‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: Christmas Comes Early for Scarlett Johansson’s Sixth Time Hosting

This week’s “Saturday Night Live” marked Scarlett Johansson’s sixth time in the hosting position.
Scarlett Johansson, Aidy Bryant, "Saturday Night Live"
Scarlett Johansson, Aidy Bryant, "Saturday Night Live"
Will Heath/NBC

This week’s “Saturday Night Live” marked Scarlett Johansson’s sixth time in the hosting position. Yes, over the hump of five times and engaged to one of the head writers, Colin Jost, Johansson came to Studio 8H on top of the world, ready to play anyone and anything. Except maybe not a tree.

Also: There was another dog sketch this week.

Host: Scarlett Johansson

Beck Bennett says it best during this bit: “No, you need me! Who’s gonna play the dumb idiot?!?” Wait, no — not that part (which is really good). This part: “It doesn’t seem super topical, right? Is this like a back-up monologue from the last time you hosted or something?” The fact that it’s not super topical — in addition to the fact that they lampshade that — is what makes the monologue funnier. Well, that and the fact that Chris Redd considers Alex Moffat and Mikey Day “the same damn thing.” (They are rather attached at the sketch hip and even literally interchangeable in recurring sketches.)

This monologue also marks another episode this season where “SNL” just casually jokes about how not great it is these days, without any attempt to actually change anything (other than giving Bowen Yang more sketches, which is good). “If the show’s bad, what are they gonna do? Fire my fiancé?” Apparently not. But “‘Oh no, what will we do without his paycheck?’” is still funny regardless of the quality of the show.

There’s a little more diarrhea humor in “Hot Tub Christmas” than one would expect (but not too much), but it’s a surprisingly pleasant sketch for one about a couple of strippers (Johansson and Strong) and their boss (musical guest Niall Horan) drowning in a hotel hot tub during a staring contest (while high on quaaludes).

“We’re the Jay-Z and Beyoncé of safety posters. We have fans.” This sketch doesn’t quite get out of first gear — due in part to the intentional energy of Johansson and Yang’s choking poster model characters — but it’s also pleasant. The biggest issue with the sketch is its weak ending, especially after the climax of the swarm of kitchen workers coming to get selfies.

Best Sketches of the Night: “Singing Elves” & “Hallmark Dating Show”

“It felt very Todrick Hall to me.” Between this sketch and last week’s “Hip Hop Carolers” sketch, we should all be thanking “SNL” for providing us with more Christmas music that actually slaps. Sometimes that means singing about “Home Alone,” other times that means singing about Mrs. Claus getting D from Santa’s elves — this is all what Christmas should be about, bops. This was also the sketch where Johansson was allowed to let loose the most, and honestly, the episode could’ve used more of that. There’s enough serious and straight man Johansson literally everywhere else.

“SNL” goes after Hallmark Channel for caving into that One Million Moms anti-gay petition during Weekend Update, but the Hallmark Channel game show sketch is even better. Sure, it’s a very “SNL” thing to go for a game show approach to something — as the Hallmark Channel does not do game shows — but it perfectly captures the Hallmark spirit of Christmas, right down to not understanding Hanukkah (which is a whole other Hallmark issue, especially this season).

First of all, “A Winter Boyfriend for Holiday Christmas” is such a Hallmark-sounding title that it’s surprising it’s somehow not the title of a real Hallmark movie. Johansson as the typical Hallmark lead (right down to the “villain” ex-fiancé) who has an article to write but gets distracted by the spirit of Christmas and also whatever stock boyfriend — a ghost from her childhood home, a vaguely European prince, and obviously Santa Claus — she chooses is the perfect set-up for anyone who ever plans to write their own Hallmark Christmas movies. Seriously, the ingredients are all there, including Redd as the prince’s “friend?” who has no backstory (and Johansson’s one mistake is asking him about it).

