It’s time for the penultimate 2013 installment of “Saturday Night Live,” and time for recappers to bust out words like “penultimate.” Excitement abounds! Tonight, John Goodman hosts for the thirteenth time, his first since November 2001. That’s a long time between gigs, especially for someone that hosted every year between 1989 and 2001. The only cast member in both 2001 and 2013? Seth Meyers, who is set to leave early next year. So the stage is set for Goodman to have fun with a whole new sandbox of sketch comedy talent. We still might see Linda Tripp trying to use the Obamacare website, but if that happens, Goodman’s Tripp will be playing against a new actress playing Monica Lewinsky. So, that’s new and fun. Kinda.
 
Along for the ride is musical act Kings Of Leon. As always, I’ll be grading the segments in real time. As always, those grades should be taken with a silo of salt. As always, people will misinterpret grades as commandments passed down from on high rather than the opinions of one person. All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again. See you at 11:30 pm EST for the start of the liveblog.

 

An Address By President Obama: Another week, another jab at the Obamacare website. But this time, we also get the sign language interpreter from Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. That gives Kenan Thompson the chance to gesticulate wildly and use his expressive face to maximum comedic effect. Afterwards, German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives to get a selfie with the President. She gets one “serious” and one “fun” one, the latter of which being even more severe than the first. “SNL” really doesn’t have a good track record recently on political cold opens, but this one wisely steered away from policy and focused on personality. This was totally silly, and extremely superfluous, but also a fun open for the show. [Grade: B]
 
Monologue: THAT JACKET, YOU GUYS! Wow. Why did Goodman stop hosting "SNL"? He had to work! “I guess what I’m saying is…I hate going home!” He’s kidding, of course, and wants to use the monologue to dedicate a song to his wife, and summons Kenan Thompson to help. It’s a way to get his “Blues Brothers” energy out without having Dan Aykroyd along for the ride. That song? “All I Want For Christmas Is Booty.” Which, you know, is a noble sentiment and such. But it would be better served if 1) the song actually went anywhere after its punchline, 2) featured any type of actual interplay between Goodman/Thompson, and 3) had some sort of actual production value behind it. Without those three, it boiled down to, “Guys, it’s a Christmas song about getting laid!” Well, Martin Short did that same schtick last year, and it was far more inventive.  [Grade: C]
 
Guy Fieri’s Full Throttle Christmas Special: Let’s talk about an animated Guy Fieri punching out Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and Kate McKinnon’s insanely awesome Big Ang impression…and leave the rest of this hot mess alone. I’m a sucker for any sketch in which the entire cast gets to bust out impressions, but this was about the makeup rather than the actual characterization. On top of that, the editing for this pre-produced segment lacked the requisite energy needed to make this work. An early sound flub suggests this was being worked on until air time, which helps explain the less-than-tight cuts that really hindered the segment.  [Grade: C-]
 
Dearborn Community Playhouse Holiday Pageant: A doctor (Goodman) introduces “The Dance Of The Snowflakes,” which features bright smiles and yet crippling doubt deployed through voiceovers. This takes a while to get going, but the sketch builds with each pass through the four-person cast, getting progressively more bizarre and outrageous with each go-around. (“On the way here, I hit a man with my car. I didn’t stop because I thought this was more important!”) As with the cold open, there’s nothing sophisticated going on here, just a simple idea with execution that never gets in the way of the premise. Kudos especially to Aidy Bryant and her Joker-esque grin throughout the sketch. [Grade: B+]

The Three Wise Guys: Oh hey, Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro. You’re here to plug that film (“Grudge Match”) I was utterly convinced was actually a “30 For 30” parody. The first thirty seconds of this were so awkward and painful that I may or may not have hid under my desk. After that, the sketch really leans on good will from the audience, but there’s some smart punchlines dropped throughout the sketch that these pros knock out of the park. This is pure, old-school vaudeville here, updated with references to certain parts of a camel’s anatomy. Sharper timing might have actually made this a start-to-finish throwback classic, but the pacing here works against such lofty achievements. Seeing these three onstage together is the pleasure here, which in many ways makes the content itself besides the point. So I’m giving this two grades, because I can and because grades don’t really matter anyways. [Grade: A for star power onstage, C+ for actual comedy] 

Kings Of Leon take the stage to perform Temple. It’s a solid rock song, but did every member of the band wake up from their naps during “The Three Wise Guys” sketch? The energy of the song doesn’t match the energy of the band at all, which works well if you’re trying to be ironic in the vein of Oasis. Here, it conveys a general indifference to the audience. There’s a difference between being aloof and being asleep. Not sure they hit the right side of that equation here. But if you close your eyes, it’s a perfectly good (if perfectly generic) rock song. [Grade: B-]
 
Weekend Update: Kenan Thompson appears as Santa Claus in response to this past week’s Megyn Kelly controversy to prove once and for all that Santa is black. But Mrs. Claus? Definitely white. (“If Mrs. Claus was black, I’d be living in Atlanta near her momma!”) Afterwards, Drunk Uncle arrives to give his thoughts on spending time with the family during the holidays. It’s a slightly overused character at this point, but one that still throws in some pretty solid jabs that evoke shocked laughter from the audience every once in a while. (“We got ‘Black Friday’ now? Wasn’t ‘February’ enough?”) And it gives a chance for Goodman to appear as Drunk Uncle’s Drunk Uncle. (“All I want for Christmas…is for my two neighbors not to be Chinese anymore.”) In keeping with Jacob The Bar Mitzvah Boy last week, Drunk Uncle actually says goodbye to Meyers. Despite Lorne Michael’s public wishes to keep Meyers around after he takes over “Late Night,” it would be slightly cheap to have this farewell parade and then keep him around, no? I realize this isn't the same as a Mariano Rivera scenario, but it's something to mull over nonetheless. [Grade: B]
 
