Welcome back to SNL in Review, dearest Coneheads! Tonight’s host Scarlett Johansson is eyeing dual Oscar nominations this year: her supporting turn in Jojo Rabbit has already earned her kudos from the Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice Awards. And her leading role in Netflix’s Marriage Story has many predicting she’ll finally be nominated for Best Actress.
Of course, speaking of marriage, you don’t have to be an astute SNL obsessive to know the well they’re going to this week. Johansson is engaged to Weekend Update’s own Colin Jost; as SNL Polls tweeted this week, tonight’s monologue could follow a pretty obvious pattern. Such is the insular, chummy, celebrity-focused orbit of modern SNL, folks. It’s maddening… but not entirely without precedent: hosts who married SNL cast alumni include Jamie Lee Curtis (Christopher Guest), Steve Carell (Nancy Walls) and — naturally — Julia Louis Dreyfus (Brad Hall).
Still, it’s not like Donna Dixon has ever hosted, right?
I am joined tonight by former SNL cast member, Jeff Richards. Jeff says: “If it wasn’t for SNL, I never would have met my ex-wife.”
Meanwhile, roughly a month after we were treated to former One Direction lothario Harry Styles’ comic and musical display, his ex-bandmate Niall Horan is gracing 8H as tonight’s musical guest. I can’t recall the last time two former members of a band separately performed on SNL within a month, let alone during the same season. (Remarkably, each the Beatles took long gaps between their individual performances on the show, etcetera.)
Jeff Richards was on hand for a number of performances featuring ex-group members going solo, including Justin Timberlake. One highlight stands out: “SNL is one of those places where you’re exposed to so many legendary musical acts. In the case of Mick Jagger, you’re both seeing him live, up close, but also without the rest of the Stoned — so it’s especially unique.” He adds: “They built the stage out specifically for his performance. I would have helped with the construction but I was on maternity leave.”
Let’s enter the Thunderdome! (Chad voice: “OK.”)
SNL kicks off with Aidy Bryant as a Rankin-Bass snowman, giving various glimpses into the average American family dinner scene. We see the upper class liberal white family (led by Cecily, hilarious), the MAGA family (featuring conservative dad Beck Bennett), then the black family in Atlanta (a scene-stealing Kenan commenting on Bad Boys 3, and dunking on Tom Brady). The laughs are initially slow but genuine. This is one of the best cold opens of the season. It’s got a real concept, and critique of American life. And Bryant’s eventual reveal — their votes don’t matter — is extra pointed and sharp.
“Is Martin Lawrence still Martin Lawrence?” asks Ego Nowdim at one point. Fair! Def Comedy Jam was a long time ago — I highly recommend rewatching his sets there, now available on Amazon.
It is wild this is ScarJo’s sixth appearance hosting the show. (She’s also made several cameos, and been impersonated by Miley Cyrus.) “[If] the show’s bad what will they do — fire my fiancé?” she jokes. This is at least the third reference to this season stinking — it’s fun when the show is self-aware, but are they hopeless as well?
Anyway, the premise itself is silly and pretty good. Aidy Bryant is back as ScarJo’s elf on a shelf — she changed costumes quite fast! Same with Kenan, who shows up as Nick Fury, a.k.a. Samuel L Jackson. Pete Davidson has taken Thanos’ glove and is making cast members vanish.
“Oh my God, Mikey!” “I think it was Alex.” “Same damn thing!” This is a playful and meta exchange with Nwodim and Chris Redd. And the digs at Pete’s disappearances are a smart way to wink back at the audience. Genuinely, SNL is on safe terrain when it acknowledges its backstage drama and the dialogues on Twitter — i.e. Bowen Yang saying you can’t cancel the first Asian American cast member. I personally could do without ScarJo taking a lovers’ victory lap with (a still stiff) Colin Jost, but whatever. We knew it was coming…
Jeff does a killer impression of ScarJo’s MCU costar, Robert Downey Jr. On the future of MCU, specifically the upcoming Black Widow and whether Iron Man will cameo, he says: “I’d like to see a dream sequence of [Tony Stark] in drag cooking breakfast for ScarJo.”
Singing Mall Elves
Kenan and ScarJo are the mall hair kiosk employees, who are filling in as a holiday singers. Beck Bennett and Heidi Gardner are parents.
“Merry Christmas to the children,” vamps Bowen Yang. His presence immediately injects much-needed energy into this song parody sketch. It is amusing seeing Bennett’s dad character admit to his Todrick Hall fandom. “This is the first time I’ve seen you happy,” remarks Heidi to Beck, glowing. This is slight and mostly forgettable — but plenty of fun nuggets.
Macy’s Commercial Parody
This is a hilarious take on how uncomfortable holiday clothes are for children, cute but too hot sweaters. The tagline? “The clothes you hate will create the memories you’ll love!” The kids’ reactions are great, as are the descriptions of the merchandise. “Daddy’s a dumbass,” says Mikey Day, frustrated putting on his daughter’s snow boots. (His marriage to Heidi is strained as a result of their in-fighting over the clothing.) I can see this going viral — very sharp take, guys.
