This is going to be a divisive episode of Saturday Night Live.
With Kate McKinnon returning to the show for the first time since she left the cast, speculation was running high that she’d bring several former castmembers with her. There’s nothing unusual about that. Episodes hosted by former castmembers are magnets for their friends to join in on.
What’s unusual about this episode, though, is that McKinnon was immediately accompanied by Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig.
What unusual about that, Bill? you may ask. They’re two of the most iconic SNL players in recent history.
Sure they are. But they have almost zero connection to Kate McKinnon.
Maya Rudolph left SNL after Season 33. Kristen Wiig left SNL after Season 37. Kate McKinnon didn’t even join SNL until the final five episodes of Season 37.
I know that a lot of people love cameos on SNL. Doesn’t matter who they are. Doesn’t matter their connection to the host. The more cameos, the better. If you’re in this camp, you probably loved this episode. Rudolph and Wiig not only appeared in the monologue, but they popped up in two more sketches, including a pretaped song. (When this kind of cameoing happens in an episode, there are giant gaps where the cast themselves disappear.)
If you’re like me, though, you’re scratching your head about the duo being so heavily featured in this episode. When I think about Kate McKinnon on SNL and who I loved seeing her perform with, I think of Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong.
Bryant and Strong joined SNL in Season 38, which was McKinnon’s first full season. McKinnon and Bryant left the show together after Season 47, with Strong departing after the following season’s Christmas episodes.
SNL really missed an opportunity here to reunite Kate McKinnon with a few of the people she spent almost a decade working with.
TVLine’s Ryan Schwartz predicted on Saturday that we’d see a cold open featuring Kate McKinnon as Rudy Giuliani in light of the news that he now owes $148 million to the Georgia election workers that he defamed. Would McKinnon showing up in the cold open have broken the unofficial rule that hosts don’t appear until their monologue? Sure, but McKinnon is a former castmember who played a figure in the news right now.
Nope. SNL steered clear of anything in the news this week, staging the 85th Annual Christmas Awards instead.
We discussed after the Jason Momoa episode how SNL loves this format. Two castmembers get to play hosts while the rest of the cast parades out a series of weirdos.
- “I hear them eating silver and ham”: Let Chloe Troast sing in every episode.
- “Two people from the E! Network you’ve never heard of”: I’m not going to look up who Heidi Gardner and Bowen Yang were playing in this one. Don’t spoil the surprise for me if they’re real or not.
Kate McKinnon’s monologue was kind of all over the place. She made some jokes about previously working there, poked some fun at her long-running role as the “freak next to hot person” during monologues when she was part of the cast, pretended to play a tiny piano and then hung out with Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig.
I don’t think a lot of people remember that McKinnon randomly joined SNL in the middle of a season. The first sketch of hers I recall really standing out was “Helga Lately,” which was a great sign of the weird characters she’d bring to the show.
- “Running into old friends”: I guess Rudolph and Wiig count as old friends if you take into account them hosting during McKinnon’s tenure on SNL? Or that Rudolph played Kamala Harris during the 2016-2020 cameo craze.
- Piano time: It was a tiny piano (and McKinnon wasn’t really playing), but we now have back-to-back monologues involving the instrument.
SKETCHES OF THE WEEK
I’m going with two sketches of the week for this episode. Oddly, one of them doesn’t feature Kate McKinnon at all while the other barely does.
Weekend Update: Christmas Joke Swap 2023
It’s become a tradition for Colin Jost and Michael Che to read a few jokes that the other person wrote but they themselves have never seen to close out Weekend Update during the Christmas episode.
This might be the most brutal installment yet.
Che has always been the more cutting one when it comes to this gag. He took things to a new level this year, bringing out Hattie Davis, who he claimed was a poet, author and activist (and allegedly “marched with King”).
I’m not sure which was the more savage joke Che wrote for Jost: “I can think of at least one dodo I’d like to reintroduce to Africa” or “And if you ask me, you’re an even better Black Widow than Coretta Scott King.”
Jost’s attempt to fist bump Hattie Davis after the Barack Obama joke …
- “Michael is amazing, but the kids are not believable at all”: Jost got a good one in on Che, having him offer his thoughts on the Michael Jackson musical.
I need to know who’s responsible for “Pongo” so I can send them a thank-you note. (It was Sarah Sherman, wasn’t it?) This sketch is so weird and so brilliant.
Advertised as the world’s first perfect pet, Pongo doesn’t need to eat since “nothing goes in and nothing comes out.” Pong is neither alive nor dead. “He just is.” And unfortunately for the mom in this sketch, he “moves silently through your house — like a spider.”
- Grandma loves Pongo: Besides the return of Barbara DeDrew in “Whiskers R We with Billie Eilish,” the grandmother in this sketch was the closest we got to seeing McKinnon in a role that really felt like her wheelhouse.