Civil Suit: Goodman in drag! How did it take this long? It’s been almost an hour! He plays Genevieve, a woman suing her former boss for firing her for being “too hot”. Taran Killam gets his first live appearance tonight, taking over the role that would have gone to Bill Hader or Jason Sudeikis in recent years. (I'll let you fight in the comments over which one would have played this lawyer last season.) Killam’s impressions and over-the-top characters are generally great, but this is a needed skill as well for the show as a whole and his place on it in particular. But once again, the central pairing here is Goodman/Thompson, who have been interacting with one another all night. Beck Bennett has also been AWOL all night, but gets to show off some sweet dance moves of his own in a wordless role here. Nothing particular here truly shines, but each piece makes this a sturdy if forgettable sketch.  [Grade: B]

 

Fire Safety: We saw this classroom back in the Edward Norton episode a few weeks ago, and I’m happy to see it again. The way in which terrible ideas grow around the room thanks to Nasim Pedrad’s ringleader is as enjoyable this time around as last, even if some of the timing is off. There are some flubbed lines and some awkward pauses, but there’s still fun to be had as the children slowly turn on Goodman’s fireman. Mostly, I cherish anytime Pedrad has a lead role in a sketch, since I keep expecting to wake up and find out she’s no longer on the show. It’s an odd phobia, but a real one all the same. [Grade: B-] 

Hallmark Channel Countdown To Christmas: Look, if you saw “My Neighbor’s A Magi” on your cable guide, would you blink twice? Of course not. Which is the big problem here: It’s almost impossible to satirize something that is already something of a parody. I’m half-convinced that Lifetime, Hallmark, and other networks just throw random holiday-themed words into a bowl, pick five out at random, and make a movie based on that combination. So while “On Dancer, On Danza” is amusing, it’s also probably already in production and filming in Vancouver. [Grade: C] 

Kings Of Leon return with “Wait For Me,” which has a guitar line that seems directly lifted from Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone.” (That should date me, if that wasn’t already obvious.) The band appears to have had some coffee in between performances, even if this song is a bit more subdued than “Temple”. Confession time: “Use Somebody” is one of my least favorite songs of all time, so it’s great to hear that the band can construct a mid-tempo ballad that doesn’t have me looking for the nearest oven in which to put my head. [Grade: B-]
 
The Christmas Whistle: Look, if this was designed for the sole purpose of making me miss Lord Wyndemere, then mission accomplished! I’d rather see him dance to his page’s magical pan flute than listen to this aural assault. I didn’t have a headache when this sketch started, but I sure as heck do now. Youch. Let’s just move on and pretend like this didn’t happen. (If there’s anything salvageable, I guess it was McKinnon’s Hepburn-esque attitude. Other than that, burn this with fire.) [Grade: D+]
 
H&M: A few weeks ago, Jay Pharaoah got the big-budget treatment with “What Does My Girl Say?” This doesn’t have quite the same production values, but it’s entertaining as hell. Pharaoh’s Fresh Prince outfit, the Fly Girl-esque moves from Pedrad/McKinnon/Noël Wells, Taran Killam’s ponytail, and an appearance from Wale make this an odd but infectious short. Not sure why “SNL” waited this long in the episode to drop such a strong segment, but it’s far from the first time that something they bury deep in the episode turns out to be far stronger than anything pre-“Update”. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to see if all the clothing in the local H&M really is on the floor instead of on the racks. [Grade: B+]
 
Donnelly’s: Ah, my favorite recurring 12:55 am sketch, and Goodman seems like the absolute perfect person to continue this series. Last week, the show ended with a Bill Brasky segment. This feels like the modern-day offspring to that, albeit one that involves “Lady And The Tramp”-ing a peanut. (“I choose you…out of zero more choices.) There’s something fascinating about how dark the underpinnings here truly are. Whereas the Brasky sketches take a more absurd approach to nihilism, “Donnelly’s” explores people who are very much of the world rather than teleported from a related yet separate universe. Neither is "better," except in the eyes of the beholder. Me? I prefer a sketch with at least one foot in reality. Watching Goodman and McKinnon spray whipped cream on the other’s face and go absolutely to town on each other gives the episode its first explosive moment of comedy, and seems like the first time tonight anyone is having any fun. A totally unmemorable episode gets redeemed somewhat in the final ten minutes. Everyone will be talking about “The Three Wise Guys” tomorrow, but this was the best sketch by a long shot. [Grade: A]

Best Sketch: Donnelley’s 

Worst Sketch: The Christmas Whistle
 
The Biggest Losers: Anyone in the cast not Thompson or McKinnon
 
Next Week: Jimmy Fallon, Justin Timberlake, and probably two dozen more special guests. If I’m Brooks Wheelan, I’ve probably already booked a plane ticket home for tomorrow.
 
What did you think of tonight’s show? Did the final ten minutes redeem it? Or was it already great/continually terrible throughout? Are you looking forward to the show’s past dominating the Christmas episode next week, or fearful for the current cast’s chances of getting airtime? Sound off below!