Saturday Night Live: Scarlett Johansson gets into the spirit of Christmas passé

Zach Vasquez

We open with a beloved holiday figure, Sam the Snowman (Aidy Bryant), inviting viewers into three American households – one multicultural and liberal, one white and conservative, one black and resigned to more of the same – during Christmas dinner.

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Sam reminds us that they all have “one important thing in common: they live in states where their votes don’t matter … they’ll debate the issues all year long but then it all comes down to a thousand people in Wisconsin who won’t even think about the election until the morning of. And that’s the magic of the electoral college!”

Sam is interrupted by Time magazine’s Person of the Year, Greta Thunberg (Kate McKinnon), who relays a dour Christmas message of her own: “In 10 years, this snowman won’t exist! Her home will be a puddle! Santa, reindeer, the North Pole, all of it, gone! The icecaps will melt and the elves will drown!”

The whole thing feels overstuffed, especially the introduction of Thunberg, its cynicism unearned given how neutered SNL’s political content has been for several seasons. But it’s a step up from the last few cold opens.

Scarlett Johansson hosts for a sixth time. She gets in a couple of digs at head writer and “love of [her] life” Colin Jost – “If the show’s bad what are they going to do, fire my fiance? Oh no, what are we going to do without his paycheck?!” – before she’s interrupted by Pete Davidson, who’s gotten his hands on the Infinity Gauntlet from the Avengers movies and is snapping the cast out of existence, Thanos-style.

The whole thing feels antiquated, something the show acknowledges by having Beck Bennett ask: “Is this a back-up monologue from the last time you hosted?” Still, there’s some solid self-deprecation, particularly a couple of jokes about the interchangeability of the white male cast members.

Singing Elves sees two gender-fluid mall employees and their coked-out songwriter dressed like Santa’s Helpers and performing sexually explicitly Christmas raps to kids and parents. Johansson is surprisingly on point in her rhyming. Then a commercial for Macy’s Holiday Sale advertises clothes children will hate, including “cozy corduroys that will pinch his little nuts”, “holiday rompers she’ll never get off in time” and “snow boots that are so hard to put on it’ll strain your marriage”. Exhausted parents will find much to relate to here.

In Office Apology, a company is forced to fire two of their employees – Linda, the buttoned-up vice-president of sales, and Charly, an older, African American front desk guy – for inappropriate behavior at the holiday party. The entire office is happy to see Linda get the axe for her various micro-aggressions but they’re fully behind Charly, even though he’s constantly making inappropriate jokes and come-ons.

It’s hard not to read this sketch as a response to some of the criticism Johansson has taken over the years for cultural appropriation, but it’s neither obvious nor cutting enough to work. Kenan Thompson gets some good lines, though.

Conway Marriage Story looks at the much publicized (and clearly manipulative) animosity between rightwing ghouls Kellyanne (McKinnon) and George Conway (Beck Bennett, really looking the part in some impressive prosthetics). It’s fine but, given the preponderance of Marriage Story across social media this past week, I can’t help but feel the show missed an opportunity by not having Johansson and Jost recreate the much-memed fight scene.

The night’s musical guest is Niall Horan, who performs the song Nice to Meet Ya. For Weekend Update, Michael Che wonders why Trump is so angry about impeachment, since there’s zero chance the Republican Senate will convict him: “It’d be like if Obama got voted out of office by the Wu-Tang Clan.”

He then cites a survey that found 37% of registered Republicans think Trump is a better president than George Washington. Che isn’t sure if he agrees or not: on the one hand Trump is obviously terrible but on the other hand Washington owned slaves. It’s like, he says, asking who the better comedian is, Colin Jost or Bill Cosby. “The answer’s Bill Cosby.” It’s the funniest Che’s been all season.

After a visit by Chinese trade representative Chen Biao (Bowen Yang), the hosts are joined by Baby Yoda (Kyle Mooney … I think), there to bask in his all-consuming popularity. Turns out, Baby Yoda isn’t a wise sage like his namesake, but rather a self-promoting D-bag who hangs out with Hollywood A-listers (his “Squad” includes Robert Pattinson, Timothée Chalamet and the two guys from the Sonic commercials) and talks trash to his haters: “Baby Groot, do me a favor – keep my name out your little tree mouth before I snap you like a twig!”

Considering how inescapable Baby Yoda has become, the show deserves some credit for not going overboard. The effects team also does some really impressive work, turning Mooney into the diminutive green space creature.

Next, a vacationing couple (Chris Redd, Ego Nwodim) are visited by three singing ghosts – two ditzy strippers and their sleazebag boss, Big Jim – in the hotel hot tub where they all “drowned-ed” several Christmases ago. Their musical tale of Yuletide woe goes on so long it’s kind of hard to keep up, but it’s a catchy tune. Horan acquits himself well as Big Jim.

In Hallmark Dating Show, Johansson plays the stereotypical made-for-TV heroine – that is, a career-driven single woman who’s forgotten “the true reason for Christmas is husband”. The contestants vying for her affection include a hunky Christmas tree salesman who’s definitely a ghost, a charming prince from “Caucasia” and a down to earth everyman who is clearly Santa Clause in disguise. She passes on all of them in order to “Marry Christmas”. Hallmark tropes make for easy pickings, but this is an enjoyable sendup nonetheless.

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause puts a kinky spin on the holiday standard, Cecily Strong’s child narrator witnessing a lot more than an innocent kiss. The roleplaying game she spies on between her parents and a Craigslist Saint Nick involves blackmail, choking and murder but it all works in the end, as she learns “we all each have our thing … my kink’s to be watching people’s private lives.”

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Horan returns and performs the ballad Put a Little Love on Me, then Yang and Johansson play “the people from the choking poster” – that is, the couple who served as models for the ubiquitous choking/Heimlich maneuver poster that adorns the wall of seemingly every restaurant bar in the country. Out for dinner, they quickly set upon by a mob of star struck service industry pros. It’s a funny idea, but one that never rises above its premise.

Closing out the night, a scattered sketch about a mind-reading device for pets. An adorable pug reveals himself to be a cynical Trump supporter, much to the chagrin of his owner and her co-workers. A retread of the cold open, it peters out pretty quickly even as it drags to a close. The dog is certainly cute, as is a baby pig that pops up at the end, but the reliance on cute animals feels increasingly desperate.

This was a solid showing for Johansson, who felt right at home as host. Most of the sketches were funnier in concept than execution but the episode as a whole remained breezy and fun, with a number of solid musical spots and some particularly impressive special effects.