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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: Matt Damon Closes Out The Year With a Strong Episode

Bizarrely enough, this was only the second time the "Bourne" star has hosted.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Matt Damon" Episode 1755 -- Pictured: Host Matt Damon during the monologue in Studio 8H on Saturday, December 15, 2018 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

“Saturday Night Live.”

Will Heath/NBC

While last week’s “Saturday Night Live” decided to put up all of its Christmas lights early this year, this week’s episode, hosted by Matt Damon, with musical guests Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus, is actually the Christmas/holiday episode, as well as the last “SNL” episode of 2018. This season, for the most part, has been fine, and it would be quite the Christmas miracle to get something more than fine to close out the year.

And that’s exactly what happens here.

Host: Matt Damon

It’s crazy to think this is episode marks somehow only Matt Damon’s second time hosting “SNL” (after 16 years), since he’s of course shown up before for guest cameo spots before. (As the reminder in the cold open reminds the audience he’s this show’s Brett Kavanaugh.) But Matt Damon is here to host for only the second time, and he kicks things off with an earnest opening monologue.

The earnest, visibly excited to be here monologue has been used a lot in this season’s monologues, and it’s something that works surprisingly well for how easy it is. It’s sweet and funny (well, maybe the part about Beck Bennett getting fired over the holidays isn’t all that sweet) with Damon’s relatable story about trying to stay up late to watch “SNL” as a kid.

“For anyone joining us, this is a dog show but for daddies.”

Like last week’s “extra” “A Christmas Carol” sketch, this is a very specific sketch that’s going to kill with some people and fall flat with others. However, the “Westminster Daddy Show” sketch, and this is the case for the whole episode, also feels more like the fully-finished product than pretty much any of last week’s sketch, and it sets the tone for the rest of this “SNL” episode in terms of Matt Damon’s hosting and obvious desire to be part of any and everything. In this sketch in particular, there are just so many weird things to latch onto, but Kenan Thomas trying to get “Tweedy Daddy” (Alex Moffat) to get up is a delightful bit of repetition, and “Broadcast Daddy” (Matt Damon) winning the whole thing is a terrific twist.

The final line by Kate McKinnon (“Thank you for joining us — I don’t have a name.”) is just such a strong way to end the sketch, especially when you can imagine her character was probably considered the least important part of the equation in the brainstorming part of this sketch.

“Best Christmas Ever” is honestly an oddly-sweet sketch, one which somehow balances the ludicrous idea of it somehow, in fact, being considered anything like the “best Christmas ever” with all the chaos of the actual day. The final stinger — the quote that “Even when it’s the worst, it’s the best.” — is something that can often be true about holidays with the family (best case scenario), which makes this one of the most relatable of the Christmas sketches this year. (Besides the very concept of hiding crappy ornaments in the back of the tree instead of putting everyone out of their misery, that is.)

It’s been a while since “SNL” has gone with one of these pre-taped impressions sketches, and it looks like absence makes the heart grow fonder. Standouts are Aidy Bryant as Hannah Gadsby (which is an unexpected choice for “SNL” but a fantastic one), Cecily Strong as Rachel Brosnahan (but really mostly in character as Midge Maisel, with bonus Aidy as Amy Sherman-Palladino), and Damon as Matthew McConaughey (busting out McConaughey future math). (Ego Nwodim’s Tiffany Haddish is almost there but not quite great.)

Melissa Villaseñor will probably always be one of “SNL”’s best-kept secrets, because while she’s honestly always solid, when she’s really good or great, the live audience audibly freaks out about it. So to hear her nail Sarah Silverman’s voice, it’s like she’s doing it for the first time. (She’s not.)

The “Cop Christmas” sketch is the kind of sketch that will probably be funnier the more detached from the episode it gets, as it’s the type of sketch where, during the episode, it’s hard to have the patience for whatever the point is. But it is pretty funny when the sappy “very special music” starts kicking in, along with the back-and-forth before the “ball-breaking” masculinity and emotional male friendship. The tonal shifts are jarring — it’s very much a Kyle Mooney/Beck Bennett sketch — as is the fact that Alec Baldwin is just in this sketch instead of an actual cast member (seemingly filling in for Pete Davidson). But as a standalone sketch, it works.

Best Sketch of The Night: “Weezer”

“What’s happening right now?”

This sketch… is art. It’s also very niche — a Yellowcard reference in 2018 is beautiful but also very accessible to only a specific segment of the audience — but the type of sketch that comes so scarily from real-life nitpicking or inconsequential arguments (like the “Papyrus” sketch) it’s also kind of universal. This is pretty much an evolution of the Sterling K. Brown’s Shrek sketch, and Leslie Jones’ role as the old school Weezer fan is a choice that comes out of nowhere but actually works amazingly well. Even better is Kenan Thompson’s role as her husband, who realizes this is something that’s happened before, will happen again, and that he’s not going to cover for her this time.

