Martin Freeman was host of last night's Saturday Night Live, with musical guest Charli XCX. And this is the kind of episode we have been waiting for since the Woody Harrelson showed up a few weeks ago—the cast has finally gelled, and with a game host who can tackle anything the writers throw at him with humble aplomb like Freeman, they really knock it out of the park. This was one of the two best episodes of the season, and by extension, of the last couple seasons.
We know there are plenty of commenters who will chime in that SNL stinks, it's painful to watch, why do we even bother reviewing it, sketch comedy not named Key & Peele is stupid (which, there is at least an argument there), and nothing has been funny since 1995, but we beg to differ: SNL is actually on a roll. Sure, there are plenty of dead sketches (hi Magic Bridge), dead episodes (sorry Chris Rock), and Weekend Update is a mess, but, everyone seems more confident and the writing has been noticeably sharper in recent weeks. So let's give out some awards.
Best Sketch Of The Night: This is completely unfair this week: mashing-up the original UK Office with The Hobbit, arguably Freeman's two most famous acting gigs, is so obvious, yet so perfect. All of the best moments from the beloved first season of The Office were wonderfully translated through the prism of Middle Earth. There was almost no way that Office Hobbit wasn't going to be a hilarious spoof, but Taran Killam's Gollum-by-way-of-Gareth took things to another level. But it's worth noting that there were at least four other sketches (Pine River Lodge, Sump’n Claus, Wedding, and Waterbed Warehouse) that could have been best sketches any other week.
The Memorial Woody Harrelson Excellence In Hosting Award: It can't be said enough: Freeman fit in freakishly well with the cast. He has exactly the right understated but versatile acting repertoire to fit in with the cast while also standing out. Whether it was his commitment to awkwardly dancing next to a widower in Right Side Of The Bed, channeling Lester Nygaard in Waterbed Warehouse, or rocking a weird wig in Pine River Lodge, he did everything right.
Most Surreal Sketch Of The Night: SNL didn't shy away from the weird this week, even though there were no (obvious) Kyle Mooney/Beck Bennett videos. But we have to give this one to Pine River Lodge. Freeman's hair is hilarious; Kenan Thompson seems to be scatting lyrics (guttural syllables?) that have nothing to do with the music; there's an eerie vibe throughout that is barely off-set by Thomspon's inane blathering; and Killam's incredibly silly appearance at the end gives the piece a real kicker. But nothing tops Thompson's increasingly bizarre pronunciation of the words "red boots." God bless red boots.
Please Let Kenan Thompson Sing Every Week Plea Of The Week: Thompson has always had something of a...broader, goofier vibe than many of the breakout SNL stars of yore. But he's the longest tenured member of the cast now, an anchor who can pull off a dominating Rev. Al Sharpton impression as easily as he can fill in bit parts in a sketch. A lot of people find his style too bug-eyed, which is understandable, but when channeled into the weirdest corners of his mind (see: What's Up With That?), it can produce some of the best recent SNL sketches. For some reason, singing seems to bring this out. So we were very glad we got two sketches in which he sang this week (Pine River Lodge and Sump'n Claus), which were two of the major highlights.
Best Pre-Recorded Segment Of The Night: There were three very strong pre-recorded videos this week, all of which were up to the strong standards of recent years: the aforementioned Pine River Lodge and Sump'n Claus, and also Christmas Mass Spectacular, which took the classic SNL "Underground Music Festival" sketch and gave it a new, sweaty-palmed spin.
How Many Sketches Did Kate McKinnon Steal Award: Three! She didn't get any sketches in which she was the main character, but it's a testament to how amazing McKinnon is that she stole numerous sketches tonight even when she only got a few lines. That included the ditzy organist in Christmas Mass Spectacular, her sublime and out-of-left-field Keith Urban impression in Right Side Of The Bed, and her elderly woman in Wedding.
The Lil Aidy Bryant Tour De Force Award: Like McKinnon, it seemed as though Bryant wasn't going to get much to do...until the final sketch of the night. Bryant took center stage for the 10-to-1 sketch, and she killed it as a woman who recently got a taste of fame and now wants to drown in a bucket of it.
Worst Sketch Of The Night: This is a misleading one, because there were no out-and-out bad, painful sketches tonight (another sign of how strong things have gotten). Okay, the Heinz Assembly Line wasn't good, a old timey Abbot & Costello-esque throwback that never quite lifted off, but it was no Magic Bridge. Right Side Of The Bed was a bit of a mess, but there were enough little hilarious things to make it worthwhile; and the cold open wasn't quite an engaging as recent weeks (picking settings like The Charlie Rose Show will do that), but it at least showed that Mooney and perennial scene-stealer Bobby Moynihan have great chemistry together.
Click through for all those plus a lot of Weekend Update (in short: Jost and Che took a step back after last week's excellent aberration; Cecily Strong seems to be going out of her way not to bring back That Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started A Conversation With At A Party; Sasheer Zamata has still not found her footing, or a good original character; but hey, at least Jacob The Bar Mitzvah boy was back!) and music from Charli XCX. Host Amy Adams and musical guest One Direction will be in the house for next week's end-of-year episode.