- Warning: At the end of the sketch, a tiny disclaimer ran on the bottom of the screen. It read: “Pongo is a sentient, featureless mound incapable of feeling or emoting. Any perception of emotion is purely a projection of the user and is not the liability of the Pongo Corportation. Use at your own risk.” There was also a warning to keep Pongo upright.
North Pole News: Killer Whale Attack
This one really fell flat for me. The general concept of a killer whale attack on the North Pole could have been fun (c’mon, this is the show that gave us Land Shark), but “North Pole News: Killer Whale Attack” failed to land any of its punches.
I’m not going to look until I finish writing this edition of Deep SNL Thoughts, but I’m sure some critics have “ABBA Christmas” as the top sketch from this episode. Like I said earlier, this is a divisive episode. If you love cameos, especially from previous SNL castmembers, this one was for you. Besides Yang and a bit of James Austin Johnson, the cast got skipped over so Rudolph and Wiig could have a starring role.
- “No. 1 band alphabetically of all time”: My knowledge of ABBA’s catalogue is slim, so the jokes involving their songs might’ve gone over my head.
Gifts from Mom
On a pure Kate McKinnon energy level, this was probably my favorite sketch of hers. Playing a mother who constantly apologized for the gifts she bought her daughters, McKinnon spent the sketch finding new ways to belittle herself.
- “I take up space and I hurt people”: McKinnon’s character telling the family to take turns hitting her in the head was a bit shocking. Marcello Hernandez’s boyfriend character eagerly preparing to oblige was too.
- “Steve was my father’s name”: Johnson’s father character might have silently been the MVP of this sketch. Him chucking brown paper bags with gifts at his daughters’ boyfriends was unexpected, especially when it turned out those gifts were a copy of the book “How to Pick Up Women” and a hat that said “FML.”
“Tampon Farm” is another solid addition to the library of recent SNL songs. (Nate Bargatze gave us “Lake Beach” earlier this season.)
- We heard you love guest stars … In addition to Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig being featured in “Tampon Farm,” musical guest Billie Eilish and former SNL writer Paula Pell also made an appearance. You got me here — the world needs more Paula Pell cameos.
Weekend Update: Rich Auntie with No Kids on Relaxing During the Holidays
Does SNL feature Ego Nwodim enough as a Weekend Update guest? Even if the answer to that is yes, Nwodim is always a hit when she shows up during Update.
- “Do that mess outside”: Nwodim’s auntie character employs the “push-off method” when it comes to avoiding pregnancy.
When this sketch started, I thought we were going to see a reprise of the White Elephant sketch from Austin Butler’s Christmas episode last season (I was just scrolling through sketches from that episode, and — wow — was that a weird episode in the best way).
Turns out this one had a very different hook: The announcement that the FDA had approved the first gene therapy to cure sickle cell anemia.
Great news, but not as great as the Boogie Woogie Santa that was in the mix for this gift exchange.
- “If any of those presents is a box of bees, do not swap with me”: Molly Kearney seems to be appearing less this season, but she nailed this line.
Reese De’What is another classic Kenan Thompson character. The man has many, so it’s hard to keep track of them or even remember they exist until they pop up in an episode.
- “I never got him baptized”: That poor dog. Now he’s going to purgatory.
Whiskers R We with Billie Eilish
I was surprised at how few recurring characters Kate McKinnon brought back for this episode. We didn’t get any of the political figures she was known for playing, whether it was Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani. We didn’t get to see her play the woman who was repeatedly abducted by aliens in the most embarrassing ways. But we did get to see the return of Barbara DeDrew and “Whiskers R We.”
“I think you’re my daughter”: After years of being paired with potential love interests, McKinnon’s DeDrew discovered that this installment’s partner, played by Billie Eilish, was actually her daughter. Probably had something to do with the time Barbara DeDrew went to Tampa to donate all her eggs …
- “A cat is a dog who’s a bitch”: Seems right to me.
CUT FOR TIME
This sketch didn’t air during the episode, which is a shame since it was funnier than a few that did. Kate McKinnon not being featured in the sketch, though, makes me think it was an evergreen pretape that SNL had hanging around.
- “We can do this the easy way or we can destroy you”: Do people not realize that you need a headcount for events?
GUEST STAR WATCH
- Maya Rudolph (“Monologue,” “ABBA Christmas,” “Tampon Farm”)
- Kristen Wiig (“Monologue,” “ABBA Christmas,” “Tampon Farm”)
- Paula Pell (“Tampon Farm”)
- Greta Gerwig (Musicial guest introduction)
WHO’S HOSTING NEXT?
Jacob Elordi hosts SNL on Jan. 20 with Reneé Rapp as the musical guest.