Tonight’s “Saturday Night Live” host Martin Short is no stranger to the show. After all, he was a big part of the show’s 10th season cast. That cast is unusual in the show’s history: Made up of many seasoned comic veterans brought in by then-producer Dick Ebersol after the departure of Eddie Murphy led to a domino effect of other repertory players either leaving or being fired, it was as much a presence in the writer’s room as onscreen. As such, Short (alongside other cast members such as Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest) had tremendous power to help shape what they did each Saturday night. A lot of those elements were pre-produced, which gives that tenth season something in common with the current thirty-eighth installment. So it makes a sort of sense to have Short join this particular cast on this particular night. That’s a bit of a stretch, to be sure. But it’s something that also feels right as I look at the ratio of live-to-taped segments then compared with now.

Because of Short’s history with the show, combined with tonight being the Christmas episode, and further combined with the presence of musical guest Paul McCartney, and one can well assume many surprises are in store for tonight’s installment. A note about such surprises: because I’m liveblogging this episode tonight, I’m going to refrain from speculating about rumors swirling around Al Gore’s interwebs at the outset here. There’s one particularly juicy one that is intriguing not just because of the sketch in question, but what that sketch’s presence may mean for the immediate future of the program as a whole.
 
Intrigued? So am I. There’s only one way to clear things up, and that’s via a sketch-by-sketch grading process. Nothing says “holiday spirit” by throwing coal at each score I give! I’ll be kicking things off once the show starts on the East Coast.
 
Silent Night: Before the show starts properly, a child choir (identified online as the Manhattan Children’s Chorus) stands center stage to sing “Silent Night” as a tribute to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Simple, effective, and haunting. Having them then announce, “Live from New York…” was slightly jarring, but I’m not sure there was any way to do it more cleanly.
 
Monologue: Short comes on with a mixture of excitement and false humility. He throws in an Ed Grimley impression almost immediately, which perhaps hint at the retro feel tonight will have. Having Paul Schaeffer appear alongside him during the monologue also seems to point towards that conclusion as well. “How does a man sit on a piano?” he asks before singing a holiday song dedicated to couples conceiving children during this time of year. Before long, he’s working his way through the audience and the backstage area, a move I don’t remember seeing in the recent past. But it's obviously a staple in the show's monologue arsenal. Backstage are Kristen Wiig, Jimmy Fallon, Tom Hanks, and Samuel L. Jackson. This is turning into “The Avengers” of “SNL” eps, even without Agent Fury himself being there. Next we see Tina Fey chatting with Lorne Michaels, and I’m dead. No more, please! You win, show! None of this was particularly funny, but as a star-studded pat on the back, this was pretty awesome. [Grade: B+]

A Tony Bennett Christmas: And the hits keep coming, with Alec Baldwin reprising one of his great recurring impressions. Short soon joins him as Tony’s younger brother Jerry “The Barnacle” Bennett. The two interview Jay Pharoah’s Kanye West, still wearing his leather skirt from the “12/12/12” Concert this past week. Kanye has to hold up a box of suppositories for an unfortunate product placement segment. (“It’s sure easy to get down in the dumps when you can’t have one!”) What felt like the first of many segments turns out to be the only one, which makes the overemphasis on gross-out humor all the more curious. Short’s propensity towards breaking mid-sketch didn’t help, either. Having a parade of stars is great. Having sketches that are actually funny should be the priority, however. [Grade: B-] 

Kate Middleton’s Pregnancy Exam: Short is Rupert, a liaison from the royal family helping establish protocol with her OB/GYN. Essentially, what follows is a long list of rules and regulations between the physician and the Duchess’ nether regions. And yes, calling it that makes me as silly as the sketch, but come on: I’m not a total monster. Some of these rules involve muttering aloud to help Middleton’s self-esteem (“This is definitely one of the best of these I’ve ever seen!”) and others involve the proper naming conventions for that part of the anatomy should it be wearing a hat (“Her Downton Abbey” is an option). Poor Bill Hader didn’t have a chance in this sketch, as while Short managed to stay perfectly in character throughout, Hader didn’t have such luck. (I’m willing to wager they “Stefon”-ed him, introducing new nicknames just before air-time.) Normally, any sketch that lasts this long reaches a point of diminishing returns. But by the time Fred Armisen’s Queen Elizabeth showed up, I was still laughing. Some tightening might have yielded a stronger sketch comedically speaking, but the looseness of this offered up a satisfying experience all its own. [Grade: A-]
 
You’re A Rat Bastard, Charlie Brown: I have a soft spot for sketches that boil down to “everyone gets to do impressions”. So watching Al Pacino, Edie Falco, Larry David, and Michael Keaton enact a more “adult” version of the children’s classic is pretty much in my wheelhouse. Taran Killan and Kate McKinnon both get top marks for their Keaton and Falco impressions, respectively. At this point, Hader’s Pacino is a known commodity, but it’s still a ridiculously accurate impersonation. (Go ahead: rewatch it, only close your eyes this time around. It’s uncanny.) Other than the quick shot of the horrified kids in the audience, this didn’t really have the bite suggested by the title of the play. But it was a solid if unspectacular segment all the same. [Grade: B]

It’s time for that up-and-coming musical artist Paul McCartney to take the stage and perform “My Valentine”. It’s a very pretty song, but come on, Paul! You only wrote a good chunk of THE great rock and roll songs of all time. Why not bust one of those out? My guess? He’ll perform twice more tonight, and this is the “whatever Paul wants to do” installment. But hey, Joe Walsh gotta eat, so we have him backing up McCartney on acoustic guitar. So that’s something! [Grade: B]

