Saturday Night Live: Paul Rudd December 18, 2021

Saturday Night Live: Paul Rudd December 18, 2021
Kudos to SNL for making some kind of Christmas show happen last-minute, after the exponential rise in COVID-19 infections in New York forced them to cancel Charli XCX's musical performance, put on a show without an audience, and essentially send almost all of the cast and crew home (Kenan Thompson and Michael Che excluded). Scheduled host Paul Rudd, plus special guests Tom Hanks and Tina Fey, were live-in-studio and engaged in humorous introductions of very fresh remote pieces and older, somewhat obscure holiday sketches, making for an eerie but triumphant episode. Here's everything that happened.
The cold open
Tom Hanks appeared to introduce the show in his Five-Timers Club smoking jacket and announced that the show would be recorded without an audience and that the cast, crew and musical guest Charli XCX had all been sent home due to the spike in COVID cases. Hanks was soon joined by Tina Fey (and eventually Kenan Thompson), and they introduced the scheduled host and People Magazine's "Most Sexist Man Alive," Paul Rudd, who cheerfully expressed his disappointment at their sad circumstances. A new Five-Timers remote by Steve Martin and Martin Short was funny, and then Rudd announced that the show would go on featuring freshly taped remote sketches and older, archival material.
The first fresh remote featured Rudd with Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant, who played grandmas who refuse to stick to an ad script for Homegoods, instead imploring their own children to have children. There was some nice comic tension between everyone here, as Rudd played a flustered but understanding director, and then the unusually conflated cold open/monologue was done.

Dick in a Box

Fey and Thompson returned to introduce one of the show's most iconic Digital Shorts, Dick in a Box. All these years later, and Andy Samberg, Justin Timberlake, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig's performances here still shine.

An Evening with Pete Davidson

In a remote that Rudd told us wrapped production at 5 a.m. that same Saturday, Pete Davidson paid homage to Raging Bull, imagining what his life would be like in 2054. Shot in black and white, this dark, holiday-oriented piece featured various cast members and Rudd interacting with Davidson's elder self in a dinner theatre performance at an old-timey supper club, eventually prompting him to have a colourful epiphany and sing a heartfelt farewell from the future. This was sparse but ambitious and well done.
Santa & the Elves

In this older sketch, Bobby Moynihan played Santa Claus, lamenting the lack of toy production in the elves' workshop and chastising his quarry, consisting of vaguely horny, S&M-hungry workers played hilariously by Thompson, the amazing Vanessa Bayer, and the always-breaking host Ryan Gosling. This was great back when it aired and was fun to see again.

The Global Warming Christmas Special

Hanks introduced a 1991 sketch that aired during an episode he hosted, which dealt with global warming. Mike Meyers played Carl Sagan and Hanks played Dean Martin most expertly, and the two sang a song about climate change that I guess we should've paid more heed to, as it was chock full of warnings and information we're still talking about. Now archconservative former cast member Victoria Jackson busted out her tearful Sally Struthers, but it was actually fun to see one of the show's most dynamic cast couplings, the late Jan Hooks and Phil Hartman, sing a song together with kind of a prototypical, post-SCTV Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy spirit. Dana Carvey's funny Paul McCartney felt timely given our collective Get Back fixation, and Kevin Nealon played the late, perpetually tanned actor George Hamilton, warning us about the perils of rising temperatures on Earth, which was good. The real Ralph Nader turned up for a brief cameo, before the late Chris Farley and Julia Sweeney also made brief appearances. An obscure sketch for sure, 30 years on, this held up.

Weekend Update

Tina Fey and Michael Che paired up on a stripped down main stage to do Weekend Update jokes for Hanks, Rudd and Kenan Thompson and a small number of crew members. Apparently Fey had planned to fill in for Colin Jost anyway for some reason, so this was somewhat less ad hoc than it may have seemed. Moving quickly from joke to joke, this was brisk and felt over before it began but there were some great topical jabs here, and Fey made the odd one stand out by breaking character and acknowledging her Update rust and getting meta about some flubs.
The Christmas Socks

In this fresh remotely shot music video, Rudd and Kyle Mooney sang a heartfelt ballad about special socks. Mooney played a boy who claimed to have lost a bird named T.J. Rocks, and he and Rudd exchanged melodically-rich words about birds, much to the chagrin of the store clerk (Kenan Thompson) and a huge line of impatient customers. When the boy's mother (Aidy Bryant) turned up, we also met T.J. Rocks (Charli XCX), and things got wilder in this already funny, purposely plodding bit.
Steve Martin's Holiday Wish

Rudd introduced a personal favourite and classic sketch: Steve Martin's monumental Holiday Wish, in which he applied his false comedic smarm to outline a series of seemingly earnest but really selfish wishes for the holiday season. A nice reminder of what a genius Steve Martin has always been.

Holiday Pageant

Kenan Thompson introduced a sketch he was once in that also featured Jason Sudeikis and Cecily Strong, but focused on Paul McCartney and Martin Short playing a duo called Caleb and Monty. The premise is that Short's Caleb is a hammy singer who abuses McCartney's Monty, a triangle player who is apparently forbidden to sing by the abusive Caleb. This was good but seemingly ended abruptly before we could get the payoff of McCartney singing. Maybe that never even happened in its original broadcast, but it's never late to offer notes.

North Pole News Report

Hanks then set up one of his own personal favourites, which appeared in Eddie Murphy's famous 2019 hosting turn. Murphy played a Black elf in sweatpants, manically trying to warn viewers about a polar bear attack on an elves' workshop. Some great work by Murphy here, who was emulating a real news story of the time, and also Mikey Day, Chloe Fineman and Cecily Strong, who played elves.

One Direction Concert Line

Rudd introduced us to his classic bit, where he played Dan Charles: One Direction Fan, which featured Charles interacting with young, female 1D fans, before the real band showed up to greet them. A great tour de force for Rudd who embraced his role has a creepy fanatic.

Now That's What I Call Christmas

Fey set up a remote about a fake music holiday compilation, which was a parade of musical impressions by cast members past and still-present, but mostly centred on the insufferable Jimmy Fallon, who must've hosted the episode. This was fair to middling.

Christmastime for the Jews

Fey told a warm story about a 2005 episode where her then three-month old daughter was on-set and outfitted by the wardrobe department, as Robert Smigel's TV Funhouse premiered one of the show's all-time great bits, a claymation music video for "Christmastime for the Jews," iconically sung by Darlene Love. This is still the best.