If you were coming into tonight’s SNL, the first hosted by Jimmy Fallon since his departure in 2004 (crazy!), and not expecting a serious trip down memory lane, well, you were fooling yourself. It was a pretty fun, raucous episode, with surprise guests including Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Horatio Sanz, Tracy Morgan, Chris Kattan and Jude Law (that last one was kinda out of nowhere), and a lot of callbacks to Fallon’s well-known bits (although no Barry Gibb talk show, which usually gets done on Timberlake’s episodes these days).
I never thought that much of Fallon when he was on SNL but he’s won me over in recent years with his infectious energy on Late Night, which just overwhelms whatever you might find annoying about him. He’s always had that quality, but it jarred when he was a member of the SNL ensemble, since it always felt that he was unwittingly trying to overshadow proceedings. However, that’s the perfect quality for an SNL host to have, and the best sketches tonight were the ones that had that “I’m so thrilled to be here!” vibe.
When he picked up a guitar five seconds into his monologue, I was worried, but his song and dance through the halls of 30 Rock (reminiscent of his opening bit at the 2010 Emmys) was great fun and proved that Michael Bublé, here wiping coke from his nose, is the easiest musical guest to lampoon on this show. It’s that squeaky-clean vibe and his willingness to poke away at it. By the time everyone was dancing on stage at the end, you just had the feeling of the entire ensemble actually having unscripted fun, which isn’t something the show usually conveys. That mood basically kept going for the rest of the episode, all the way to the adorable closing credits with everyone on the Rockefeller Center skating rink.
That mood kept me going even through sketches I usually don’t care for, like Today with Kathy Lee and Hoda (where Nasim Pedrad has never been an adequate substitute for Michaela Watkins) or the “don’t make me sing” lady. These sketches weren’t any different really, except for including Jimmy doing a (pretty good) Regis impression or a (pretty bad) “don’t make me dance” character, but I didn’t have that fear that the whole show was going to drag. Even though it did in the middle a little bit.
Plus, Fallon definitely elevated some of the material. We had our usual “some guys do a bunch of impressions so we have to write one less sketch!” sketch, this time Christmas duets with Michael Bublé. But wheras usually these things quickly scrape the bottom of the barrel, with the guest host shoved in somewhere near the end wearing a dumb costume, Fallon was game for three or four impressions including a spot-on Russell Brand that nailed not only his accent but his weird ways of constructing sentences. Pedrad was probably the highlight as M.I.A., though.
I have less to say about all of the returning Fallon bits, except that I was pleasantly surprised by what made it. There was no Barry Gibb, no Jarret’s Room. The only really obvious one that made it were the Boston Teens, now aged 20-something and worshipped by high school students (i.e. the new cast) for their daring exploits. But then you had a re-run of that Mick Jagger in the mirror sketch from like ten years ago (a very funny one, if you can find it online) except this time Andy Samberg was doing Fallon. The joke, at least to me, was how bad an impressionist Samberg is (at least until you ask him to do Kermit the Frog) but it was fun and energetic and sweet overall, like the rest of the show. Same goes for the return of Fallon, Kattan, Sanz and Morgan doing “I Wish It Was Christmas Today,” which was what it always is.
Finally, you had the return of Fey and Poehler to the Weekend Update desk for an “anchor-off” that predictably drove the audience wild but seemed to have been cooked up at the last possible second – I honestly wish it had gone on a little longer, so fun was it to see Meyers reunited with Poehler (always his better half) and Fey with Fallon. Weekend Update was pretty good in general, though, with the return of Samberg’s Nic Cage bit (and the arrival of rabbi/hobo Jude Law) giving rise to some wonderful linguistic derring-do from Samberg. My favorite being him describing his hairline as “like polarized metal filings at the mercy of their cruel mother magnet. All perched upon the face of a weathered possum king!”
Everything else fell into the “fine” range. I admired the Beethoven sketch for its scope (they had a lot of people onstage) and I never got bored of it, but it just repeated its formula over and over (at least Kattan and Sanz got something to do in there, or else Kattan would have traveled to the studio just to hold a keyboard onstage). The War Horse thing went on too long but worked for me, since I am totally sick of people describing how they saw a play with horse puppets that made them cry like babies. Even Tommy Palmese worked for me, maybe because it didn’t concentrate on Armisen’s character, so much as the upsetting, weird environment he was subjecting his playgoers to.
One of the reasons things felt fresh tonight is that half the cast barely got a look-in, since Fallon is versatile enough to actually take the lead in most sketches and he brought all his early-aught cast members along with him. No slight against the current ensemble, who I’ll be happy to have back in the New Year, but everything benefits from a shake-up once in a while, even if it’s a nostalgic one. It’s been a largely strong season for the show so far – not too many break-out characters or viral hits, but it’s still much more consistent than last year. Charles Barkley leads us off in 2012, which could go one of several ways. See you all then!
- “My mother lost her birth certificate in a sex fire.” “Do not make love next to a space heater if your lingerie is mostly rayon.”
- Fallon’s Hanukkah verse: “8 days of presents! That’s all that I know!”
- Nicolas Cage is surprised he wasn’t in Sherlock Holmes. “One, it exists, two, much like Sherlock Holmes, I am a high-society playboy who moonlights as a cyborg assassin!”
- Oh, the Tim Tebow sketch. That was alright, if a little obvious (Sudeikis makes a nice laid-back Jesus, though). It probably would have been higher up in the episode if they had found a better hook for the joke, though.