SNL: Charli XCX, Martin Freeman, Kenan Thompson (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in December 2014.

It was the British invasion on the penultimate 2014 episode of “SNL,” with first-time host Martin Freeman and first-time musical guest Charli XCX.  It is not every week that “SNL” has the perfect actor to play nebbishy scamps, so this episode took every opportunity it could to fit Freeman into his wheelhouse.  Indeed, at least regarding the host, this was one of the most well-cast episodes of “SNL” in a while.  Meanwhile, the show in general continued its Season 40 pattern of focusing on original material, with a single character on Weekend Update serving as the lone recurring bit of the night.

Charlie Rose – It is not often that “SNL” extrapolates a broader social point from its timely political skethces, which is why this examination of a couple of architects of torture felt as fresh as it did.  Bobby Moynihan and Kyle Mooney were keyed in perfectly to the roles of two men who love being great at their jobs, morals be damned.  It was not clear, though, why this was presented in a “Charlie Rose” parody, other than for the joke about how it is torture to be stuck in a dark room for years. B

Martin Freeman’s Monologue – In the grand tradition of “SNL” hosts from across the pond, the night started off with jokes about how Brits are so inherently funny.  Actually, though, save for the gag at the end about how Freeman lives with Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman, this monologue managed to sidestep the obvious.  Trying to milk the crowd for applause from Teddingtonians certainly took things in an interesting direction and exposed the ridiculousness of that common audience manipulation technique.  Martin really seemed in control here, so it was disappointing that they felt the need to anchor him with some impressions that really didn’t add much.  Seriously, Taran Killam’s Alan Rickman sounded like E.T. with rocks in his mouth. B-

Sump’n Claus – Kenan Thompson’s alternative to Santa is quite the enabler, but at least he is funky while doling out wads of cash to folks on the naughty list.  This was an impressive effort to add to the list of original “SNL” Christmas tunes, along with “Christmastime for the Jews,” “Dick in a Box,” and “Twin Bed.”  The message here was kind of terrible, but in a fun and harmless way. B

Wedding Objections – By immediately revealing that the bride and groom spend every minute either having rough sex of “full scream fights” and that they only met five days ago AND that the groom is already married, this examination of the worst conceivable wedding ever became instantly fascinating but also set the bar impossibly high for the remaining objections.  The opinions of the bride’s dad, the doctor, and the random psychic walking by could not possibly top the first shocking reveals, but they did effectively contribute to the overall fascinating picture being painted.  This sketch primarily deserves praise for just about completely ignoring the superficial and obvious differences between the bride and groom and going in a much more bizarre and frightening direction. B+

The Office: Middle Earth – Martin Freeman is one of those hosts who is the veteran of multiple cultural touchstones, and “SNL” usually does not decline such an opportunity for parody.  So it helps to be efficient by killing two birds with one stone in this mash-up short.  The incorporation of the “Hobbit”/“LOTR” characters in the “Office” milieu could have been more seamlessly integrated with their original personalities.  For example, Gandalf is not at all like David Brent or Michael Scott, though Bobby’s performance was fine and the Orc joke certainly landed.  But Taran Killam deserves special recognition for bringing Gollum to fruition in the Gareth/Dwight role, with their sycophancy and two-facedness pairing perfectly. B

Right Side of the Bed – Not only was the main gag of this morning talk show parody all about atonality, so was the sketch itself.  Taran and Cecily’s married co-hosts seemed like they were supposed to be a gay man and a hag, although that could have just been the southern gentility.  Martin Freeman was perfectly cast as an awkward contractor struggling to make up for the sloppy editing of the show.  But again, this sketch was about just as awkward as its subject. C+

St. Joseph’s Christmas Mass Spectacular – There are definitely some Catholics among the “SNL” writers, as this bit accurately captured some of the quirks of Mass, Christmas or otherwise.  The fisheye lenses and other extreme flourishes contrasted amusingly with the low-key nature of the service, with the highlight being the perfectly timed softest laugh in response to the homily. B

