I always get a little worried when SNL announces a more “retro” host like Martin Short. Nothing against the guy, who I’ve loved since I was a kid, but such shows can get quickly bogged down in throwback sketches, digging up hoary old impressions and working them into whatever situation seems vaguely plausible. I’ll admit to thinking my worst fears were confirmed when Short climbed a piano played by Paul Schaffer and burst into song.
But I shouldn’t have worried. What Short excels at is being very, very silly, whether he’s doing an impression, one of his established characters, or a ridiculous bit part. With this episode airing right after the Connecticut shooting, what SNL really needed to be was silly, joyful fun, and Short’s energy was perfect for that (he began after an appropriately somber cold open that paid tribute to the Newtown victims).
Short was joined by a gaggle of old faves for his musical number, including Kristen Wiig’s first appearance on the show since her goodbye last summer, along with regular drop-ins (Tom Hanks), What Up With That guests (Samuel L. Jackson), and Tina Fey, who missed out on a kiss from Short that’s aimed right at Lorne Michaels. The cavalcade of surprise appearances didn’t stop there: Alec Baldwin, Carrie Brownstein, and the surviving members of Nirvana were yet to appear. They weren’t employed much in the actual sketches, which was a little disappointing, but things were consistent enough that it didn’t really matter.
With one exception: The first sketch after the monologue saw Baldwin busting out his Tony Bennett for a weirdly short, formless sketch that had Short as Bennett’s pathetic younger brother and Jay Pharoah doing a half-hearted Kanye West and grumpily participating in a cheap plug for laxatives. This one really felt like someone (could have even been Short) wanted to work Baldwin in at the last second, and these were the hastily thrown together results. I get why it was high in the airing order (you have a star doing one of his better-known impressions on your show, you don’t want to bury him) but this one needed to go back in the oven.
Things quickly got better with the Kate Middleton OB/GYN sketch, which saw Short in a ridiculous wig and makeup, doing a hammy English accent and trying his best to get Bill Hader to break as much as possible. (He largely succeeded.) This is the kind of silly stuff I was looking for. I probably would have been all right with Short just reading off a list of euphemisms for the royal vagina and watching Hader try to keep it together for five minutes. It wasn’t the cleverest sketch—the arrival of Fred Armisen as the gruff Queen Elizabeth should have been even grosser and the royal protocol jokes were as hacky as usual—but it was a lot of fun to watch.
That basically kept going for the whole night—“You’re A Rat Bastard, Charlie Brown” was just an excuse to trot out some impressions, and only Martin Short’s Larry David and Taran Killam’s Michael Keaton (which we have to see more of, please) stuck out. (Hader’s Pacino is good, but it’s not news to me.) But again, everyone’s having fun, and the successful joke ratio is on the high side, so I don’t have much to complain about.
Weekend Update was a big hit for me. Vanessa Bayer’s bar mitzvah boy had me on the floor; I guess that’s as close to anti-comedy that SNL can get, and her sly looks to the camera after every punchline killed me. The return of the girl you wish you hadn’t started a conversation with at a party (boy am I sick of writing that one out) was also a hit, better than her last couple appearances, although the writers are going to wear that character out really quickly. But her saying that origami was Spanish for goose bumped this show’s grade up all on its own.
This show was light on sketches, partially to let Paul McCartney perform three songs, partly because most of the sketches were on the longer side, including the return of What Up With That, which we all thought was mercifully dead. Apart from giving Samuel L. Jackson the chance to follow up saying “fuck” with protesting that the sketch’s premise was “bullshit” (even though he obviously realized his mistake in swearing the first time, he couldn’t help piling on) this was a bit of a let-down revival. It’s funny enough to have maybe once a year—just keep it under lockdown the rest of the time, ladies and gents.
The Restoration Hardware bit was another weirdly unfinished-feeling sketch that really had no ending at all. I know SNL often has a problem with ending its sketches, but this one didn’t build to anything special. But I liked some of the dumb flourishes these two sack-sack braggarts mentioned in conversation (Short is living in a field, Fred Armisen is getting painted on by people he doesn’t know). Still left me with more questions than answers, though. Why did Kenan introduce that one like someone introduces a musical guest? The premise that the two characters were running into each other having not seen each other for a while was not that hard to grasp.
We concluded with a cute number that was geared towards Paul McCartney getting in a bit of sketch acting before he got back onstage for a charming little Christmas number. Again, we had Short being silly and over-the-top for a few minutes—no classic jokes, but he kept the energy up and helped end the last SNL of 2012 on a positive note.
- Kanye’s one good line: “I have conjunctivitis from one of Kim’s little rat dogs.”
- Sometimes the Duchess of Cambridge’s vagina wears a hat. “How does that work?” “It’s a small hat.”
- One thing about the party girl that always gets me: whatever racist thing she wants to do. “Can I do a minstrel show real quick?”
- Very nice quick reaction by Kenan to Sam Jackson’s swearing. “Come on, now! That costs money!”
- Short’s book about World War II begins: “It was the 1940s, everything was in black and white.”