We fully expect an onslaught when Eddie Murphy returns next week (with Lizzo) before the holiday break. But for now, musical guest Niall Horan was the only person other than the host and cast to appear in a sketch, and he was pretty funny as a skeazy, dead strip club owner.
Scarlett was clearly comfortable with this entire cast, considering she's engaged to Colin Jost and probably around a lot, and it showed throughout the night as she brought plenty of laughs and featured in sketches starring virtually all of them multiple times.
And props to the host for going in a completely unexpected direction with her monologue, creating one of the most memorable opening bits in recent memory. Even better, it pulls back the veil of sketches and characters a bit to let the cast breathe as people and performers, which is so important to do from time to time.
"SNL" works when we connect with the players and not just their characters. We need to think that Kenan Thompson is funny -- and we do -- before we'll buy into all of his ridiculous characters. And liking him makes us like his weaker efforts just a bit more, too.
While there were still a couple of duds, and Scarlett relied a bit heavily on cue cards in a few sketches, this was easily one of the strongest weeks of the season. It's as if removing all the distractions of countless guest stars let everyone focus on the cast, the host and making great material.
As usual, we're ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Monologue, Cold Open, "Weekend Update" and any sketches that were cut for time but made their way online. 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.
When regular mall workers sign up as singing elves, you really need to vet their musical content. Kenan Thompson and Scarlett Johansson carried this silly skit with their full commitment to the ridiculously sexual lyrics in their highly inappropriate original Christmas carols, written by Bowen Yang in a delightful cameo. Bonus props for balancing it out with Beck Bennett and Heidi Gardner as parents watching the horror show with very different reactions. That added layer salvaged what would have otherwise been an underwhelming sketch.
Pet Mind Reading
There was on real reason for this to turn into a political sketch, but it went there anyway. And then it retread familiar ground about how the impeachment won't matter, how history doesn't care, only this time Scarlett Johansson's dog was the Fox News mouthpiece while everyone else seemed to be speaking for the left. Honestly, the best part was when the dog got personal, talking about Scarlett eating a pizza crust from the trash. Sometimes it's okay to skip politics and maybe just go with all the things a dog sees in our homes. Plus, can we stop with getting female dogs to play males. Either use a female voice or get the right gendered dog! Soap box over.
Hot Tub Christmas
Uh, okay. Clearly, this was Cecily Strong's baby, coming up with a stupid song about two strippers and their strip club owner having drowned in a hot tub at Christmas-time. Scarlett Johannson and Niall Horan joined as two other ghosts to share the song with Chris Redd and Ego Nwodim, who'd snuck into the hotel hot tub on Christmas Eve. And it was ... fine, we guess. But that's all it was. Not funny, not bad, per se. Just there. Even the story wasn't outrageous enough to be funny.
Scarlett Johansson, out on a dinner date with Bowen Yang, hates getting recognized for their iconic work on the "Choking" poster. We weren't sure if they were going to have the couple crazy for thinking they had fans, or if the fans would be real, but Kate McKinnon played up her thrill in seeing the so beautifully, it was definitely the right choice for it to be real. It didn't end particularly strong, but the image of the kitchen staffs at all the nearby restaurants closing in on them was classic horror and beautifully done.
Holiday Party Apology
We've seen this bit before, with Kenan Thompson delightfully daft as an off-color security guard named Charlie that no one wants to see fired, no matter how horrible he was at the holiday party, and another person (this time Scarlett Johansson as a VP) they want raked over the coals, even though Charlie's actions were just as bad, if not worse. This one rides entirely on Kenan's delivery and charm, as well as the different reactions he and Scarlett get from their assembled co-workers. It's nothing sharp or brilliant, nor is it even something you'll remember much once the commercials roll, but it was a charming enough diversion and fun while it lasted..
Conway Marriage Story
How did it take so long for "SNL" to weigh in on the starkly different views of White House counsel Kellyanne Conway and her husband George. Seriously, this is comedy being written almost daily by two real people. Kate McKinnon and Beck Bennett went all out as the star-crossed lovers who seem to hate each other publicly, but something clearly works and this posits that it is that very friction that drives them to fits of passion. Kate and Beck absolutely nailed their passive-aggressive-tinged passion in a hilarious piece that should have been done years ago.
Hallmark Matchmaking Show
Did the writers of this have to watch a thousand Hallmark Christmas movies to so perfectly send up their tropes and stereotypes and empty expectations. We loved the playful language and the ridiculous expectations twisted into the dating show format, perfectly captured by ghost guy, vague European prince guy, and clearly Santa guy. And don't worry, if you've never seen a Hallmark Christmas movie, yes you have.
