Christmas came early to Studio 8H in this weekend's new episode of Saturday Night Live, with host Scarlett Johansson and musical guest Niall Horan. There were six or seven Christmas-centric sketches, despite the fact that there's still one more new episode before the holiday. This is either because everyone assumes next week's Eddie Murphy-hosted episode won't lean on holiday sketches so much (he certainly has plenty of old characters he could bring back), or because the holidays are the kind of low-hanging fruit that often produces great SNL content (see: Matt Damon's episode last year). Also notable: after overdosing on them the previous two weeks, there were no celebrity guest stars this week. It had all the makings of a great episode... but it didn't quite get there.
Despite Johansson's comfort at hosting (this was her sixth time), this was one of the less memorable episodes of the season. Johansson is a very good recurring host—she fits seamlessly into the cast—and I was overjoyed that there was no Trump/Baldwin sketch and the cold open was an attempt at doing something slightly different, but a lot of things fell flat. Of course, there were still a few highlights, which you can watch below.
I would argue that Cecily Strong is as important to this current iteration of SNL as Kenan Thompson at this point; she's a "glue guy" who nails just about every impression or character she tries, and always adds something to a sketch, even when she isn't featured. But she took centerstage for my favorite bit of the night, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, in which a young girl is witness to her parents' kinky sex life.
A few years ago, Lorne Michaels made a deal for integrated branded content in sketches, ostensibly to cut down on ad time. So anytime you see a sketch that happens to take place at an Applebees or suddenly plugs Verizon at the end, that's because SNL was paid to do that. It's really been blatant and noticeable this season, where there seems to be a few of these sketches every week. Often it's kinda gross, but sometimes the writers get really clever about how they deal with it (see: the unhinged New Paint sketch from Kristen Stewart's episode). Children’s Clothing Ad, about the reality of how children deal with holiday clothes, is another example of making the best of this arrangement.
Ever get the feeling that Kellyanne Conway and George Conway's relationship is some sort of psychosexual exhibitionism? SNL does too: that's the premise of A Conway Marriage Story.
The cliches and peculiarities of Hallmark holiday movies get deconstructed in Hallmark Dating Show.
If it's not clear by now, I am a sucker for any live sketches featuring animals—and thankfully, someone at SNL decided that one sketch every episode this season would feature an animal. Another Translator brought back Johansson's scientist from her 2017 episode, who was shocked to learn that her dog is a Trump supporter. This time, the dog is spouting GOP talking points about the futility of impeachment.
Office Apology wasn't the best sketch ever, but sometimes all you really want is to watch Thompson be silly.
Check out the rest of the this week's sketches: three different families around the country talked about impeachment and politics during the holidays in the lukewarm American Households Cold Open; Johansson something something Avengers something something Pete Davidson's only appearance this week something something "Colin Jost is the love of my life" Monologue; it isn't really a Christmas episode of SNL until there are Singing Elves; the ghosts of some dead hookers haunt a hot tub (and sing a pleasant song) in Hot Tub Christmas; and Celebrity Sighting, about the couple from choking posters, was SOCLOSE to being great.
On Weekend Update, we got two excellent guests: Bowen Yang brought back Chinese trade representative Chen Biao to explain tariffs (it's "like a tax, but a little bit bitchy"), and Kyle Mooney, bless him, played a horrifying-looking and hilariously egotistical Baby Yoda, and I pray he comes back to the show soon.
Niall Horan performed "Nice To Meet Ya" (which sounded like a strange, generic mashup of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Hello I Love You" and that Jonas Brothers song "Sucker"), and "Put A Little Love On Me."
Next week is the big one folks: the one and only Eddie Murphy, whose film Dolemite Is My Name is now on Netflix, will host with musical guest Lizzo. Murphy, who became a star as a cast member on the show from 1980-1984 (he also hosted twice during this period), famously hasn't returned to Studio 8H since then to host, and I can't wait to see what he does.