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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: The Best and Worst of Paul Rudd’s Return

Rudd’s "SNL" return was primed to be a special one, but just hours before the episode, musical guest Charlie XCX backed out, and the live audience was canceled.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- “Paul Rudd” Episode 1814 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tina Fey, host Paul Rudd, Tom Hanks, and Kenan Thompson during the “5-Timers” Cold Open on Saturday, December 18, 2021 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE — “Paul Rudd” Episode 1814 — Pictured: (l-r) Tina Fey, host Paul Rudd, Tom Hanks, and Kenan Thompson during the “5-Timers” Cold Open on Saturday, December 18, 2021 — (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

Will Heath/NBC

Paul Rudd’s return to “Saturday Night Live” hosting duties was already primed to be a special one, both as his official entry into the show’s illustrious* Five-Timers Club and as the first host of this current season to have actually hosted the show before. (*The reminder that Martin Short has hosted “SNL” only three times somehow managed to make the world turn even more upside down than it already is.)

However, just hours before the episode aired, it was announced that musical guest Charlie XCX would no longer be performing and that there would also no longer be a live audience for the episode, due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Keeping in mind that this episode was also the official Christmas episode of the season, it was difficult not to go into it wondering just what “SNL” would have in store for all the viewers at home.

Host: Paul Rudd

And just like with the “SNL at Home” era of “Saturday Night Live,” Tom Hanks kicked things off this week. Only this time, he did so actually within the confines of Studio 8H, rocking his Five-Timers Club jacket and explaining how this week’s episode was supposed to be “the big Christmas show.” (“Luckily,” had nothing come out of this episode at all, last week’s episode was especially Christmas-loaded.)

As previously mentioned, this episode was supposed to be — and ultimately is, as unconventional as it is — Rudd’s Five-Timers induction episode and the opening monologue both set that and the concept of this episode up. Tina Fey (another Five-Timer) joined Hanks and began filling her role as the performer in this episode who most acknowledges just how weird all of this is, before Rudd came out to do his own monologue for what was, again, his episode. He got the jacket, but not without Kenan Thompson — the only other cast member besides Michael Che in the building and on the episode — congratulating him on hosting “four and a half” times.

As a Five-Timers episode, had things gone according to plan, Fey, Hanks, Steve Martin, and Martin Short all most likely would’ve been part of this episode anyway, even outside of the monologue. The pre-taped “famous Steve Martin” and Short bit was also easy to imagine playing out live on the stage.

The episode featured a combination of classic “SNL” sketches and brand new sketches, with the latter boiling down to three new sketches (all pre-tapes for this week). Surely for those who believe that “SNL” hasn’t been funny since [insert formative years of their life here], there was a lot to appreciate about the clip show aspect of the episode. But despite only a few new sketches this week the new material shouldn’t be slept on.

Best Sketches of The Night: “An Evening with Pete” & “The Christmas Socks”

Due to the circumstances of the episode “An Evening with Pete” unfortunately is a sketch that might fall through the cracks, which would be disappointing as it is perhaps the most interesting sketch Pete Davidson has done with regards to deconstructing both his public celebrity persona and place in “SNL.” For the latter, Chloe Fineman’s “Who exactly is the audience for this?” in response to future Davidson’s “My Name Is” riff (changing “Slim Shady” to “Warren Beatty”) perfectly distilled the criticism of Davidson’s defaulting to parody rap in one line. (And the bit he was doing was just as timely — as in, not at all — as Davidson’s “Stan” riff, “Stu,” from last year’s Christmastime episode.)

“SNL” does plenty of high-concept pre-taped sketches, but to go for a “Raging Bull” riff (with a sprinkling of “It’s a Wonderful Life”) was a pleasant surprise — one also made better with Rudd’s intro set-up to the sketch.

While not as strangely “good” of a song as “Wishin’ Boot,” “The Christmas Socks” only got (intentionally) funnier as it kept going, the opposite of its saccharine (and perfectly recreated) inspiration. In this case, it was especially the cadence of the song — and Rudd’s terrible Caesar-cut wig — that only made the elongating of the song funnier. Charli XCX’s appearance as Kyle Mooney’s character’s bird, T.J. Rocks, was arguably the weakest part of the sketch, but it all gelled in a weirdly Christian way — as it should.

Worst Sketch of The Night: “Santa & The Elves”

With only three new sketches for this episode, while there was a weakest of the bunch — “HomeGoods,” despite the way Aidy Bryant said “grandchildren” a la “colour” — circumstances make it so it is the ultimate example of the term “worst” being too loaded to actually apply it to any of those sketches. Which is why it’s a safer bet to just apply this week’s designation to one of the classic sketches.

As Thompson introduced the sketch he did so with the pride of someone who came up with the idea for it in the first place. However, it was difficult not to be disappointed with this particular choice in this episode’s curated list of sketches when you consider the superior Vanessa Bayer/Ryan Gosling (featuring Thompson) Christmas sketch from the same episode.

Final Thoughts

Going into this episode of “SNL,” thanks to the “SNL at Home” era of the series from last season, it wasn’t impossible to see how the show would continue to go on without a full crew or cast. (Che had one of the best jokes of the episode during Weekend Update when he called out how he and Thompson were the only cast members around.) While not a “full” episode, this episode allowed everyone around to be loose — which was especially an advantage come Weekend Update time — and it just allowed for the fun of a Christmas episode, clips and all.

If anything was “for the best” with this episode, then it was definitely for the best that an established host, such as Rudd, was at the helm for this one.

Grade: B+

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