This week's Saturday Night Live marked both its annual holiday episode and the final episode of the decade (depending on how you mark a decade). That was more pressure than this uneven, repeat-heavy episode could live up to, but it wasn't a total wash. James Franco returned to host for the second time in two seasons, and this show was clearly better than his episode last season. It may not have been the strongest way to close out the year, but these days we take Saturday Night laughs where we can Saturday Night get them.
- "Cold Open: Lawrence Welk" - Well, it's not a political sketch, but it is the same "Lawrence Welk" sketch that SNL has been doing for two seasons. The first time it was novel and funny, the second it was a reminder of the first. Now, it's just predictable. It's still better than when the show repeats a sketch that was terrible to begin with (I'm looking at you, Gilly), but I wish the show would at least find ways to tweak sketches when they repeat them. (Watch "Cold Open: Lawrence Welk" video)
- "James Franco Monologue" - What an odd guy James Franco is. His monologue, built around "idea cards," went nowhere, but he seemed to be having a great time. While I don't think he's the best host the show has had, I fully understand why the cast would want him back as often as possible; he brings an offbeat sensibility and goofy humor that are missed with hosts like Taylor Lautner. (Watch "James Franco Monologue" video)
- "Kissing Family" - This sketch was done when Paul Rudd hosted last season, and it's pretty much the same this week: a bit predicated on inappropriate kissing, usually between two male family members. I admire the cast's commitment, and got the feeling that the Hader/Franco kiss went on longer than rehearsed, thanks to Hader. (Watch "Kissing Family" video)
- "What Up With That?" - I was on board with "What Up with That?" when it first showed up earlier this season, but this is already the third or fourth time it's been repeated and the season isn't even half over. That's pretty bad. Not even cameos from Mike Tyson and Jack McBrayer could save this. It's already tired. It needs to go away for a while. (Watch "What Up With That?)
- "Digital Short: Tizzle Wizzle Show" - Probably the best piece of the night, this kids-show-turned-slumber-party-turned-bloodbath took some surprising turns. It still seemed to be missing something, but it was dark and goofy and funny.
- "Weekend Update: Snookie" - I don't watch Jersey Shore, because I have dignity and self-respect. But like a lot of their recent reality TV star pieces, this had nothing to say other than that this person being impersonated is awful. And we all knew that already. (Watch "Weekend Update: Snookie" video)
- "Weekend Update: Garth and Kat" - I give Kristen Wiig a lot of guff (that's right, GUFF!) for her lazy, mugging characters, but every once in a while she does something that really makes me laugh. This "Update" spot, featuring a musical duo making songs up on the spot, was great: either Wiig was really copying what Armisen was improvising or she's really good at making it look like she is. Expect this pair to be back in the next month or so and to quickly wear out their welcome by the end of the season, as SNL can't leave a good thing alone. (Watch "Weekend Update: Garth and Kat" video)
- "Fraternity" - Here's a sketch that showed tons of promise that, while not totally delivered on, still made for a nice surprise. As I began to realize where it was going -- that these frat guys were illiterate and stupid -- I quickly steeled myself for disappointment; I knew the joke would either be called out too much or that it would go nowhere. While it ended up more the latter than the former, it still had a few funny moments. Plus, it was one of the few original sketches in a sea of repeats. Credit where credit is due. (Watch "Fraternity" video)
- "Christmas Tree Lot" - A one-joke sketch -- a guy selling Christmas trees is very sentimental about his job -- got boosted by the way host James Franco sold it. The fact that this is one of the only times I'm calling out Franco's participation means he didn't really register as a host much, even though he was affable and goofy and seemed to have a great time. Plus, it was one more original sketch for the week. (Watch "Christmas Tree Lot" video)
- "Vincent Price Christmas" - What's this? Another repeat sketch, you say? I never totally dislike this sketch, because the old-school celebrity impressions are amusing and it's big on '60s kitsch. James Franco got to reprise his James Dean role and Katherine Hepburn got rabies. Fred Armisen's Liberace was a lot like his Paul Lynde, wasn't it? (Watch "Vincent Price Christmas" video")
- "Jerry, Carl & Troy" - Another late-episode sketch from the "fartface" school of writing, in which the repetition of a single inappropriate word is meant to make us laugh. This week it was dildo! We've come so far as a society! Now we can say "dildo" over and over and have a big laugh. I guess we're all done here! Let's give the Statue of Liberty to the giant monkeys and call it a day.
- "Mark Wahlberg Talks to Christmas Animals" - Like just about every other sketch on this week's show, this is the exact same sketch as it's been in the past. It's still funny, mostly because I kind of love Andy Samberg's Mark Wahlberg impression -- he cracked a seemingly impossible case. Asking the partridge where his pear tree was made me laugh. Still, no punchline and no twist and no invention. We're supposed to be happy just to see something familiar, I guess. In that case, I'll be this week's show made a lot of people happy.
- Original Air Date: 12/19/09
- Host: James Franco
- Musical Guest: Muse