After a couple of weeks off, “Saturday Night Live” returned last night to keep its streak of first-time hosts alive for just a little more time in 2021, with Billie Eilish pulling double duty as host and musical guest. (It’s been announced that Paul Rudd will host, putting an official end to that streak for “SNL’s” pretty fresh 47th season.) It also returned with Kate McKinnon — much like the “Looney Toons” at one point — back in action for the first time this season.
Host: Billie Eilish
In a season filled with newcomer “SNL” hosts, the opening monologue has been the quickest indicator of what to expect out of a first-timer. Whether it’s surprising ease or obvious nerves, while the actual act of doing sketch comedy is a different beast once the show gets going, the monologue sets the tone. While Eilish spoke about being from a family of actors — and her acting chops did ultimately shine through in this episode — that familiarity with the medium didn’t quite translate to the greatest monologue. Eilish got through it — and showed signs that she would definitely be breaking throughout this episode, a charming realization — but she did so without accounting for things like laughs and applause. Pacing is just as important in joke-telling as the jokes themselves.
The thing about “TikTok” is that it both feels like a sketch that would have been on during the “SNL @ Home” era — which is something to admire — and a somewhat desperate attempt from “SNL” at courting the youth (with the combination of both its basic premise and Eilish’s participation). That the episode begins with two sketches that don’t truly highlight Eilish (“Christmas Cards” and this) feels like an omen for what to expect out of Eilish’s first-time hosting stint… but thankfully, that doesn’t end up being the case.
There was absolutely a commitment to “Hip-Hop Nativity,” even though the sketch itself was kind of a mess with no idea how to end. Heidi Gardner (saying “PIMP WALK” and spinning on a candy cane stripper pole) and Andrew Dismukes (twerking) went all-in for this sketch, while Eilish committed but was ultimately lost in the hip-hop sauce. Chris Redd’s straight man was good when he was actually part of the sketch, but as it didn’t choose to center on him, he was just another moving piece in a sketch that was truly all over the place.
Both Eilish and the episode only got better post-her first musical performance and Weekend Update. There was more of a sense of comfort in her live sketch performance, and it didn’t hurt that her first sketch after her first number was one where she could continue to do a musical performance. “Santa Song” (or “The Night I Met Santa” was basically the tonal opposite of a comedy sketch song like “Santa’s My Boyfriend,” as — even with the old Hollywood aesthetic — there was nothing sexy here, just “[making] it weird with Santa.” And “weird” as in awkward, absolutely not sexy. Both McKinnon and Ego Nwodim had the ability to outshine Eilish (with lines like “What do you say?” “MY WIFE,” and “You met the Santa? Like, from the Bible?”), but this bit allowed her to command the sketch in a way that the first couple of sketches did not.
Without Beck Bennett, it’s interesting to see Kyle Mooney arguably thrive this season, considering how much it seemed like Bennett leaving could’ve meant Mooney would get lost in the shuffle. Naturally, it’s involved him leaning even more into being the punching bag of the cast, but that especially worked here in “Kyle’s Holiday,” with it culminating in him revealing his envy of show star Mikey Day to an otherwise sympathetic Eilish. In terms of the levels of awkwardness, while there was definitely a sheen on “Santa Song,” Mooney’s particular brand of awkwardness remains as beautifully unpolished as ever.
Best Sketch of The Night: “Lonely Christmas Ad”
“Lonely Christmas Ad” (a sketch title that, unfortunately, gives up the final punchline) was a sketch that, especially after the first two of the night, could’ve been a sign that Eilish perhaps wouldn’t be leaned on as a host. After all, she only actually had a couple of lines in this sketch. However, Eilish’s acting shines through with this visual bit-heavy sketch, as her character’s earnest attempt to spread holiday cheer turns sharp right into a Kate McKinnon-led horror. The twist isn’t so much McKinnon’s lonely old lady revealing herself to be a terrible person — as the racist part was actually the mild part of her character — as it is the extent to which her terribleness stretched. The escalation in the sketch works in a way that also signals a pivot point for the episode and Eilish’s role as host.
Worst Sketch of The Night: “Christmas Cards”
Does anyone not in the Christmas card industry care about Christmas cards enough to really justify this sketch? This was a sketch of stilted performances, with Eilish performing adequately but not yet nailing the comedic pacing (as noted re: the monologue) required to help elevate the sketch. That she’s also introduced so late into the sketch feels like a bad sign, too; thankfully, “Christmas Cards” and “TikTok” ended up being outliers for the episode and what Eilish can do.
Best Male Performer: Andrew Dismukes
As noted, Dismukes really went for it in the “Hip-Hop Nativity” sketch, but it was his feature as himself — with facepaint! — on Weekend Update that really clinched this episode for him. The psychic Octopus bit would’ve been enough on its own, but the added dog — who wanted nothing to do with the bit, which made it even funnier — keeps it strong, as does the added musical score throughout. All the bells and whistles might suggest that Dismukes himself isn’t the secret sauce, but it’s that this was how he chose to feature himself that disproves that assumption. Especially opposed to Punkie Johnson, who was obviously more straightforwardly herself in her feature.
Best Female Performer: Kate McKinnon
This is somewhat of a default pick, as with McKinnon’s return, like clockwork, it didn’t really leave much breathing room for other performers. (Johnson and Dismukes both got Weekend Update features as themselves, but in the sketches themselves, it was business as usual.) But it did allow for McKinnon to use her omnipresence to get Eilish to break in the final sketch, just because she could. But surprisingly, despite how well both “Lonely Christmas Ad” and “Hotel Ad” hit, the episode didn’t actually rely on the stealth dynamic duo of both McKinnon and Eilish. It could have though.
On the cut-for-time front, “SNL” brought back Aristotle Athari’s Angelo for the second time this season. Once again, Cecily Strong — who was otherwise absent from the episode outside of the cold open — brings a date to an Angelo concert, and once again, he (in this case, Mikey Day) does not get it. (“His gift is saying, ‘TONIGHT’?”). And Eilish gets to bust out a pretty decent Bjork impression as Deb. In terms of comedy, Angelo sketches are definitely the definition of repetition being funny.
Please Don’t Destroy also got cut for time, with the “Future Selves” sketch. (They didn’t interact with Eilish, but they did interact with their titular future selves.) This was honestly one of the weaker Please Don’t Destroy sketches so far, but even “weaker” Please Don’t Destroy is pretty good. It also, strangely, would’ve made a pretty good cold open, which the episode could’ve used.
While this season of “SNL” has been pretty hilariously uninterested in holiday sketches — the lack of Halloween talk in the Jason Sudeikis episode was especially fascinating — it returned for December with an extremely Christmas-tinged episode. (What would be considered “the Christmas episode” of the season is next week’s Rudd episode, after all.) And what a weird Christmas episode it was, which is the best kind of Christmas episode. If Eilish hosts again, it’ll be interesting to see what weirdness will come, especially if there’s not a holiday to rely on.
“SNL” airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Paul Rudd will close out 2021 on December 18.