Last night’s “Saturday Night Live” was a solid middle-of-the-road episode, one you wouldn’t mind falling asleep to on Netflix next year. But we don’t need that from “SNL.” We need more. 7 weeks away from the inauguration of President-elect Trump, we need strong, incisive political commentary. It’s essential. We need “SNL” to stand up and say something, and not just in a cold open. (The Leonard Cohen one from a few weeks ago was divisive, but at least it took a stance.) Trump himself has made it abundantly clear that he’s watching, so what is “SNL” waiting for?
Host: Emma Stone
Emma Stone was reliably great. She’s charming, she’s talented, and she’s a trained stage actress, which makes her “SNL” performances particularly good. Stone is seemingly impossible to dislike, which makes her the ideal choice to host an episode that went frustratingly light on political commentary. Was she a distraction, perhaps?
There to promote “La La Land,” the three-time host walked us backstage during her monologue (always exciting for the audience), rocked a diverse array of wigs, and acted her heart out. It was obvious she was having fun, which is wonderful, but she was almost better than the episode itself; it was most reminiscent of Emily Blunt’s madcap episode earlier in the season.
Best Parody: “Wells For Boys”
If “SNL” has gotten one thing consistently right this season, it’s their commercial parodies. And last night was no exception. Here, we have “Wells For Boys,” introduced by Fisher-Price just in time for the holiday season. What do you get the sensitive child who’d rather “sit around and wait for adulthood” than roughhouse with water guns? Something to whisper his dreams and secrets into. Or a balcony, for when he’s “ready to announce things!” As the voiceover says, it’s like getting him a Barbie, but it’s not quite that. But it is.
Bonus points for an A+ turn by Stone as a loving, defensive mother.
Sketch Most Likely to Go Viral: “The Christmas Candle”
Music video? Check. Hyper-stylized? Check. Aggressively late ‘80s-early ‘90s-themed, therefore celebrating arguably the worst period in recent fashion and beauty history? Check and check. “The Christmas Candle” has all the makings of an “SNL” viral hit, and that’s if we set aside how actually great it is. This heartfelt ballad, sung in the key of Wilson-Phillips hits, is for everyone who’s ever re-gifted a candle as a last-minute holiday present. So, everyone. Or at least, “moms and most gays.” If it’s out of season (i.e., peach-scented) and has a visible markdown sticker on it, even better! Re-gifting the same weird candle is truly what brings us all together during the holiday season. As the song says, it’s the gift of having a gift to give away.
Best Sketch of The Night: “The Hunt For Hil”
“The Hunt For Hil” is a Searching For Sasquatch-style documentary about finding Hillary Clinton, catching her, and thanking her. It’s based on the recent reports of various hikers “bumping into” Clinton in the Chappaqua woods, and the mock series’ Clinton-tracking details are exquisite. There’s also one amazing, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sight gag, where you can see that “SNL” has faithfully duplicated the Clinton hiking photos with Kate McKinnon in the polar fleece. It’s hilarious and it’s honest.; It’s also a way to keep McKinnon’s Clinton impression alive. An easy runner-up for most likely to go viral, depending on how your relatives voted.
Best Impression: Vanessa Bayer
Vanessa Bayer’s best impressions make audiences sit back and go “Whoa, I never realized so-and-so actually sounded like that.” Remember her Miley Cyrus (pre-2013 VMA era)? She was basically just shouting through a mouth of peanut butter, but it worked. It’s kind of strange that she has a 1994 Jennifer Aniston impression in her back pocket, but why not? At first, it was weird to see it on Weekend Update; Update was uneven enough as it was, so why roll out a white woman from the 1990s to compare 2016 to then? And what’s the point in having it devolve into an episode of “Friends” altogether? Spoiler alert: It ends up being a plug for “Office Christmas Party,” which is in theaters December 10th and features more than one current “SNL” cast member. But Bayer is just so good, you can’t help but stutter “What? Oh! Honey! Ooh! What?” right along with her.
Worst Sketch of The Night: “Posters”
“SNL” demanded to be relevant during the election cycle, but with “Posters,” it would appear that they have all but entirely given up. Emma Stone’s commitment to her character’s voice is admirable, and it’s not often you hear an Oscar nominee nasally scream a pornographic “Oh yeah!” about a hot dog. But like, why? Remember the Dave Chappelle episode, where every sketch seemed to land? With a purpose? Why can’t we do that again? Why did we need “Posters?” Also, Pete Davidson breaks again. It’s fun once, and cute the second time, but dude needs to tighten up. They call it “Falloning” for a reason!
Dishonorable Mention: “Cleaning Crew.” Sexual assault isn’t funny, even if in a song about Santa Claus. It also seemed to make wider implications about how sexual assault is viewed by immigrants? Come on, “SNL.”
Best Female Performer: Vanessa Bayer
Well, well, well. (For boys.) Last night, we saw more of “SNL” vet Bayer than we have in any previous episode, and it was great. Season 42 has leaned heavily on Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong, and that’s all well and good, but it can be easy to forget how enjoyable Bayer can be as a result. Whether she was desperately chasing Stone down the backstage hallway (“Tell casting directors about me!”) or resurrecting her stunning Rachel Green impression, Bayer was a genuine delight. It would be nice to see more from her this season, and in actual sketches, not just “Jacob, The Bar Mitzvah Boy” on Update. However, she’s likely the longest-reigning female cast member (at the moment), which could mean Bayer’s nearing the end of her tenure.
Honorable Mention: Leslie Jones.
Best Male Performer: Kyle Mooney
Kyle Mooney is the sleeper hit of “SNL’s” male cast, and last night, he finally had the most to do of any episode so far this season. Or at least, it felt that way. We know him best for mumbling, awkward characters that are at once stoned and sincere; in an essay for “The Toast,” Mallory Ortberg called his “Inside SoCal” series with Beck Bennett “transcendently good.” As such, he can be difficult to appreciate outside of character work. But he’s excellent. His best was “Nativity Scene,” during which he played a laid-back Joseph to Emma Stone’s exhausted Mary, mere moments after the birth of Jesus. He’s best as an oddball, but “SNL” loves to be weird, which means fewer opportunities to be the strangest character in a scene. As a result, he’s developed a knack for playing the straight man, and that’s a good sign for his longevity at “SNL.”
Emma Stone was reliably great, but we still want more from “SNL.” “Saturday Night Live” is back next week with host John Cena (no, really) and musical guest Maren Morris.