Colin Jost and Michael Che came out on fire this week with their funniest political commentary of the season. In particular, when Che went in on Democrats for not simply cheating to win, it was brilliant. Then, he compared Jost to Bill Cosby in a split-screen, no less, and we were dying. The chemistry between these two has reached that magical place where they can just be funny because they're together.
Bowen Yang dropped by as the Chinese trade ambassador again, but this character has so much backstory to explain even what he is and what he does and how it impacts America and Trump, a lot of the humor gets lost in the explanation. Bowen is a talented addition to the cast, and this would be a lot funnier if it wasn't an information dump every time. We get he kind of has to, but we'd take that to mean the character might be too convoluted for mass consumption.
The boys went in on iHop being "way too formal," Weinstein's settlement, while Che tried to calm One Million Moms by telling them if a kid is watching that same-sex kiss commercial on the Hallmark Channel, "he already gay as well." He's watching the Hallmark Channel! That said, the network pulled the ad after the complaint, so clearly this is a statement about why that was completely unnecessary.
Wardrobe and makeup tried, but Kyle Mooney as Baby Yoda was just terrifying to look at. And then he started talking -- yes talking -- and it got even more disturbing. It was kind of like a Baby Herman situation from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" (go watch it if you don't know). Or maybe it's just that he's 50 years old. The bottom line, the only funny thing was when he started talking his Hollywood beefs with people like Baby Groot. Let's just say it was a good thing Che and Jost were on fire this week, because the guests were both huge whiffs.
Cecily Strong got another song, and this one worked much better, basically taking the basic premise of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" to its logical adult-oriented kink-lusion. The earnestness in her delivery, and performances by Scarlett Johansson and Mikey Day as Mom and Dad, with Beck Bennett as Craigslist Santa, really helped sell the kookiness of a strangely light and fun piece, even with such sordid subject matter. The go-go backup dancers helped keep things fun and bright, like a holiday variety show. Much stronger than the hot tub piece, it's odd it aired later in the night.
COLD OPEN: Impeachment Talk
First up, Aidy Bryant was absolutely adorable as our narrating Snowman a la "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, only she was presenting us three very different families discussing the impeachment. The big difference, though, is that while white families are arguing either side, the black family seems to get it in a more visceral way. "Oh you mean how Trump is definitely getting impeached and then definitely getting reelected?" Kenan Thompson asks. That does seem to be the timeline we're on. Then Aidy came back with a gut-punch that none of it matters, because three states get to decide everything in our elections. America, America, we did this to ourselves! We loved that the whole cast got involved -- Kate McKinnon slayed as Greta Thunberg -- in this and there were no guest stars, It just proves the talent is here and if given a chance, they can shine all together!
MONOLOGUE: Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett came out and hilariously ripped on fiance Colin Jost -- "What would we do without his paycheck?" -- as she touted her sixth hosting appearance. And you know, this monologue was absolutely bonkers. First, people started disappearing a la "Avengers: Infinity War," including some cultural commentary from Bowen Yang on his way out, only for it to be revealed Pete Davidson was behind it. Colin got a burn on her about not watching her own superhero flicks and the more it went on we loved the reckless abandon, anything can happen, loose silliness of it. Kenan Thompson and Pete's exchange about taking some time off was comedy gold. We love when the show gets a little self-aware from time to time, as our relationship with the cast is so much more than just their characters.
Macy's Winter Wardrobes
Finally, somebody gets the struggle. Thanks fake Macy's for acknowledging the fakeness in any advertising that includes kids not freaking miserable in their winter clothing. Images of the cast "wrestling with their little monsters" juxtaposed with Cecily Strong's upbeat narration really made this feel like an authentic -- and oh so real -- holiday ad. We'd respect this truth in advertising. In it's own ingenious way, it was stunningly hilarious and oddly touching as these fights are a part of what makes the season.
While this was a week that celebrated the entire cast, it was evident throughout the night that Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong, Beck Bennett and Kenan Thompson were taking much of the spotlight. Perhaps Scarlett is just comfortable playing off of them.
Aidy, though, largely played supporting roles, while Kenan and Cecily were great but not nearly as prolific as our winner this week. Beck Bennett absolutely dominated throughout this episode, showing his versatility and talents.
He portrayed Craigslist Santa with such gusto, went all in as a conservative father talking politics in the cold open, played it straight several times (disinterested bartender, firing boss) and really stole the show as George Conway opposite Kate McKinnon's brilliant Kellyanne.
Beck was a workhorse this week, appearing in almost every sketch, and never giving less than his full effort. By this point in his "SNL" career, he can be funny with just a facial expression, a random utterance or simply by the posture of his body.
"Saturday Night Live" returns next week with host Eddie Murphy and musical guest Lizzo.