It's been a strangely inconsistent "SNL" season so far and it appears the show's writing staff is suffering from major burnout.  Could the promise of a two-week break and the return of previous host James Franco end things on a positive note for 2009?  We'll see...

The Lawrence Welk show - Christmas Edition

Fred Armisen returns as Lawrence Welk and gets ready to introduce a famous Latin singing sensation (Franco) joining that familiar quartet, The Merryll Sisters.

Welk: "You know what they say, 'You can take the girl out of the finger lakes, but not the finger out of the girl"
(Pause)
"There was supposed to be a 'lakes' in there."

Can you imagine what transpires?  Oh yes you can! It's the same old formula: Franco's seducer sings with each of the pretty sisters until he gets to Junice (Wiig) who freaks him out and he keeps trying to get away from her.

Lawrence, 'Is it me or does one of them have a forehead that looks like the side of a cave?  Oh, and one more thing.  Live from New York...it's Saturday night!"

Grade: B.  Well, this is getting old, but extra points for not doing yet another political sketch as the opening.

Opening Monologue - James Franco


Franco comes out and reminds everyone this is his second time hosting "SNL" and that the last time he was there he'd just enrolled in Columbia.  He's got no movie to promote this time around, but "nots "SNL" doesn't have an election either, "So we are all getting by with a little less. There was a time when I was in the movies and now I'm on the soap opera 'General Hospital.' I've not kidding. I've been on it for a month."

Franco shows a clip and jokes that everyone from his family to "GH" cast members have told him its a step back. It turns out, however, this decision was made at the beginning of last year as it was plucked from his huge idea bin (cue idea bin).
"Let's see what 2010 has in store for James Franco."
First card:  "Play a dead body on 'Law & Order.' It's another step backward, but it's in the idea bin!"
Second card:
"Do another 'Spider-Man' movie. Sometimes there are good ones!"
Third card:
"Pick a town in the midwest and sleep with all the women in it. I did that last year!"
Final card:
"One more big one.  This is interesting, make this the best 'SNL' Christmas Show of all time.  Not a chance! "
(Was he being prophetic and knew something we didn't know?)

Grade: B+.  Quick, self-mocking and worth a few laughs.  Can't argue with that.

What Up With That

Yes, Deandre Cole (Keenan Thompson)  is back singing the the issues of today with a little bit of soul.  This week's guests? The real Mike Tyson, the real Jack McBrayer from "30 Rock" and, or course, Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham (Bill Hader).

As ever, Thompson gives a huge amount of energy to his Deandre Cole character and this week includes some young Cole look-a-likes.  Also making a guest appearance? A disco duo (sort of) played by Franco and Wiig that have more than a passing resemblance to David Byrne and Grace Jones. And randomly, John Stockton (Andy Samberg) and a marching ban comes in.  
 
Tyson is annoyed his interview doesn't really happen because Cole starts singing again (duh), and at the end we get the requisite repeat joke of the skit. "Oh, my I think we're out of time. And I cannot believe this happened. LIndsey Buckingham. Lindsey it's Christmas, it's Christmas Lindsey. Give me a little holiday joy?"  (He smiles).

One last shout out, "Get your ass up MIke Tyson!"  Mike dances as Confetti flies.

Grade: B.  This idea is pretty damn original, but Thompson and crew probably need to spice it up a bit the next time around.  The formula is now way to predictable and not in a good way.

A Kissing Christmas

Franco and Abbie Land play two college sweethearts visiting the home of Franco's character for the holidays.  She soon discovers, however, that his family is beyond affectionate.  

His parents (Wiig and Armisen) arrive and kiss him all over the face and can't keep their own lips off each other.

Land: "Wow, you're parents are really super affectionate."
Franco: "Yeah, which is super cool, but also horrible."

Duane (Hader) his brother coms down the stairs and shockingly gives Franco's character a full frontal on the lips (a long one mind you) sending the studio audience into hysterics.  And then his brother does a trio of kisses with the family.

UPS guy (Thompson) comes by and, surprise! Dad kisses him goodbye on the lips too.

Increasingly uncomfortable Land's character says she probably need to freshen up.

Wiig: "We're taking our family bath in 30 min."
Franco: "Don't worry babe, it's exactly what you expect. We blast Motown songs the entire time."

