SNL S38E10 Recap: Martin Short & Paul McCartney Holiday Episode

Christmas episodes of Saturday Night Live usually sell themselves. You bring in a host with a lot of charisma who can convey the holiday spirit, a big name musical guest that can lend the show a gimmick either by selling himself or by doing some Christmas music (see Jimmy Fallon with Michael Buble last year), you throw the Christmas theme over certain sketches and there's your show. That's pretty much what happened this week with Martin Short and Paul McCartney , but the show faced an additional problem that no one could have predicted.

By now I'm sure you all know about Friday's massacre in Connecticut, and this isn't the place to discuss that. Neither is SNL, and while Lorne Michaels and the writers certainly recognized that, they also knew they couldn't ignore it, so instead of a cold open, we got a choir of children singing Silent Night. It was classy, it was somber and sad, and a good way to acknowledge what happened without having it hang over the show.

But as they say, the show must go on, and quite frankly, in times like these, shows like SNL are needed to make people laugh in times of sorrow. And laugh we did during this year's holiday episode. Martin Short may not be the big name he used to be, but his over the top cocky style still works and he's classically funny in a way that will probably never get old, much in the same way Steve Martin will never not be funny.

Add to that Paul McCartney. McCartney was never the best singer, and age certainly hasn't helped him in that regard. But that doesn't change the fact that when you see Paul McCartney, you inevitably realize that you're watching a fucking Beatle be alive and make music, which is awesome in an enough itself, good enough to carry any performance. Add him to a Nirvana reunion with Dave Grohl destroying on the drums and drowning out his vocals anyway? Even better. Throw in a Christmas song and you have a great show.

On top of that, many of the sketches were actually really funny, with a couple that were so off the wall and irreverent that you have to appreciate the effort-- and my one favorite recurring skit that they haven't used in a while.

The monologue began with, you guessed it, a song, but this was one of the cases where I'm perfectly okay with a little host singing. The song itself wasn't particularly memorable (a ditty about having sex at the holidays), but what was memorable were all the random people SNL had standing around backstage for Martin Short to kiss and hug. The exhaustive list includes: Paul Schaffer on piano (he used to work on the show before Letterman nabbed him, and it made for a couple of good digs at the late night host), Kristen Wiig hanging around backstage with her small arm from the Lawrence Welk sketches, Tina Fey drinking with Lorne Michaels, Jimmy Fallon and Tom Hanks dancing together, Samuel L. Jackson, and a llama that didn't appear in any sketches. That's enough for a monologue to be entertaining, and I always love it when the hosts venture backstage and meet up with Lorne.
Sketch Grade: B+

The post-monologue sketch made sense in its position but it was also sort of forgettable. The writers brought out Alec Baldwin for another run at the Tony Bennett show, with Short in tow as his brother. Jay Pharaoh busting out his Kanye West impression was naturally the best part, but otherwise it was a forgettable use of their impressions, especially considering the oddly short and relatively pointless skit. It almost felt like they had Baldwin and didn't know how else to use him without taking another stab at Schwetty Balls or whatever. The weakest part of an otherwise great night.
Sketch Grade: C-

The bad didn't last very long, as this was followed by a Kate Middleton pregnancy/OBGYN sketch. This could have easily gotten awkward considering the death of her nanny this past week, but they did a good job of making it zany and over the top by having Martin Short come out dressed as something out of a Monty Python skit and say ridiculous things until Bill Hader couldn't handle it anymore. Thankfully, Bill Hader can't handle ridiculous things for very long so it quickly degenerated into a laugh-fest about the royal vagina and protocol for the doctor addressing the royal bavbies, even moreso when Fred Armisen popped up onto a bed with his grungy impression of the Queen.
Sketch Grade: B+

