A sedate, low-key Casey Affleck was actually well-suited to host, as his measured demeanour made him a great straight man, while Chance the Rapper showed up to make a vivid impression and he did just that on a strong episode. Here's everything that happened.
The Cold Open
Beck Bennett's shirtless Vladimir Putin visits Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump and the former faux-flatters the latter, while also easily bugging the room to better spy on the Trump administration. John Goodman, as Trump's Secretary of State pick/Exxon executive Rex Tillerson shows up and pals around with Putin and the two strategize about oil production, while Trump adds meaningless bits about wanting to destroy Vanity Fair and knowing Kanye West. Along with Kate McKinnon's exasperated Kellyanne Conway-probably-in-real-life impression, this was well done.
Casey Affleck got some good jokes off about the sadness of his new movie, Manchester by the Sea, his scraggly beard, and the pressure some hosts feel to sing during their monologues. He was doing fine and then Baldwin and Goodman, two of SNL's most frequent hosts of all time, joined him, along with Kenan Thompson as "Black Santa Claus." That's when the monologue got a bit clumsy before coming to a close.
A fake ad featuring customer testimonials about the donut chain would have been normal enough were it not for Affleck's Donnie. A riff on his membership in the cast of Good Will Hunting, Affleck plays Donnie as a Boston hard-ass who is crass, disrespectful, incredibly angry, and obnoxious as hell. Not the best surrogate for DD.
Microsoft Tech Expo
Promoting the new season of Portlandia, Fred Armisen showed up to partner with Kate McKinnon, as presenters at a demo about a new robot, Helix 900, played by Beck Bennett, who was remarkable. In an amazing display of physicality, Bennett was a gay robot who, in addition to possessing everyday office functionality, is very open about his desire for men's bodies. Affleck is the lone audience member willing to question the company's choice to have a robot identify as gay, which creates this witty back and forth and interesting tension.
Chance the Rapper and Kenan Thompson star in an updated version of Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis," but the song's premise is all about America's last Christmas with President Barack Obama. Celebratory and depressing, the lyrics highlight many aspects of Obama's two terms while also dreading a future with President Trump. Even DMC showed up here to give support to this homage to a hip-hop Christmas classic.
A Santa Claus Encounter
Kate McKinnon's Colleen always ends up in strange circumstances, often encountering some alien being and having a really difficult time of it compared to others who shared the experience. She's a pretty amazing character who is frank and giving of her body, sitting in a slump on a chair, spread-eagle with her crotch on full display, as she spouts a clever array of euphemisms for a woman's vagina and the human bum ("grassy knoll"/"gassy hole"). Here, joined by characters played by Cecily Strong and Affleck, Cathy is grilled by theologians inquiring about a possible encounter with Santa Claus. Unfortunately, Cathy never saw Santa, instead spending her time with a figure named Krinkle Maus and his assistant Shart, winding up pantsless and in jail. McKinnon's amazing in this.
Chance the Rapper
In highly energetic and inspired performance, Chance the Rapper tore through "Finish Line/Drown" backed by a large band of musicians and singers. He was his customarily giddy self, dancing and smiling, as Noname joined him to conclude the explosive Coloring Book cut. For his second performance, Chance was behind a white baby grand, again barely able to stifle giggles and joy, delivering "Same Drugs" with the whiffs of nostalgia and "Hey, we made it" exuberance the song command. It's no wonder he appeared in a couple of sketches as well; Chance the Rapper came to play.
Man, Michael Che and Colin Jost presented some of their best Trump jokes of the season tonight, with the upcoming inauguration and the Russian hacking scandal providing a great amount of fodder for the co-anchors. In a desk appearance by "Putin's best friends," Vanessa Bayer and Armisen reprised their quiet shit-talker characters who loudly praise terrible people before dropping their voices to a whisper to criticize them for being socially inept. It may well have been the best WU of the season.
New York Now – Nativity Scene
A newscaster played by Kyle Mooney visits the cast of a local production of a broad comedic take on the Nativity scene. The clueless actors, played by McKinnon, Affleck, and Strong, are hacky and terrible and are humoured up to a point by Mooney. Even Chance the Rapper shows up to behave like a terrible person in this one. A funny enough idea that falls in line with SNL's penchant for ridiculing ridiculous theatrical performers by off-off-off-Broadway bound performers.
Hillary Clinton at the Door
McKinnon plays Clinton, door to door caroling specifically at homes belonging to electors and pleading with them not to vote for Trump when the electoral college votes are tallied on December 19. Simple, effective, funny, and kind of sad, this bit hit home.
Mrs. Claus and the Elves
These elves, here played by Thompson, Affleck, and Bayer, have been on the show before. They purposefully screw up their tasks in a naked attempt to get punished because they each have a fetish for S+M pain. It's a broad, somewhat disturbing interpretation of why someone might really want to be on Santa's "naughty" list.
Frankie's Ale House
An uncharacteristically detail-oriented end-of-show sketch finds most players speaking in a shy, vaguely Marlon Brando-esque accent a Brooklyn bar, where Bayer ends up being the centre of a dispute between two smitten suitors played by Affleck and Mooney. Again, everyone is a bit reticent to express themselves even though the dialogue-heavy scene deteriorates into a murder scene. Dramatic and darkly funny, this worked well.