Charli XCX – “Boom Clap” – The most notable aspect of this performance was its wild confluence of styles: Charli’s ample skin set out in front of her band’s buttoned-up look, all against the backdrop of Christmas decorations.  Anyway, this is a great song, but it doesn’t allow for too many opportunities for bursts of high energy, which someone like Charli XCX with such a colorful personality could have really benefited from. B

Weekend Update – Colin Jost and Michael Che do not seem like particularly silly fellows, but they are in fact at their best when their punchlines are the silliest. Che especially seems to have a knack for it, even though his forte seemed to have been the mini-rant.  But there is no denying that his biggest laugh-getters this go-round were the likes of $60 being a pretty good deal on barrels or Queens being the best tourist destination according to a recent misprint.  Some of the silliness even managed to have a social edge, like the presidential election not being a series of certain tests or Joe Biden walking into a sliding door after being somewhat patronizing to a group of young girls. Michael and Colin’s Grade: B
Weekend Update – Sasheer Zamata – Emoji gags are getting closer to cliché territory, but they are still worth some cheesy laughs.  This routine distinguished itself with its social commentary, with the white black power fist and the punched ghost described as a KKK member having just the right amount of edge.  This routine also continued the winning strategy of positioning Colin as befuddled, but earnest whenever racial issues arise. B
Weekend Update – A One-Dimensional Female Character From a Male Driven Movie – It appears that Cecily Strong has the market cornered on characters with excessively long names.  This character could have had a shorter moniker, whereas with the Girl at a Party, the obnoxiousness of her title fits the obnoxiousness of her personality.  Luckily, she played every beat of this depthless love interest to the hilt. B
Weekend Update – Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy – Jacob is getting a little played out at this point, if he hadn’t gotten there already.  His interplay with Che was interesting, as it attempted to go a little further than it ever did with Seth.  But while the addition of needing to talk to a lawyer was memorable, this bit is just too stuck in its routine at this point. C+

Heinz (BEST OF THE NIGHT)  – Taran Killam and Martin Freeman reached a level of conversational misunderstanding on par with Abbott and Costello in this short and sweet sketch about a simpleton assigned to operate a lever on an assembly line.  Taran’s performance was especially genuine, with a surprising amount of depth (“I’m so nervous, I love ketchup”) to his characterization. B+

Pine River Lodge Tree Lighting – This sketch deserves credit for coming up with a unique tale involving anger management, robbery, and red boots, but it does not deserve much credit for being funny.  There were plenty of good deliveries, with Kenan particularly as the lead singer remaining in performance mode even during a crisis, ever concerned about his beloved red boots.  But the jokes, such as they were, were hard to define and the story was a little half baked. C

Charli XCX – “Break the Rules” – After her first, relatively staid, number, Charli XCX needed a song that  would allow her to dance like a spaz, and dressing up like a hippie didn’t hurt either.  “Break the Rules” is her best song yet to showcase her ferociously fun-loving attitude, and she did not waste the opportunity. B+

Waterbed Warehouse – This South Dakota-set infomercial appeared to be the take off of “Fargo” that a Martin Freeman episode had to have, though only in terms of the accents.  The concept of a storeowner’s big-personality wife insisting on being the mascot ended up a little more strange than clever, but as a showcase for Aidy Bryant, itdid the trick. B

Some Bullet Points:
-Where is Sump’n Claus getting all that cash?  “Hey man, we don’t need to talk about that.”
-“What’s wrong with Kevin Bacon?”  “Aw, nothing.  He’s just my homie.”
-“You need to be straight with this boy.  He just adopted a Wu-Tang Clan!”
-“Daddy needs his chocolate.  He need it, need it, need it.  Chocolate in the morning, chocolate in the evening, chocolate at suppertime, thank you.”
-“Thou shall not pass … gas.”
-Dildo Baggins has come up on “SNL” before:
-“She also kept mentioning the Doritos Clown, which I don’t think is really a thing.”