Worst Sketch of The Night: “Christmas Ornaments” & “Happy Christmas, Britain”

It would be absolutely fine to call a brief moratorium on the sketches where the shrinking effect needs to be used. This is one of those times when the sketch isn’t even necessarily bad but definitely the weakest out of the rest of the show. For example, the combination of Aidy Bryant’s “macaroni turd” depression and the finishing touches of Cecily Strong as the haunting, broken angel really allows the sketch to end on a high note. And Matt Damon basically reprising his role as Will Hunting (of “Good Will Hunting” fame) is mostly a joy, although the otherwise strong Harvey Weinstein joke of it all only gets more uncomfortable when you remember Matt Damon’s real-life role in all of that.

As for “Happy Christmas, Britain,” it’s like you can see the writers’ very small knowledge of Britain flash in real time, as it goes from Teresa May and David Cameron to Aidy as Elton John and Mikey Day as Voldemort. This is the rare sketch in this episode that doesn’t feel like it’s got all the pieces together, but part of that could also be that it’s a Brexit sketch out of nowhere — yes, it’s a big topic of conversation but not exactly on “SNL.” (If there had been more Brexit mentions in Weekend Update, it wouldn’t feel this way.)

Best Male Performer: Matt Damon

Matt Damon is all over this episode, and that’s a good thing. But if there’s only one reason to gift him the MVP trophy for this episode, it would be because of this blasphemous line: “‘Pork & Beans’ is better than ‘Buddy Holly’.”

Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong

Cecily Strong has the pleasure of being the female cast member Matt Damon plays off of the most this episode, and as such, she gets a great showing to close out 2018. One of her biggest and best performances in the episode — despite the live audience not quite getting it — is the “Jingle Bells” sketch. It’s arguably honorable mention for Best Sketch of the Night, no matter what the live audience may think. (Though a missed opportunity is that this sketch only goes with one confused reaction for the sketch audience.) With this sketch, Cecily channels the power of “30 Rock”’s Jenna Maroney and classic “SNL” in the form of Nora Dunn and Jan Hooks as the Sweeney Sisters.

Final Thoughts

Kudos to the opening monologue for committing to the black & white but for as long as it does. Fewer kudos to the wooing that accompanies Robert De Niro, who is still not actually good at “SNL.” As far as Baldwin Trump cold opens go, while this one definitely goes on for quite a while, something would have to be wrong for “SNL” to pass up the “It’s A Wonderful Life” bit in this episode. Kenan’s frustration with Baldwin Trump learning the absolutely wrong lesson is the best part though, as it’s basically the only new joke to really come out of all this.

The last Weekend Update of the year features the return of Heidi Garner’s terrific Angel character — proving there can be twists on the character to preventing it from becoming stale, like the Tyler Perry/”Madea’s Family Reunion” bit or “343 Donnie Wahlberg Way” — alongside the introduction of her Boston boxing boyfriend Tommy, as played by Damon. Angel’s delusional belief that her Weekend Update gig is a permanent news job with Michael Che is only topped by Tommy breaking the news to her: “You’re pregnant, Angel.” (Che: “How does he know before you?!?”) Even funnier, this whole bit is introduced as Angel reacting to good holiday news and literally doing none of that until the baby reveal. Congrats on baby Gronk (whether it’s a boy or girl), Angel and Tommy!

There’s also a quick “Where’s Wes?” bit (not the first) with Mikey Day that goes from confusing (as in, “Why does this exist?” which has yet to be answered, as it’s not even on YouTube or “SNL’s” social media) to obviously leading to something to somewhat humorous because it takes as long to get to the actual joke. It’s inoffensive and… speaking of the (intentionally) exact opposite:

But the biggest bit from this Weekend Update — other than Michael Che really wanting Donald Trump to be aware of something as important as “the law” — is the closing bit, where they read jokes that the other wrote (for the first time, live on air). It’s a very bro-tastic way to close out the year — and not the first time they’ve done a bit like this before — gaining pleasure out of having the other say the worst things possible. So in that way, it’s a perfect way for Che and Jost to close out their Weekend Update. But while it’s something that certainly cracked up Che and Jost and the live crowd, it also felt like it was about a second away from Che making Jost say the “n-word” due to Ron Burgundy rules. (Jost saying “uppity” is honestly the type of thing that makes a person want to throw out an incredulous “dude” his way.)

Matt Damon may have only guested once before, but he comes across with all the confidence in sketches as an elite five-timer. In a season where the biggest problem is often the show not giving its hosts the opportunity to prove themselves in every sketch, Matt Damon doesn’t have that problem. Even in the above sketch, which was cut for time, his dead eyes as he acts for this purposefully terrible commercial are something quite special. The commercial itself isn’t all that great, but Damon is great in it.

In fact, that he even appears in a Weekend Update bit speaks to how involved he is in this episode. From the cold open to the goodnights at the end, Matt Damon makes good on his promise to make this is a special “SNL” to end the year. And he does so without even having a project to promote. While last week’s episode went Christmas crazy, despite being the last of the year this episode is able to balance all that without also seeming like a rushed or cramped holiday spectacular. Speaking of the holiday, musical guest Miley Cyrus (alongside fellow musical guest Mark Ronson and Sean Ono Lennon) sings a beautiful rendition of “(Happy Xmas) War Is Over” as her second number of the night. (It’s actually a pretty great host-musical guest combination this week. It’s a Christmas miracle!)

Grade: B+

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