Just as it did when the show returned after 9-11, Saturday Night Live found a way to eloquently acknowledge a tragedy and move on to comedy. In the eerie but appropriate cold open, the New York City Children’s Chorus sang “Silent Night,” with the line “sleep in heavenly peace” a piercing tribute to the children lost in the Newtown shooting. But after a brief black screen, followed by the kids saying, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night,” the show’s Christmas episode turned out to be one of the best – if most retro — of the season, with Martin Short as host and Paul McCartney as musical guest.
Short’s opening song had him roaming the hallways encountering an all-star lineup of cameos: Kristen Wiig, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Tom Hanks — and a llama. There was Alec Baldwin as Tony Bennett, appearing with Jay Pharoah as a kilted Kanye West. And it was a brilliant idea to have the children’s choir come back to sing a cheerful “Wonderful Christmastime” with McCartney.
Even the unspectacular sketches took off in odd ways: an OK ‘What’s Up with That” ended with Samuel L. Jackson dropping what’s euphemistically called an “F bomb,” and Kenan Thompson ad-libbing, “Come on, Sam! That costs money.” You have to love live television. (And I forgive Sam for bailing on our Django Unchained interview Saturday afternoon if this is where he was going.)
One highlight: SNL’s antidote to saccharine holiday musicals, “You’re a Rat Bastard Charlie Brown,” with Bill Hader-as-Al Pacino-as-Charlie Brown and Kate-McKinnon-as-Edie-Falco-as-Lucy, and Jason-Sudeikis-as-Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-as-Pigpen.
Pigpen: “I think the whole Christmas experience is overrated.”
Charlie Brown: “Pigpen! You look like shit!”
Here’s the best of SNL’s great Christmas:
In a holiday pageant sketch, Martin Short tries to convince Paul McCartney not to sing, until he does (with the children’s chorus):
And in a much more somber tone, the children’s “SIlent Night” (which would be even more eloquent if NBC hadn’t attached a commercial before this clip):