Weekend Update: To mark the last night of Chanukah, Bar Mitzvah Boy Jacob appears to tell Seth the story of the holiday. I think Vanessa Bayer has portrayed this character before in-sketch, but never on “Update”. Rather than actually converse with Meyers, Jacob simply reads off his speech from his Bar Mitzvah, complete with corny jokes always delivered in the same cadence. (“But don’t tell my parents I said that!”) My biggest takeaway from this? Bayer could play Luke Dunphy’s stunt double on “Modern Family” should “SNL” work out for her. Afterwords, Cecily Strong breaks out The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With At A Party. This iteration of the character seems to specialize in dropping entire syllables from words (George Washington founded ‘Merica, apparently) atop good ol’ non-sequiturs (“This is origami. That’s Spanish for ‘goose’.”) and the usual racism (“Can I do a minstrel show really quick?”) thrown in for good measure. Given the cavalcade of stars there tonight, I can’t believe none got behind the “Update” desk. Are Fey and Fallon just straight-up drunk already backstage? If so…I want to go to there. Still, this was a pretty energetic “Update” overall, even without the Hosts of Update Past dropping by. [Grade: B+]

What Up With That Christmas Spectacular: OK, so here was the rumor I alluded to earlier. It's a sketch that was apparently retired by Kenan Thompson…but here it is again. Now, when I heard this was happening, I thought it signaled that perhaps this would be Jason Sudeikis’ last show. It would fit into the general “goodbye tour” for him, since his Running Man character is one of the iconic ones in his entire oeuvre. (I know he’s never said a word in this series…but come on, can you take your eyes off him? I think not.) And right as I say that…SUDEIKIS SPEAKS! Oh God. Now I feel sick to my stomach. OK, as for the sketch itself: I spent most of the sketch wondering if Jackson might straight up murder Thompson’s host. I mean, THAT would be a definite end to the series, no? Besides that, everything hit the familiar beats we’ve all but memorized at this point. The only real surprise? Jackson’s inability to prevent himself from swearing not once, but twice. Wow. (Did he forget he wasn’t hosting the VGA Awards?) Still, learning that Lindsey Buckingham made six separate trips to Israel only to be prevented from telingl the audience the true meaning of Christmas made me laugh all the same. I knew that beat was coming, but the joy came not only from the interactions between the pair but also the history between them. For that and that alone, I’m glad “SNL” pulled this sketch out of mothballs for (potentially) the last time again (maybe). [Grade: B]
 
As I suspected, Paul McCartney is back out again early, this time to reprise his performance of “Cut Me Some Slack” with the remaining members of Nirvana. Without trying to place it in the back catalog of either half of this equation, it’s easier to appreciate the swampy blues that feels more like Led Zeppelin or The White Stripes than anything these four have ever recorded on their own. Sure, there’s some “Helter Skelter” and some “Scentless Apprentice” in there, but this track is its own beast all the same. Mostly, I’m just tickled that this song exists at all, and it completely and utterly owns the initial version laid down during the “12/12/12” Concert. That was a fun mess. This was a semi-buttkicking. (Whoops. I think Samuel L. almost wore off on me. I typed another version of that sentiment before coming to my senses.) [Grade: A-]

 

Restoration Hardware Reunion: “Hey,” said the writers of this sketch, probably, “Let’s not sleep for three days, improvise a scene, record whatever we say, and then just stage it inside a Restoration Hardware.” It’s unclear why anything is happening at any point: Why is one a James Cameron impersonator? Why does one live in a field? Why do they each have $6,000 in spending cash? And here’s the most important question of all: How do I get those four minutes of my life back? [Grade: D] 

Pageant Auditions: Oh, so THAT’S what Cecily Strong’s real voice sounds like. Who knew? McCartney plays Monty, one-half of a musical duo with Short. The latter forbids the former from singing, which yields an adorably sad McCartney muttering, “I like to sing.” Instead, he’s responsible for playing the triangle. I’m not convinced I like Short acting with his hips and hair in nearly every sketch tonight, but that ship has sailed at this point. Luckily, he adds “absolute rage” to his repertoire here, launching into Monty at the drop of a hat. McCartney’s comic timing is great, with his sadsack persona absorbing the insults like a sponge. This wasn’t a sketch so much as set-up for the final performance of the night, so let’s rank this [Grade: B]...
 
…and move onto the final musical performance of the night, as McCartney joins his touring band to perform “Wonderful Christmas Time”. The Manhattan Children’s Chorus (who appeared in the pre-credits slot) appear once again to sing along with Sir Paul. What, I’m supposed to grade CHRISTMAS? I know better. Just assume I would have preferred “Hey Jude” with a choral back-up, but also assume I’m no Grinch. [Grade: N/A]

Best Sketch: “Kate Middleton’s Pregnancy Exam”

 
Worst Sketch: “Restoration Hardware Reunion”
 
Biggest Non-Surprise: Episodes that feature a surplus of stars means a reduced role for the actual cast themselves. No one got a lot to do, and some people were almost totally shut out. (Seriously, is Tim Robinson still in the cast? Other than his Dancing Santa in “What Up With That?”, he was AWOL again.)
 
Sudeikis Watch: Nothing onscreen seemed to indicate anything was amiss. So I’m guessing my worries were misplaced.
 
What did you think about tonight’s show? Did Short impress you? Did the show’s opening moments effectively honor the tragedy in Connecticut? Did the Parade of Stars work for the show or against it? Sound off below!
 
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