And with an anticipated grown from the audience, Grandma and Grandpa  (Will Forte and a female cast member) show up.  Duane makes out with grandma and feels her up.

And it keeps going and going...

Grade: B.  Shockingly funny, but what's with all the gross out humor this season?  Isn't it an easy out?

The Tizzle Wizzle Show

Sort of an "SNL Digital Short," but not. it appears Franco (as himself) is appearing on a kids show in his pajamas along with other "cast" members.  He's quickly told they are all really in their jammies.  All of a sudden, the fun energy turns into a bizarre drug and murder game with Franco the only one left standing freaked out yelling, "What's going on here?"  

(You sort of have to see it to believe it.)

Grade: B+.  Uh, wow.  Different for sure.

The Manuel Ortiz Show

Armisen returns as Manuel Ortiz, the Dominican TV counselor who tries to help a lovely lady with her romance problems.  However, every time someone comes out on stage everyone has to do this long latin dance so there is very little time for conversation.  Must have killed in the rehearsal show, because this is one skit that feels like it should have ran in the last 10 minutes not the first 30.

Grade;  C-.  Too long and pretty much one note.  

Muse song No.
1
OK, have no idea what song this is -- HitFix's own Katie Hasty will be incredibly disappointed in me -- but it was pretty cool.  Even if some of the riffs sounded incredibly similar to Blondie's "Call Me."  But way to go hipster cool "SNL"

Weekend Update


Some choice Seth Meyers jokes this week:
"Democrat leaders where surprised when Joe Lieberman announced he would not support the Health Care Bill if it included a a medicare expansion. Thereby cementing his reputation of the Senat'e's Lucy." (From "Charlie Brown.")
"22 million missing emails were found from the Bush administration, but most of them were post it notes Bush had crammed into a fax machine."
"Sarah Palin appeared on vacation with a black McCain For President had on with the 'McCain' blacked out.  She was gonna black out all of it, but halfway through, she quit."

From MTV's "Jersey Shore," Nicole Snooki Polizi (Bobby Moynihan) appears.
"It's me your girl Snooki!"
Meyers: "You were recently punched in the face in a bar, but after promoting it, MTV decided not to show it on air."
Snooki: "The good people at MTV wanted to make sure it was impossible to see me get punched in a face unless you own a computer, a cellphone or any channel other than MTV."
Snooki: "You want to touch my poof?"
Meyers: "Sure, sure. "
Snooki: "Hey, oh! I said touch it, don't scrunch it!"
Snooki: Are you italian? Because I am queen of the guidoesttes. [I'm searching for ] an italian, muscly juice headed guido. The kind of guy who works out so much that his arms are trying toe escape from his Armani Exchange t-shirt."
Meyers: Some Italian groups are boycotting the show because they believe it depicts Italians in an offensive light."
Snooki: Guido is not a derogatory -- it's a freakin' compliment!"
[Someone -- Hader -- dances through the shot and pulls up his shirt to show fake abs.]
Snooki: "I'm sorry, that's Mike. He calls himself 'The Situation.'"
Mike: "Back abs!  Look at it!"
Meyers: Are you OK Snooki?"
Snooki: "You can call me Garfield Seth."
Meyers:
"Why would anyone call you Garfield?
Snooki: "Because I'm bright orange and I love Lasagna!"

After Snooki departs, another Meyers joke:
"Google is planning on launching a new phone to challenge the iPhone.  Also a challenge to the iPhone? Making phone calls."


Garth and Kat
Armisen and Wiig appear as two singing partners who didn't realize this was the week they were appearing on Weekend Update.  They say they are prepared to sing some new Christmas songs, but really aren't.  It's basically an improv skit for the two comedians hat doesn't work on broadcast TV.

Grade: B.  That Garth and Kat appearance was painful, but Moynihan's Snooki?  Classic.  Can't wait to see "her" again.

Hell Week


In this quickly predictable skit, Samberg is a college student trying to join a fraternity only to discover the three guys running the frat are so dumb they don't know how to tie their shows, read a gas bill or know where babies come from.  

Grade: C+.  This was funny...for about a minute.  And then you knew where it was going...nowhere.