"You're a Rat Bastard, Charlie Brown" was just the periodic excuse to get the cast to brush off their weirdest impressions, but I love it when they do that and it was particularly amazing because it was just a bunch of weird method actors playing peanuts characters. It went as follows: Bill Hader as Al Pacino's Glengarry Glen Ross character, as Charlie Brown, Jason Sudeikis as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kate McKinnon as Edie Falco, Martin Short with an amazing Larry David impression, Nassim Pedrad as Kristen Chenowith, Taran Killan as Michael Keaton, Kenan Thompson as Forrest Whitacker, and Fran Drescher doing the voices of the adults. As you can image, it was incredble.
Sketch Grade: A

It continued with a great Weekend Update. Meyers had some good jokes but the money was in the guests as usual. Vanessa Bayer came out as a young jewish boy reading an essay about Hannukah and making cheesy bar mitzvah-like jokes about it, and it was spectacular, especially when you thought that she was going to break but it was just her character reacting to her jokes. Vanessa Bayer and young Jewish boys is money. Then, Cecily Strong brought back her girl you wish you hadn't spoken to at a party character, and while I think they might be starting to use it too much, it hasn't hit diminishing returns yet and it was much better than her second try a few weeks ago, maybe thanks to more props and slurrier speech.
Sketch Grade: A-

After the break, we got What Up With That, and I couldn't have been happier. It's ridiculous, it's stupid, and it's always the same thing every time, but it's still amazing. I can't get enough of Kenan's Deandre Cole, Jason Sudeikis' dancing red track suit Vance dropping from higher and higher vantage points, Armisen's epic sax guy, Hader's Lindsey Buckingham, or anything else about the sketch. This week we also got Samuel L. Jackson clearly swearing as the first guest when Kenan missed his cues, Carrie Brownstein sitting cutely in the second seat while Kenan made a joke at her Portlandia co-star Fred Armisen, we got a breakdancing Tiny Tim, Martin Short singing, Dancing Santa, and Nassim Pedrad as Grinchina. It was especially great to see considering the recent news that Thompson has a sitcom in the works at NBC, so this might be one of the last times we see this. Screw you guys.
Sketch Grade: A+

The final two sketches of the night were, per usual, ridiculous. The first featured Armisen and Short as two weirdos catching up and informing themselves of the weird things that happen in their lives, under the backdrop of a weird store. It was weird, as you can probably guess, and then it just ended.
Sketch Grade: B-

The final sketch of the night was more an introduction to Paul McCartney's performance of "Wonderful Christmas Time". It featured Martin Short as a singing pageant contestant who just mercilessly and brutally yelled at his triangle-wielding partner who missed his cue, before he ran off and McCartney got to go back on stage. It was short and cute and a nice alternative to a normal introduction on a night where there were fewer than normal sketches, especially with no cold open.
Sketch Grade: B

Overall, it was exactly the kind of holiday show SNL needed, and the kind of show they pull off on a nearly basis. It was even more impressive this year with the backdrop of an insane tragedy the prior day. The final SNL episode of 2012 gets 9 breakdancing Tiny Tims out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:7

  • Cast member of the night: Well distributed tonight, but I gotta give it to Bill Hader for his Al Pacino impression and breaking during the Royal Vagina skit, not to mention his turn as a voiceless Lindsey Buckingham.
  • Almost as good as Sam Jackson swearing (what did you expect?) was Kenan's great reaction: "Come on now, that costs money!"
  • "How does a man sit on a piano I wonder?"
  • "Who don't you go fuck yourself Charlie Brown?"
  • "I'm out of egg nog? You're out of egg nog! This whole party's out of egg nog!"
  • Seth on how the Jersey Shore finale will end: It will be "A dream in the mind of a meatball with syphillis."
  • Seth on Donna Summer, Rush, and Public Enemy's Hall of Fame inductions: "'Who are those other two?' Said fans of any one of those."
  • "There are homeless people out there who can't even pay their mortgages."
  • "Can I do a minstrel show real quick?"
  • "Why can't secret Santa just be openly gay?"
  • Woman names her daughter born on 12/12/12 'Forever': "Which is how long I suspect she'll be a stripper."
  • See you all on January 19th: Jennifer Lawrence/The Lumineers.