Look, sometimes an entire episode is a big swing and a miss. It happens. It’s somewhat surprising that it happened while Scarlett Johansson hosted, because her previous five hosting gigs have yielded consistently solid episodes. But that’s the nature of the Saturday Night Live beast: Some weeks everything just sorta sits there, comic-adjacent but never really coming into focus. Let’s put it this way: you know it’s not the show’s week when even Bowen Yang’s Chen Baio fails to truly land.
It’s tempting to invent reasons why this episode dragged for most of the evening. But it’s much easier to simply realize that a show that starts from scratch every week will collectively falter every once in a while, even with a proven excellent host such as Johansson. It’s more than likely all will be forgotten and forgiven once Eddie Murphy hosts next week, but for now we can only wonder what might have been.
With all that said, there were a few highlights that people will surely discuss before the 2019 finale next week. Here they are:
Children’s Clothing Ad
Last year, SNL hit a home run with “Best Christmas Ever,” a Matt Damon-led joint that showed the messiness under the quote-unquote “most wonderful time of the year.” This sketch doesn’t quite scale those heights but still depicts all the less-than-magical moments that somehow don’t make it to social media feeds.
The highlight of the sketch is the extended fight between a couple (played by Mikey Day and Heidi Gardner, the latter of whom is having another sneaky great season this year) prompted by their inability to put a pair of winter boots on their child. The editing, which had gone from one unrelated gag to another, keeps coming back to their unraveling in unexpected beats, until the camera stays with them until the bitter end. It’s a great example of the type of humor that works best when prerecorded.
Weekend Update: Baby Yoda
Is putting Baby Yoda on a cheap way to get SNL into the news cycle? Yup! Did it work? You betcha!
How the wardrobe department got Kyle Mooney into this outfit and into literally anything else this episode is worthy of its own documentary. Regardless, Mooney’s unique smarm charm works well here, bringing an off-kilter vibe that is half-sleazy and half-alien. Mooney’s run on the show is semi-remarkable: He rarely delivers anything that resembles traditional comedic rhythms. He’s insanely patient, confident that the crowd will eventually sync into his frequency. He’s like a gentler Norm MacDonald, or a less confrontational Will Forte. Even when it doesn’t totally connect with the audience, Mooney never loses his confidence, and that’s fantastic to watch week in and week out.
Aside from the bizarre visual of seeing his “squad” consist of Timothée Chamalet, Robert Pattinson and the guys from the Sonic commercials, this never gets too far beyond “hey, wouldn’t it be funny if Baby Yoda was kind of an egotistical jerk.” I’m also not sure anyone actually wants Baby Yoda, the only thing keeping a non-small segment of Twitter sane at this time in history, to be Milkshake Duck’ed. But that’s another argument for another article.
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Clever, catchy, and ultimately unsettling as hell, this is probably the sketch of the night. Even if you know this won’t end as merrily as it starts, it’s still almost impossible to predict where it’s going to go. The fact that the couple at the center of this tale probably sent their daughter down a rabbit hole of psychosexual confusion for the next few decades should probably eliminate it from contention, but as I said at the outside: It was a slow week.
Sketches that tell a movie’s worth of plot in under three minutes will always have an inside track on making an appearance here each week, and this one’s a doozy. One gets the impression that while this is the first time the daughter has caught her mommy kissing Santa Claus, this is far from the first time the roleplay that unfolds has occurred. The gist seems to involve a Craigslist ad, some cuck-ho-ho-holding, fake murder by choking, and a tidy sum for a job well done.
The lyrics that Cecily Strong sings are remarkable for their cadence and strict adherence to the natural flow of the original lyrics. But it’s the realization at the end that her witnessing the entire event is also something worthy of further examination that sends this sketch onto another level entirely. The sketch isn’t kink-shaming the adults by any means, but it’s also depicting the very moment of a child’s sexual awakening in scene involving her parents. The innocence with which Strong plays the part belies the implications of that, which makes it fascinating even while it’s fairly uncomfortable. For a show that so often plays it safe, this sketch is anything but.