Vince Prince's 1956 Christmas Special


Bill Hader returns as Vincent Price one of his best characters with a trio of special guests for his Christmas special where he'll discover the secret of Secret Santa.  The first guest?  Wiig as Katherine Hepburn and she's brought a Christmas tree. "It's a spruce I cut down in Connecticut."
Price: "You took it on the train all the way from Connecticut to Burbank?"
"No, I despise trains.. I like brisk walks and exercise. No, I need a good wicker tree basket."

Next up, "From the hit film East of Eden Mr. James Dean (James Franco)."
Dean: "Don't tell me what to do!  You're always hassling me!"

Price is perplexed.  Time to welcome back his final guest, Liberace (Armisen).
Liberace: "Hi there Vincent. Hi James."
Price: "Easy."
Liberace: "I have this lovely Christmas ornament that was given to me by the President of Cuba. I got this one too. I prefer them in pairs. And I like them in every  color except blue."
Price: Watch it!
Liberace: "Does this do anything for you James?"
Dean: "I'm so confused!"
Liberace: "That's a start."
Price: "Full court press huh Liberace?"

Price decides to check on Hepburn who has discovered her tree had a stowaway, a raccoon and she's fighting it. Price smartly decides, "Let's take a break."

The commercial finds Marilyn Monroe hawking a new product.
"I'm Marilyn Monroe and when I get blue I reach for a box of asbestos." She throws it on herself.
"It's as best as it can be."

We return with Price wondering why that was such a quick commercial as Hepburn flies around the living room fighting the raccoon.  Suddenly, she snaps its neck, killing it.  She's been bit by the rabid animal, but insists she'll be fine because, "I drink good cold water and do 100 squat thrusts a day."

Price revisits Dean and Liberace.
Liberace: "Why don't you sing with me James?"
They both sing "Deck the Halls"
Dean: "I like that. I guess I should try new things more often."
Liberace: "Well, Merry Christmas to me!"
Price: "Do you just want people to know? is that your deal these days? Wonderful.
Let's end this thing."
Price starts to say goodbye to his guests, but Hepburn is gone and when they cut back to the piano where Franco and Liberace were sitting, the piano player is gone.  Nope, wait, he raises his hand. He's underneath the piano!

Price: "Whoa! Whoa! Go to commercial!"

Grade: A.  Hader's Price may be the best ever and Armisen's Liberacie is pretty damn great too.  Gotta figure this appeared later in the show due to the, um, blue nature of the skit.

Christmas Tree Salesman


Franco is a tree salesman who talks to all the trees like they are girlfriends or kids of his.  Some choice lines:
"I was talking to the tree."
"Before you go, I want to give you pictures of you and me."
"I'm not a sap, you're a sap!"
"I never went to Paris, I never really got on the plane. I don't know where it went wrong Helen! Maybe your parents turned me against you.  Maybe it was your religion!"
He begins singing "Christmas tree, Oh, Christmas tree" wistfully.  Wait! A branch touches his shoulder.
"Beth, Beth you came back!"
Tree makes weird noises.
"Let's go back to my place and you can decorate me."

Grade: B.   Strange, but inspired and Franco pulls it off.

Muse, song No. 2

No clue what it is, but it had it's moments.  The guys live up to the hype. At least live.

Hold My Calls - Christmas edition

Three office managers (Franco, Hader and Forte) decide to get the whole staff dildos or do they not? Forte's character continually says "Carol, hold my calls."

Grade: C.  Uh,

Mark Wahlberg talks to Christmas Animals

Andy Samberg brings out his pitch perfect Wahlberg impression as he walks around talking to real animals on "SNL's" set.  And yes, they all get the "Say hi to your mother for me" goodbye.

Grade: B.  Not bad, buts off really early.  Was this a West Coast edit? Hmmmm.

What was good about this week?  Way less Sudeikis than most of the episodes this week, a good helping of Thompson,  and Moynihan may have his first breakout character/impersonation.  Plus, Franco continued to show his suprisingly wide range of comedic talent.  

What was bad about this week?  Lots of repeat sketch ideas (except for Vincent Price) that made much of the show seem very deja vu.  

As the first half of the 2009-2010 season has taught us, unless the writers have a few weeks off they become less and less inspired.  Yes, it might be time for a new influx of creatives on the show.  Is it too late to make that happen over the holiday break?

Next Show: Charles "It's terrribbbllleee" Barkley with musical guest Alicia Keys.