A Christmas Epiphany - SNL

Once again, it’s the video work that breaks through in this episode, begging the question: Should Saturday Night be live anymore? Especially considering that the second-best sketch of the night was probably “Plirt.” “A Christmas Epiphany” showcases the impressive cinematography and production design of the SNL crew, but more importantly plays to Butler’s strengths. This mash-up of It’s A Wonderful Life and the ending of Stella Dallas allows Butler to play the straight man and utilizes his seeming lack of humor effectively. Butler’s intensity is the perfect foil to the family on the other side of the window. The contrast between his projected fantasy of idealized family life and the dysfunctional reality divided by a pane of glass is great visual comedy. The sketch is a terrific example of how the writing on SNL must be tailored to the host’s strengths and weaknesses.


Worst sketch of the night

The Phrase That Pays - SNL

For better or worse, the game show parody is a standard of SNL. These sketches can be stale or inspired. Unfortunately, “The Phrase that Pays” is the former. It’s a sketch that goes nowhere. The joke of the sketch revolves around Butler’s contestant uncannily guessing each answer with minimal clues. Each time he guesses the joke escalates ever so slightly but remains the same. The incremental joke is too subtle for sketch comedy. The fact that Punkie Johnson and Heidi Gardner don’t have much to do to escalate the scene, and as the game show host James Austin Johnson is accurate and adequate. But when have accurate and adequate been very funny?


Sketch with wasted potential

White Elephant - SNL

Whereas “A Christmas Epiphany” benefited from the seriousness Butler offers, “White Elephant” squanders the comedic potential of the set-up. Butler’s character takes the White Elephant game, of which no one can really agree upon the rules, too seriously. The sketch starts off well after the inciting incident of Butler’s gift being taken away. The disparity between his joy of being gifted a perfect present and his anger and pettiness at having it stolen is ripe for comedy. However, after he receives the second gift the sketch cuts away to Santa on the roof. The real potential of this sketch would be to see what Butler’s character would do if someone took his second gift. It felt like the sketch needed to go darker, something like Ryan Gosling’s performance in “Papyrus.”

Sketch with promising potential

Jennifer Coolidge Is Impressed by Christmas Stuff - SNL

Chloe Fineman has a knack for celebrity impressions and her Jennifer Coolidge is pretty good. The sketch’s strength was that it was short and sweet. It demonstrated a good understanding of Coolidge’s unique comedic persona. It did have a few shortcomings. First, it felt like it needed some sort of reference to Coolidge’s Old Navy holiday commercials or a nod to The White Lotus. Second, it could have used a different edit. The sketch peaked with the Eggnog joke about “Santa’s cum,” and it should have been the closer. Another possible ending could have been Coolidge opening the gift to find a gun and reenacting a certain scene from The White Lotus. But ultimately, the real potential of this sketch is that Coolidge would be the perfect SNL host for the first episode of 2023. Just wanted to put that into the universe.


MVP of the night: Cecily Strong

Weekend Update: Cathy Anne Says Goodbye for Now - SNL

After the mass exodus of cast members last season, Cecily Strong’s departure felt surprising, sudden, and bittersweet. Shortly before her final episode tonight, the news leaked that she would be leaving the show after 11 years. Strong, along with Kenan Thompson, was one of the longest-running performers and her exit feels like the end of an era. While her inevitable departure felt somewhat sudden, considering it is mid-season, the show managed to give her a proper sendoff. Appearing on “Weekend Update,” Strong showcased her talent for character-building and improv as Cathy Anne, one of her recurring characters. It was a great exit and demonstrated what will be missing from SNL moving forward. In recent years it feels as if SNL has invested in performers specializing in impersonations or stand-up backgrounds, rather than improv experience. Strong was a great example of what training in improv can bring to SNL. She was equally adept at building original characters as well as her impersonations, which always felt like full embodiments rather than surface caricatures. It’ll be a different show without her. Hopefully, Kenan Thompson is staying put for the foreseeable future.


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