Sexual Harassment Charlie
Kenan Thompson’s Charlie is back! The premise is similar to the James Franco sketch. The host is being fired for inappropriate office party remarks, roundly dissed by his colleagues. And “sweet old man” Charlie is beloved, despite being way more over the line in his comments. SNL seems to be tiptoeing back into recurring characters this season. Now, that is a double-edged sword. The show clearly overdosed for a time before going full in on the Trump #resist coverage. Now they are periodically bringing back one-off premises like back cover songs, or shot-for-shot remakes.
Ideally, these characters should drive new and funny sketch ideas, right?
Marriage Story spoof with George and Kellyanne Conway
“Where is your blue check George?” hollers Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne in this amusing spoof of one of the country’s strangest (and most depressing?) marriages. It also is a cute infomercial for the recently released Marriage Story — I am assuming not many in the SNL audience have caught it on Netflix yet. Beck Bennett’s George lampoons Adam Driver’s histrionic fight moves now being circulated online.
Niall Horan first performance — “Nice to Meet Ya”
This is the lead single from Horan’s upcoming second studio album. Horan co-wrote this alluring, anthemic song with Ruth-Anne Cunningham (“Work Bitch”) in one day.
We are back into the Trump one-liners, which also includes Colin Jost making an Anthony Weiner joke in 2019. Che making Jost face-off against convicted rapist Bill Cosby is a savage, biting, and uncomfortable point.
So much Bowen Yang this episode! I love it. He’s back as the trade daddy correspondent. He’s energetic and has a great presence, vaguely Stefon vibes. We last saw this trade expert in early October, and it’s a welcomed return.
The next correspondent is none other than Kyle Mooney as Baby Yoda, straight from Disney+’ The Mandalorian. SNL has a long history with Star Wars — remember Bill Murray’s Nick the Lounge Singer launching into the John Williams theme song way back in 1978? Of course, you do! And, if I recall, Jimmy Fallon once sang about Yoda in May 1999, as The Phantom Menace hype was high.
“He’s already gay as hell,” says Che on concerns over boys watching Hallmark movies to huge applause!
Hot Tub Ghost Strippers
ScarJo and Cecily Strong show up as dead strippers in a Radisson Hotel hot tub, singing a song on their demise — which includes swimming on quaaludes — to Ego Nwodim and Chris Redd. Cecily leans in and gets cut off by the split-screen! Niall Horan shows up as well. The characters and song have a cheesy late ’70s vibe, which is an interesting choice. Their Christmas lesson before returning to Hell is almost heart-warming! Eh.
I know we’ve established the number of dogs this season. But it feels like a solid amount of song numbers too?
Hallmark Channel Matchmaking Show
Aidy is here as Emily Kringle in this game show spoof of those Hallmark movies that we’re all obsessed with. ScarJo plays Lauren, a Buffalo 10! Beck Bennett, Alex Moffat, and Kyle Mooney are the contestants, all tropes from the romcoms. Like with “Sexual Harassment Charlie,” I think the James Franco episode did this better.
A bit of trivia: Mikey Day shows up here to play Johannson’s dad, who advises her to marry Christmas. This week it was announced Day and SNL’s Streeter Seidell are working on Disney+’ Home Alone reboot. ScarJo got her start in Home Alone 3.
“Stay straight out there!” says Aidy, calling back Che’s “Update” diss.
“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” music video
Cecily is back singing! The joke? Mikey Day’s husband is a cuckold. He likes his wife (Johansson) hooking up with Santa (Bennett). Things get sordid, leaving Cecily’s innocent child tormented and scarred. It’s an effortless, dark performance from Cecily.
Niall Horan second performance — “Put a Little Love on Me”
This ballad is Horan’s latest release. It reportedly deals with his break-up with Hailee Steinfeld. Accompanied by a lovely violin, Horan’s heartfelt and crisp vocals carry the performance.
Choking Poster Models
ScarJo and Bowen Yang appear as the “Jay-Z and Beyonce of choking poster models.” Making Yang the showcase of so many of these sketches feels like a good choice — he’s part of the new guard, and comes off very present, not rehearsed. Even something relatively one-note works with him at the centerpiece.
Dogs are back! And more specifically: ScarJo’s Translator character from 2017 has returned. “He’s playing a game Democrats don’t even know the rules to,” says Beck Bennett’s hyperverbal dog Max. He is a Trump leaning, allowing this show to comment again on their ambivalence about impeachment and the Democratic primary. This political satire approach is much-preferred to Baldwin’s Trump… but interesting they remade yet another premise.
If you listen closely on the fade-out, you hearing the Tulsi Gabbard-supporting piglet squeal! Live TV, folks.
-As mentioned, the feisty and playful cold open immediately started this episode off on a good note. And the monologue possessed the right level of silly palace intrigue and meta-commentary to make the proceedings have a genuine throwback vibe. Even when there were eventually lulls, two of the recent show’s low points were already strong — add in some amazing Bowen Yang moments and we have a strong show!
-During the goodnights, you see the host (ScarJo) embrace and kiss the Weekend Update anchor (Jost.) Kind of surreal — what a precedent.
-Tonight’s show was cameo-free, which was entirely refreshing. It is good for the show to be self-contained, Obie Trice no gimmicks.
-What did you think of tonight? Comment below, or vote here!
-Thanks to Jeff Richards for his contributions tonight! Follow him on Instagram, @TheJeffRichards.