'Saturday Night Live': Martin Short, Samuel L. Jackson's almost F-bomb and Nirvana
Nothing could top the moving cold open acknowledging the Newtown tragedy, but nonetheless, it was one of the season's best episodes.
The parade of cameos kicks off right away with Paul Shaffer at the piano for Short's rendition of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," with all the Christmas stuff replaced with sex references. We lost track of the lyrics, frankly, as Short went backstage and bumped into Kristen Wiig (and her creepy doll hand from the Lawrence Welk sketches), Jimmy Fallon, Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, a guy with a llama and Tina Fey.
"A Tony Bennett Christmas"
Cameo No. 7 comes courtesy of Alec Baldwin, who does his fabulous Tony Bennett impression alongside Short as Tony's brother Jerry and Jay Pharoah as Kanye West. Kanye is very, very confused by the in-program Dulcolax ad.
Kate Middleton's OB/GYN
Short is a Buckingham Palace protocol functionary sent to instruct the OB ( Bill Hader) on how to address the royal [ahem]. Really, though, the object of the sketch is to make Hader crack up, but he holds it together for the most part.
"You're a Rat Bastard, Charlie Brown"
A filmed bit for an "edgy" family stage show for the holidays. Fine impression work from many in the cast, with Hader as Al Pacino/Charlie Brown, Jason Sudeikis as Philip Seymour Hoffman/Pigpen, Kate McKinnon as Edie Falco/Lucy, Short as Larry David /Linus, Nasim Pedrad as Kristen Chenoweth/Sally and Taran Killam as Michael Keaton/Schroeder.
Musical guest Paul McCartney, part 1
Question: Is "My Valentine," as good a song as it may be, the most depressing love song ever?
The unquestioned highlight is Vanessa Bayer as bar mitzvah boy Jacob, who tells the story of Hanukkah via a series of mild put-down jokes about his family and refuses to go off script and interact with Seth Meyers. Good, good stuff.
Cecily Strong is also back as The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation With at a Party, and it's pretty much the same bit you've seen a couple other times this season. Not bad, but nothing new ... except her coining the new word "tragesty."
"What Up With That"
Out of sketch retirement is one of our favorite recurring "SNL" bits of the last five years, "What Up With That." Jason Sudeikis dancing in the track suit: Never. Not. Funny. Tonight's guests are Samuel L. Jackson, Fred Armisen's "Portlandia" co-star Carrie Brownstein (cameo No. 8) and, of course, Lindsey Buckingham.
The thing you'll hear about is Jackson almost saying "f***" on air, although it's a but of a fake-out. He says "fuh" (a fact he confirmed via Twitter), but he also, for real, says "bulls***" a couple seconds later. Kenan Thompson rolls with it, joking, "That costs money."
Paul McCartney, part 2
As he did at the 12-12-12 concert earlier in the week, McCartney teams up with surviving Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic (plus Foo Fighters guitarist Pat Smear) for "Cut Me Some Slack." McCartney rocks really hard, and not just for a guy his age.
The night's only real dud of a sketch, with Short and Armisen as two old friends catching up on the past couple of really strange years and shopping for needlessly expensive knickknacks.
Caleb and Monty
The final sketch of the evening has Short and McCartney as a musical duo -- Short's Caleb sings, McCartney's Monty plays the triangle -- auditioning for a local Christmas pageant. Short plays the short-fused diva, while McCartney is wonderfully deadpan as a guy who just wants to sing.
Alas, when he gets to sing (the set breaks away to reveal the music stage), it's "Wonderful Christmastime," one of our least favorite Christmas songs ever. Still, it's not enough to mar a very strong episode.