With awards season looming, host Saoirse Ronan was riding a lot of buzz coming into this week's “Saturday Night Live.” Her new movie, “Lady Bird,” is currently touting the honor of being the most well-reviewed film on Rotten Tomatoes, maintaining a score of 100 percent with 185 reviews. So she's got chops. The stage was set for a great night of “SNL,” but could she deliver?
The short answer is a strong yes. This was the season's best show by a mile. The weakest sketch on the night was still entertaining and full of laughs, and that's certainly not usually the case. Ronan was all charm throughout, and clearly the cast had a lot of fun with her. She brought great energy, a lot of humor and a killer American accent with her. If only every week could rise to this standard!
As usual, we're ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Cold Open and the regular “Weekend Update” segments. We'll skip the musical guests, because they're not usually funny -- unless Ashlee Simpson shows up. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week. Also, we're still paying attention to see if the new kids are getting any screen time. “SNL” added Heidi Gardner, Luke Null, and Chris Redd as featured players this season.
This parody of MTV's newest “Shore” series, "Floribama Shore," added the “fun” twist of having filmed it during the hurricane, but it sounded funnier probably in the writers room than in execution. Chris Redd was the only voice of reason on the whole sketch, who spent the bit trying to leave. The climax got a little more gory than anticipated, but it was just inane silliness throughout. Huh, maybe it was too good a copy of the original!
MONOLOGUE - Saoirse Ronan
Saoirse Ronan was doing God's work with this monologue, which was introducing to her to a new audience via the “SNL” fanbase, by simply making it about how to pronounce her first name. She got some help from Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Aidy Bryant and Beck Bennett in this one, presenting a silly song to help us out. Ronan charmed her way through it, leaving us smiling at the end … and more importantly, confident that we can pronounce Saoirse. Maybe. What was that tune again?
Cecily Strong and others in the cast got to pit their Irish accent against Saoirse Ronan's natural one in this flight attendant sketch set aboard AerLingus. The sketch was utter ridiculousness, filled to the brim with Irish stereotypes. Ronan probably offered a lot of help with the premise and the details, and the cast charmed their way through the idiocy. Silly but still it left us with a smile.
American Girl Explosion
Fun with dangerous stereotypes was the theme of this sketch, with Mikey Day as a man who buys American Girl dolls. It was framed around a local news story about a mall explosion at the American Girl store, but all eyes were on Day and the doll he clearly bought for himself. Each new update only added to his obsessive ridiculousness, but everyone stayed perfectly in character throughout … and way more interested in the weirdo obsessed with this doll than about the actual explosion and that's what helped sell the sketch.
Chad (Pete Davidson) shows up at an auction for a tennis club, stretching beyond “okay” to spotlight some amazing skills like a Jim Carrey's Grinch impression and a dance he dubbed the “doink doink.” The ladies were beside themselves over this under-achiever, pushing their bids close to a million dollars, until Kenan Thompson showed up and took it into creepsville. For the top bidder, the actual John McEnroe offered an amazing weekend experience, but there was no bidding. He completely lost his crap that Chad got more attention from the ladies, giving us some classic McEnroe rage.
COLD OPEN - White House Christmas Party
After a few weeks away, Alec Baldwin returned with a holiday-themed Trump visit to the White House. The “A Christmas Carol” parody featured a quick-change for Kate McKinnon, who appeared as both Kellyanne Conway at the beginning of the sketch, and then Hillary Clinton at the end to usher in Trump's future, where she could shout “Lock him up!” Highlights included him asking Beck Bennett's delightfully smarmy Vladimir Putin if he was cool, and Melania describing her hellish decorations for the Christmas party … blood in the elevator? We are so there!
Welcome to Hell was the latest song by the girls of “SNL,” with Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong and Saoirse Ronan and it served as a send-up of the ongoing harassment scandal hitting Hollywood, the media and Washington. But mostly it was a sobering reminder that this is nothing new. What we're learning about now openly is the reality women have been facing for as far back as anyone can remember. This isn't the world new, as Strong said, “This been the damn world!” Bright and cheery like bubble gum pop visually, but with a message that was pointed and bleak and all too real, this was social satire at its strongest. It wasn't particularly funny, but only because they were so right and it's sad.
This pre-taped sketch was surreal genius. We're not sure why we loved it so much, but this painstakingly real love letter to '80s pastiche office dramas was just perfect in every way. From the training montage to the whole feud being about quickness in the office, nothing about this made any sense. Throw in a cute alien and a helpful ghost, and almost every excess of that decade in film was represented. “SNL' should take a week off more often, as they are really recharged here, and the pre-taped sketches are stronger than ever with a little more lead time to polish them.
Luke Null took center stage for the first time in his “SNL” career as an obnoxious teenager. It was already pretty funny because of his behavior, though nothing new, but it took a turn into fantastic when teacher Kenan Thompson put a stop to his shenanigans to reveal that this was his first day at the school, he didn't know any of the people he'd harassed, and then things just kept getting worse and worse as they responded one by one. Null did a great job of changing tacts completely to subdued and morose.
Colin Jost went for broke with the opening bit, wrapping Trump, Flynn, Fox News and sexual harassment all into one joke. That's packing them in. “I knew Trump was going to run the country like a business, I just didn't know he was going to run it like one of his businesses,” Jost said later in reference to the tax bill. Kate McKinnon showed up as British Prime Minister Theresa May, playing the British stiffness to perfection.
Leslie Jones and Mikey Day returned again as the Duncans, the couple who keep things spicy in the bedroom. Leslie plays it so innocent, while Mikey details serious injuries he endured during their trysts, including terrifying pictures of some of their positions. Continuing a strong "Update" streak, this segment had laughs with every bit and guest.
This is how you build a simple, but effective sketch. Mikey Day working the returns desk is the easiest way to line up the cast and let them do ridiculous characters. Almost everyone made an appearance in this one, to give perfect send-ups of what people in retail really see, including Cecily Strong going Facebook Live to demand her rights, Kyle Mooney upset that Magnum condoms are just too small, and a brilliant couples return. Saoirse Ronan came up to return some cologne she bought for her man (Chris Redd) and replace them with tampons, because he's “a bitch on the rag.” “I'm leaving, don't follow me,” she told him, followed by, “Are you coming?” This kind of sketch can't drag on too long.
Kudos to Luke Null for taking center stage and getting a chance to showcase his acting chops in a sketch all his own. He channeled a bit of Bobby Moynihan's bad boy charm in one of the night's strongest sketches. But on a night of greatness, how do you decide the best?
McKinnon turned in another strong week, but we're going to give it to Mikey Day, for a solid night of playing mostly straight. It's not as easy as it looks, but his stolid presence was why sketches like the auction and K-Mart returns worked so well. Then, he shifted gears to play an innocently creepy American Doll collector and Leslie Jones' poor tormented husband on "Weekend Update." He's starting to remind us of a modern-day Phil Hartman; that solid performer who can often be overlooked because they're never over-the-top, just calmly hilarious.
The best Christmas present this show could give is a couple of cast-member promotions. Mikey Day and Alex Moffat have really grown into two of this season's strongest voices, and rock-solid performers in live sketches and pre-taped bits alike, also creating a brilliant pairing as the Trump boys. These guys have more than earned repertory status at this point.
“Saturday Night Live” returns next week with host James Franco and musical guest SZA, airing live coast-to-coast at 11:35 p.m ET/8:35 p.m. PT.