Emma Stone returned as an affable, perfect host and the writers brought their "A" games for the strongest episode of the season so far. Here's everything that happened.
The Cold Open
Alec Baldwin plays Trump — in the midst of a serious security briefing — retweeting random teenagers and accounts belonging to people with deranged bios and feeds. Aside from Senior Counselor Steve Bannon's appearance as the Grim Reaper, the jewel is Kate McKinnon playing an honest version of senior aide Kellyanne Conway, whose plain exasperation and disgust with the things Trump says and does are biting and grimly funny.
Third-time host Emma Stone engaged in a clever studio walkthrough, reminiscing about her last time on the show five years ago, as though revisiting her old high school. Sight gags like Kyle Mooney and Leslie Jones making out and Kenan Thompson exhaling pot smoke were cool, but the strongest stuff was scripted, like Vanessa Bayer playing a mean girl, Aidy Bryant recalling actually attending the same high school as Stone in Phoenix, and Bobby Moynihan as Stone's crush, a high school stud who hasn't amounted to much since graduating.
Student Theatre Showcase
A recurring sketch that lampoons the heavy-handed pretentiousness of third-tier theatre liberal political messaging, this edition was particularly strong. The lame, empty-headed sloganeering and thin acting of the high school troupe had some choice group moments but the cut-away commentary by Bayer and Thompson, as bewildered parents in the audience, really made this enjoyably cutting.
The Christmas Candle
Aidy Bryant is a superstar. She's in Kenan Thompson territory now with the writers who know that simply a look or physical gesture from Bryant will make a joke a million times funnier. With its vaguely Wilson Phillips, but definitely late '80s/early '90s riff on woman's fashion/hair aesthetic, the bit made fun of last-minute gift shopping, specifically the empty gesture that is giving someone a stupid scented candle. An ad, but really a cheesy music video, the song and sentiment were classic and well-executed by Stone, McKinnon, and Bryant as the singing group, primarily because Bryant dug into her performance.
'tis the season. pic.twitter.com/jyumFpbvBN— Aidy Bryant (@aidybryant) December 4, 2016
This was quite ingenious. Pete Davdison is a struggling student who can't figure out algebra when he nods off at the desk in his bedroom. He dreams that the posters on his wall, of a snowboarder, a video game heroine, a standup comedian, and a supermodel, come to life to advise and encourage him to keep at it. Though most discuss the practical applications of math in their respective realms, it's Stone's vapid bimbo, suggestively going on about big, stinky hot dogs, who gives the sketch its tension and angle. Stone's amazing in this and the whole thing worked well.
The Hunt for Hil
Another brilliant idea brought beautifully to life. With random strangers continuing to post selfies with Hillary Clinton while hiking in the woods near her home in Chappaqua, New York, SNL seized on these news items to create a reality show parody, where Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney play trackers trying to lure Clinton into sight. Between the eyewitness recollections, dramatizations, and Thompson playing a mystical soothsayer named Tuketo, everything about this was note perfect.
Canadian pop heartthrob Shawn Mendes looks a bit like Andy Samberg's Popstar character, Connor Friel, which makes it hard to take his "baby please" lyricism and cloying melodrama seriously on SNL. That said, his rather unremarkable, quiet verse/loud chorus/obligatory pointless bridge song structures were well-staged and he seemed giddy to be on the big show.
Michael Che kicked off the fake news by going after Trump's most recent dirt-dumb diplomacy gaffe (violating an American agreement with China by speaking with the president of Taiwan) and got some big laughs doing so. Colin Jost joined in by making fun of Trump's victory rallies and attacking his ego. The pair then took on the Standing Rock protest with Jost drawing a terrible analogy between the plight of Native Americans and Mike Judge's Office Space.
Leslie Jones appeared for another horned-up desk piece about penises and confident, strong men. Che did a powerful piece on a proposed law to ban smoking in public housing, while Jost made fun of Nickelback, whose music is reportedly being employed by Canadian cops to punish drunk drivers. "Make sure the crash kills you," Jost joked. Bayer returned for a desk piece as Rachel from Friends, which is just a spot-on parody of how stupid and insipid that show was. Of course, its bite was slightly undercut by an appearance by the real Jennifer Aniston, but then salvaged by the pair engaging in duelling Rachels.
The Cleaning Crew Christmas Show
An oddly late appearance by Cecily Strong on this episode yielded a very funny piece where she, Stone, and Jones play a foreign cleaning crew who wish to put on a Christmas show for the execs at the office building their service. The joke is that every song they sing is full of sexual innuendo about Santa Claus, whom they don't have a firm grasp on. The confused reactions from the execs, including an increasingly aroused Bennett, are priceless and Stone shines again.
The Paley Centre for Media Panel on Gender Equality
On a progressive panel moderated by a media expert played by Sasheer Zamata, Jones, Stone, and Aniston play themselves discussing the perils of being an actress today while McKinnon reprises her elder Hollywood actress creation, Debette Goldry, who has far more frightening experiences to relay. Goldry suggests she was forced to eat arsenic to keep her skin pale, routinely procured heroin from a monkey servant, and once performed oral sex on a sitting president. Yup. The joke is that sexism and objectification still exists today but, via a series of absurdly profane examples, Goldry, in her matter-of-fact normalization of mistreatment, reminds us that things were once way worse and routinely accepted.
Wells for Sensitive Boys
A late-scheduled fake ad, this was more for parents maybe. Young boys are an enigmatic and moody lot and their melancholia can either be troubling or amusing depending on the day. Here, writers came up with a concept where a single boy spends his days staring wistfully into a Fisher Price toy well to help develop a sense of self that might lead him to one day express himself, like say Shawn Mendes now does. Playful in a way, this was actually pretty dark.
Mary, tired after Jesus's birth
Man, this was great. Scrutinizing the biblical story of Jesus's birth, Stone plays a put-upon, exhausted, and hormonal Mary who bristles as Joseph lets all manner of male guests and a llama into their dwelling right after Jesus was born. Mooney plays an insensitive Joseph, oblivious to the emotional and physical rigours Mary has just been through, repeatedly accusing her of being hysterical, as she begs for peace and quiet with her baby. Instead, a host of men tell her she looks "tired" and hope she can serve them refreshments, while she frets about the appearance of their barn. Amazing, hilarious take on gender dynamics via a pretty weird child birth story.
And then, the show ended early instead of getting to one last sketch for some reason.