It’s only December 2 and we have two more episodes after this before Christmas, but this week’s “Saturday Night Live” still opened with a “Christmas Carol” homage featuring Alec Baldwin. Despite seeming to jump the gun a little bit, seasonally, it’s one of the more incisive cold opens in a little while, pounding hard at Donald Trump’s most recent string of missteps.
Afterwards, though, it was an episode devoted to having fun with a fresh face who proved game for all sorts of wackily colored wigs and character moments. If it weren’t for her opening monologue and the fact that U2 was the musical guest, you’d hardly know she was Irish.
Host: Saoirse Ronan
Ronan is a first-time host at the age of 23, but hopefully by the time she’s 43, she’ll have a few more hosting notches on her belt — that’s just how good she was in this episode. The “Lady Bird” star fit seamlessly into the action this week, with amazing commitment to each and every character she was asked to play. And only one of those roles leaned heavily into her Irish roots. Otherwise, she was a solid utility player with great timing and attitude.
While her opening monologue gave her the chance to explain that her name isn’t that hard to spell, her shining moment of the night might have been this one line during the “Return Counter” sketch: “I bought my boyfriend this men’s cologne because I thought he was a man. But he’s actually a bitch on the rag so I’d like to exchange it for these tampons.”
Also, let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that while Ronan played pretty cool the whole night, the musical guest in her episode was U2. U2! The most Irish band in the world! What a wonderful gift for her.
An even better gift would have been at least one sketch that pushed her limits a bit further, but while the sketches tonight played it safe, there was plenty of proof that if Ronan returns, she’ll be able to handle whatever the writers threw at her.
Best Sketch of The Night: “The Race”
Sometimes we look to “SNL” for incisive political commentary — and sometimes, there’s value in some extreme silliness. Starring Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney (always a reliable pairing for light-hearted fun) this ’80s-influenced pre-taped sketch (even shot in old-fashioned TV 4:3 aspect ratio) was incredibly charming, especially thanks to a brilliant use of synthesizer soundtrack samples and who it is, exactly, that reveals the fact that Lindsay (Ronan) was a ghost the whole time.
Worst Sketch of The Night: “Late for Class”
The gag in this sketch, we understand, is that the new kid is a jerk that no one likes. But that doesn’t make the minute-plus of dead air at the beginning of this bit any more bearable. “Aer Lingus” was a bit flimsy as premises go, but at least it had puppies.
Best Female Performer: Kate McKinnon
It feels like Kate McKinnon has been a bit in-and-out this season, but tonight’s episode gave her plenty of screen time, for the benefit of all involved. Not only did McKinnon whip out a Theresa May impression during Weekend Update, she also reprised her classic Kellyanne Conway and Hillary Clinton roles during the cold open — and played major roles in a number of other sketches. When McKinnon commits, it’s a beautiful thing to witness.
Honorable Mention: Melissa Villaseñor, for her appearances as women through the ages in “Welcome to Hell.” “Nothing goooood happens in a van,” indeed.
Best Male Performer: Mikey Day
Mikey Day had a number of strong moments this week, but genuinely owned the “American Girl Store” sketch. As Mr. Dean, Day hit the perfect balance between weirdo and creep, punctuated beautifully by his subdued dismay over discovering that the Phoenix area store he frequents will be shut down. Head forth to Tempe, Mr. Ford. Own your passions.
Honorable Mention: Pete Davison, for playing at least two characters that required him to push beyond his usual crutches, and for really selling Chad’s “magic trick” during the “Bachelor Auction” sketch.
Most Uncomfortably On-The-Nose Sketch: “Welcome to Hell”
The concept of “it’s funny because it’s true” works a lot better when the truths being riffed on aren’t so exact. But while this musical tribute to how women are trying to keep their heads above water during this ongoing flood of sexual assault allegations was necessary and at times alarmingly dead-on, it also felt a bit too muddled in its attempt to cover every aspect of why being a woman can be terrifying. Lacing your keys between your fingers as you walk home is a different sort of threat from worrying about your boss whipping out his penis at work… though, then again, the threat technically comes from the same place. And bonus points for the line “This ain’t a girl group, we just travel in a pack for safety.” Because, you know, it’s true.
Best Impression: Cecily Strong as Melania Trump
We already mentioned McKinnon’s charming work as Theresa May, so let’s take this opportunity to celebrate Cecily Strong’s ongoing work as the First Lady. Strong only appeared briefly in the cold open as Melania, but her quiet desperation still shone through.
It was an episode that didn’t really take any chances, but did deliver some fun moments. Hopefully, when James Franco hosts next week (for the fourth time) “SNL” won’t be afraid to stretch its limits.