Worst Sketch of The Night: “Office Apology” & “Another Translator”

It’s unclear who was clamoring for the return of “Sexual Harassment Charlie” (as dubbed by his debut in 2017’s James Franco episode), especially as one-note as the character is. That’s not to say that one-note characters can’t be funny — especially for Kenan Thompson, as “What’s Up With That?” proved — but Charlie isn’t all that interesting. He’s a creep who barely hides it with his homespun, older black man charm. And the problem with this character, in general, is perhaps that the celebrity host counterpart (in this case, Johansson) is also in the wrong, which makes their indignation over Charlie understandable but doesn’t negate how terrible they are too. If Charlie comes back, it would be interesting to see the dynamic played up against someone who did nothing wrong, although that would probably eliminate whatever confusing message this sketch is trying to convey about double standards.

For the record: Dogs are great. Dogs on “SNL” all the time now is just very, very weird.

But this sketch was done better the first time (also in 2017). Here, it’s only news (or “news”) and real-life behavior being spouted off in favor of jokes, whereas the original version had everyone in the sketch be more combative toward Max the dog, not just Johansson. No one in this sketch even reacts to the fact that Johansson ate food out of the trash. It’s just a very less lively approach to the same bit.

Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong

Voyeur child Strong watching her parents’ (Johannson and Day) cuckold games is surely a big-time mood for someone, somewhere.

Best Male Performer: Bowen Yang

This is a no-brainer. All season so far, whenever Yang enters, it automatically elevates a sketch. He already has a breakout Weekend Update character as the Chinese trade representative.

Final Thoughts

This is the rare episode these days that doesn’t rely on a celebrity cameo and instead depends on its cast, to the point where everyone at least gets one bit in this episode. Melissa Villaseñor appears in the cold open, and Pete Davidson’s absence from the episode is both the punchline (with Strong’s “Oh no, I think it’s just one of those weeks were Pete doesn’t show up,” and the way he obliviously tells Thompson that when you’ve been at “SNL” as long as he has, you can take a few shows off ) and the twist of the opening monologue (with him being the one snapping people out of existence).

The cold open, especially, has the most to gain and offer by just featuring the actual cast, with the highlights being Thompson (along with Redd and Ego Nwodim as his children). Pretty much every line that comes out of Thompson’s mouth is a gem, to the point where the other households in the sketch (Strong’s liberal family and Bennett’s MAGA family) are overpowered, though Yang swoops in to be a last-minute highlight of the sketch as well, with his particular approach to all of this. (“Thank you for the Super Bowl halftime show, and that’s it.”) And the twist from Aidy Bryant’s snowman that none of these households’ opinions and votes matter — as they’re from California, South Carolina, and Georgia — was a great kicker, even before the Greta Thunberg (Kate McKinnon) closer — which was good but not even really necessary to close the sketch.

At the same time, this episode is kind of all over the place when it comes to celebrity host Scarlett Johansson. She’s at her best when she gets to let loose and have fun — like in the monologue and the “Singing Elves” sketch and even the “Hallmark Dating Show” and “Hot Tub Christmas” sketches — but then there’s stuff like “A Conway Marriage Story” — which she’s only even in because of “Marriage Story” — and “Office Apology.” She’s not even in “Children’s Clothing Ad,” though that sketch goes from pleasantly relatable to great when it turns into Day and Heidi Gardner’s argument during the “DEALS SO HOT” part. (But Johansson could’ve just played the Gardner role, right?) Johansson has hosted six times and is more than game to do a lot more in an episode. Then again, the question is, is that even necessary during “the Christmas episode” of “SNL”?

Instead of just one or two holiday sketches like last week’s episode, this one goes all out. Considering the fact that next week’s episode marks Eddie Murphy’s return, it makes sense that “SNL” probably would want to do its full-blown Christmas episode a week earlier than it usually would; Murphy’s episode will most likely be doing a lot of other things, as he’s promised to reprise his recurring sketches (but we’ll see).

Grade: B

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