Given that this week was the Christmas-themed episode of “Saturday Night Live,” it’s only fitting the utterly charming Amy Adams stopped by Studio 8H to host. Seriously, is there a more earnest and endearing actress working today than the “Big Eyes” Golden Globe nominee? Adams’ sensitive smile and wholesome spirit was a perfect fit for the holiday episode, and she helped cap off a somewhat shaky year for “Saturday Night Live” in winning fashion. Just when Adams’ Kristen Wiig-crashed musical monologue suggested the actress might be better suited for a G-rated variety show (she was in full on “Enchanted” mode for this one), the five-time Oscar nominee brought her A-game playing a diverse set of strange characters, from Scarface’s coked-up girlfriend to a flirty old cat obsessor and a bizarre raccoon transformed into a lounge singer. Yes, you read that last part correctly.
Adams effortlessly fit into the ensemble this week, and the episode ended up being more of a showcase for ideas than any particular cast member. Sketches such as the “Asian American Doll” and “Office Christmas Party” were brilliantly conceived, and the ensemble actually came together to make the ideas behind each bit pop as much as possible. No one stole anyone’s thunder this week, which is probably why things felt relatively safe and quiet while still being consistently laugh-worthy. The show even decided to comment on the recent North Korea/Sony hacking fiasco by ignoring the cast all together and bringing out Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil for an inspired rant against evil organizations.
So with so much of the show stolen by great sketch ideas and surprise guests, could any of the Season 40 cast members end up running away with the episode? For the most part no, but he are the strongest players from this week:
Kenan Thompson (“Willie, Michael’s Neighbor”)
We’re beginning to sound like a broken record in regards to our love of Kenan Thompson, but it’s impossible to deny the performer is anything but Season 40’s biggest, most reliable asset of a cast member this season. Thompson only got one headlining moment this episode, playing the bumblingly humble neighbor of “Weekend Update” anchor Michael Che, but he hilariously sold every life lesson (“As the doctor always says, ‘I don’t know what
that is but it’s spreading'”) with his dumbfounded reactions of happiness. Luckily, this was the kind of subdued ensemble episode where Kenan almost always fares best given how easily his reaction shots steal scenes in a matter of seconds. Just look at his giddy smile as he throws snow during Adams’ monologue, or the recognition of ridiculousness he shows while playing Cuba Gooding Jr. in the show’s “A Very Cuban Christmas,” to see what we mean here. Even when the show sets up a night where no single cast member emerges as the star of the episode, leave it to Thompson to still triumph.
Aidy Bryant (“Girlfriends Talk Show”)
For such a big-spirited performer, Bryant has been strangely quiet the past couple of weeks, so it’s especially welcoming that the show let her tackle one of her funniest recurring characters before it heads on a lengthy hiatus. Morgan, the extra cheerful, self-deprecating-so-it-looks-cool co-host of “Girlfriends Talk Show,” is pretty much a star vehicle for Bryant’s comedic strengths. Not only does the character’s confidence mesh well with the astute way Bryant can overcompensate cool for corny (“I’m Morgan and I do me a bunch of different ways”), but Morgan’s desperation to be accepted by Cecily Strong’s popular Kira boarders on near heartbreaking. The sad look Bryant gives every time her activity idea is shot down goes miles in creating a pathos for the character that just wouldn’t exist if she was being played by any other cast member. We somehow feel for Morgan and her struggle to fit in, which makes all of her nervous embarrassment and stuttering around Amy Adams’ dance captain and the men of One Direction as funny as it is goofily earnest.
Kate McKinnon (“Cat Rescue Commercial”)
It’s a testament to just how great McKinnon is as a performer that even in sketches where she has nothing to but dance and say one line she can still milk that one moment for all its comedic potential. Such was the case during the “Tenterfield Christmas” sketch, in which the devilish look McKinnon gave the camera as Amy Adams’ rap verse talked about what a sociopath Mckinnon’s character was stole the entire sketch. When McKinnon followed up the look with the bit’s recurring punchline, “In my Christmas sweatpants,” she brought enough of an evil subtext to her vocal delivery that it elevated the skit from cheesy YouTube parody to an oddball look at family dysfunction in the age of the internet. McKinnon also reprised her role as the frisky and enthusiastic Cat Rescue spokesperson, bringing a twisted sense of love to her character’s adoration with felines and showcasing some pretty great (and expertly awkward) chemistry with Adams. Try not to laugh as McKinnon claims, “Toby is a textbook narcissist. He’s
incredibly manipulative and deceitful, but I guess I’m the dummy for giving him
power of attorney.” As always, the comedian brings a memorable glee to the weirdest of lines, and that’s why we can’t help but shower her with MVP love.
Kristen Wiig/Fred Armisen (“Garth and Kat”)
Everyone’s favorite improvising musical duo may not actually be everyone’s cup of tea, but we’ve long been a fan of the infectious breaking and dim-witted chemistry of Armisen and Wiig as Garth and Kat. On some levels it’s frustrating to see the show rely on the past so heavily when many of the current cast members are capable of adding new shades of recurring comedy bits to the “Weekend Update” flagship, but it’s hard to be too upset when the sparks that fly between Wiig and Armisen here are still as electric as ever. As usual, Garth and Kat’s tardiness results in improvised madness, and seeing Wiig breaking from the get-go is almost too great of a thing to behold. Watching Wiig and Armisen having so much fun replaying these characters is a nostalgic blast — now if only some of the Season 40 players could add a similar side-splitting duo to the mix. “Weekend Update” has improved a ton, though still needs some tweaking, and bringing back old players like this only reminds viewers of how great Seth Meyers used to bounce off the idiot nature of Garth and Kat. The more “SNL” can bring strong new recurring bits to “Update,” the better the central sketch will be. In the meantime, indulge the past here:
Season 40 Cast Advice: More New Pairings
As Season 40 reaches its halfway point, we can safely say it’s been a stronger season than usual. Considering “Saturday Night Live” is still trying to figure itself out in the post-Wiig/Meyers/Armisen/Hader/Sudakis/Samberg age, this has been a creatively retooling season for the most part, and just the fact the cast has showed some promise in gelling together as a memorable ensemble gives us hope that one day they’ll be working in perfect comedic harmony. One amazing thing this episode did, and something that should absolutely be explored further when the season picks up in late January, is mixing up the cast and putting players together who normally work on opposite ends of the spectrum. The strength of the McKinnon/Killam, Bryant/Strong and Mooney/Bennett pairings has been consistent and reliable for a year now, so it’s time the show shakes things up and really starts uniting this cast all around. The show experimented this week by pairing up Pete Davidson and Jay Pharaoh for the rambunctious “Office Christmas Party” and, even better, Kyle Mooney and Bobby Moynihan for the bizarre “Singing Sisters” sketch, and the results were quite winning. There’s a surprise in seeing cast members who are often on different sides of the field come together, and the more each player can showcase a winning chemistry with all of his or her co-stars, the more cohesive the ensemble will be and the stronger this current cast will leave a lasting impression. Let’s hope this trend continues in the new year.
“Saturday Night Live” returns January 17 with host Kevin Hart.
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