Best known to American audiences as the star of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit franchise and as “hey, that one guy!” from Love Actually, British actor Martin Freeman definitely had something to prove on last night’s Saturday Night Live – mainly, of course, that he’s funny. Freeman’s background in comedy might not come across while he’s traipsing around Middle-earth, but there was no arguing with his comedic chops once he took the stage for a funny and exceedingly well-timed monologue. If Freeman had the first-time jitters, they weren’t apparent here, and the newbie host effectively introduced himself and his style with ease and amusement.
That ease translated to a mostly well-run show that offered up a wide variety of jokes and sketches, sprinkled liberally with holiday cheer and a dash of wacky weirdness. Freeman easily fit in with the rest of the cast, and though he never got showy or over-the-top or exceedingly “host-y,” his presence was a solid and consistent one. Freeman will definitely have to return for more shows and, if he continues to show the kind of skill and comfort he exhibited last night, we just might be on our way to a new classic SNL host. Save him a space in the Five-Timers Club, Timberlake.
“White envelopes filled with twenties, sometimes fifties!” The holiday jingle game is always in need of a fresh jam, and what better way to fill this season with appropriate joy than with the introduction of a brand new carol? Kenan Thompson’s alternative take on Santa Claus – he’s called Sump’n Claus, because he’s got sump’n for everybody, no matter how bad they’ve been all year – works well enough as a single gag with a catchy melody, but this music video stuffs in enough extra amusements to warrant a few more watches to catch everything.
Quick, clever turns from Freeman, Vanessa Bayer, and Beck Bennett don’t overpower the thing – although Bayer’s totally unhinged “Sheila” should probably get her own sketch soon – and back-up singing and dancing from Cecily Strong and Sasheer Zamata added pep and style. But it’s Sump’n Claus’ origin story that steals the show, a devilish, hot chocolate-tinged spin on the Santa mythos that redefines the word “naughty.”
Back in the early aughts, Freeman starred in the original UK version of The Office (he played “Tim,” a character who was later refashioned as “Jim” in the American take on the show), so it seemed likely that we’d see some paper company-set hijinks from the episode, though combining them with The Hobbit was more than a little unexpected (we expected nods to Fargo or Sherlock, if anything). As ever, SNL’s costume game is on point, and every single orc, elf, and wizard that popped up in the sketch – and there were plenty – looked good enough to throw into an actual Hobbit film.
Freeman combined the confusion and sweetness of his Bilbo Baggins and the well, confusion and sweetness of his Tim Canterbury without missing a mark, and the effect was weirdly watchable. If anyone wants to greenlight a Hobbit-themed Office, we’d watch – Bobby Moynihan’s version of Gandalf the Grey as bad boss Michael Scott, perpetually awkward and always inappropriate, is reason enough.
Most of last night’s sketches were relatively straightforward, and while “Holiday Gig” may have started off looking like it would be another festive entry into a show increasingly interested in playing up the impending holidays, that all went a little screwy within the first minute. Thompson was again back to make merry music, this time as the leader of a band tasked with entertaining the guests at a holiday tree lighting (the tree’s paltry size was a gag barely referenced during the sketch, but a good one nonetheless), but his band introductions belied something very weird.
We may never know the truth of Freeman’s character – or his strange, high-kicking pal Roman – or why Thompson was so consumed with yelping about his “red boooots,” but the oddly infectious energy of this sketch makes us want to know much more.