And so, we come to the end of arguably the strongest half season of Saturday Night Live in at least three years. Amy Adams was the host and One Direction was the musical guest on last night's Christmas-themed episode, but as has been tradition in recent seasons, there were plenty of returning faces and cameos, including Dr. Evil, Kristen Wiig, and Fred Armisen. It may not have been quite as great as last week's Martin Freeman episode, but this was another consistently solid SNL with a few masterful surreal sketches.
Best Sketch Of The Night: Although Christmas Serial is a definite candidate (more on that soon), the home run of the episode was A Magical Christmas, a surreal tale of three, um, ladies who just want to yum yum some garbage. It's weird as hell—why is everyone talking like rat-a-tat 1940s caricatures?—but every twist and performance works (especially the ladies, Adams, Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon). This was unquestionably one of the best sketches of the season. Just go watch it right now.
Most Welcome Mike Myers Appearance In Over A Decade: In the wake of bomb that was The Love Guru, Mike Myers has been virtually MIA from public life (give or take a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Inglorious Basterds cameo). He hasn't appeared on SNL in years, and we haven't really missed him (not the way we miss some of his contemporaries, like Phil Hartman or Chris Farley). The idea of him bringing back one of his overused makeup-enhanced characters doesn't sound very promising on paper. But! Dr. Evil turned out to be the perfect vessel for a North Korea/Sony hack Cold Open. This felt exactly like the kind of surprise cameo we look forward to every once in awhile from SNL. And he even made a solid Love Guru joke!
Best Returning Cast Member Whose Name Is Not Dr. Evil: Besides the surprise Myers cameo, we also had plenty of Wiig and Armisen throughout the episode. Both have been very regular guests on the show in the last two seasons since leaving, so it didn't feel that special or unique. But both are great at what they do: Garth & Kat did their thing on Weekend Update, Armisen had a great Castro impression in A Very Cuban Christmas, and Wiig...certainly took over the monologue from Amy Adams, for better or worse.
Most Christmas-y Sketch Of The Night: Six of the ten non-Weekend Update segments on the show were expressly Christmas-themed, so let's rank 'em!
1. A Magical Christmas: Yum yum garbage!
2. Serial: The Christmas Surprise: See below.
3. Office Christmas Party: Huh. Jay Pharaoh and Pete Davidson get together for a musical number about holiday office parties and end up with Lonely Island 2.0, essentially. Very solid, if also completely in the shadow of Andy Samberg's team.
4. Tenderfield Christmas 2014: It's not online, but Kate McKinnon stole this one as the dead-eyed sister.
5. A Very Cuban Christmas: This was the only impression-off of the night, and a particularly odd one: the premise was incredibly topical, but the actual impressions were oddly scattered, from Tony Montoya to Elian Gonzalez to Pitbull to...Hurley from Lost.
6. Monologue: See above.
Most Polarizing Cultural Reference Of The Night: I have not yet listened to Serial, but it was clear that this was an exquisite, exact parody of the podcast phenomenon. A sketch like this obviously will be better or worse depending on how familiar you are with the original, but it should still be pretty good even for laypeople—and in that sense, this was a definite success. So I can only imagine how much superfans loved this sketch, and I look forward to revisiting it once I hunker down and better get to know Mail Kimp.
The Honorary Really? What The Hell Is Going On With Weekend Update? Award: So the one overall weak spot over the course of this season of SNL has been the rollercoaster ride that is Weekend Update. The Colin Jost/Michael Che team has had moments when it seemed like they were going to breakout with some amazing stuff, but sadly, it seems like their personalities have more often than not been sandpapered down by the stilted format of the segment. Thankfully, things were on the upswing this week, with some great Che asides about North Korea, a particularly cutting Cosby joke from Jost, and the always welcome (if brief) appearance of Bobby Moynihan's Kim Jong-Un.
The Memorial Justin Bieber Dear God Don't Let The Tween Stars In The Sketches Exhortation: Lil Aidy Bryant was wonderful as even with the return of Girlfriends Talk Show, and Cecily Strong had one of her best episodes of the season, but the pacing of the sketch was completely derailed by the presence of the boys from One Direction. Some boy bands just aren't ready for the SNL spotlight, bad dancing and all.
And that's it for 2014! SNL returns on January 16th with host Kevin Hart (they haven't announced the musical guest yet). If we're lucky, we'll get a sequel to the best sketch from his last episode, Z-Shirts.