SNL: Amy Adams, One Direction (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in December 2014.

The 2014 Christmas episode of “Saturday Night Live” took most of its inspiration from the holiday season, as “SNL” Christmas episodes are wont to do.  Sometimes that resulted in sticking too close to tradition, while other times that tradition was rebelled against, resulting in memorably experimental Christmas sketches.  It was one of those episodes where you take the good and you take the bad.  In her second outing, Amy Adams was the sort of host who slotted in naturally to whatever role she was given without overshadowing the cast.  Musical guest One Direction did what they do, surely pleasing their fans but not making any new ones.  And it would not have been a Christmas episode without cameos, some of which were surprising and welcome and others which were welcome enough but a little too predictable.

A Very Somber Christmas with Sam Smith – Bringing in Mike Myers to reprise Dr. Evil, perhaps the most intrinsically ridiculous villain of all time, allowed for “SNL” to really get at what North Korea is all about: Kim Jong-un and his cronies categorically have no idea how to take a joke.  Evil’s Lorne Michaels-inspired “Throw me a frickin’ bone here” attitude was exactly the sort of mediation that this situation needed. B+

Amy Adams’ Monologue – At this point, a song-and-dance number means that the “SNL” writers are not even trying to be funny with the monologue, so it does not seem appropriate to judge it on that merit (although Kristen Wiig’s nonsense lyrics – “penguin in the oven,” etc. – did provide a few chuckles).  To that end, this performance was adequately festive, and not much more. C

Asian American Doll – This take on an ethnically specific toy took the obvious joke, but it did the hard work by exploring every iteration of this minefield.  In so doing, it set for itself the goal of making the definitive statement on this topic, which it could not possibly do, but it made a fair number of decent observations about the absurdities of avoiding the possibility of offense. B

Tenderfield Christmas Card – This parody of cheesy holiday family “cards” quickly stepped into surreal territory with the reveal that the son character was actually six years old, even though barely any effort was spent to make Kyle Mooney look any younger than he actually was.  Then there was daughter Susie’s psychopathy (brought to life by Kate McKinnon, naturally) and Mom’s affair.  All of these details fit with and expanded upon the discord between the cheery production quality and the relentless negativity of everything else. B

Serial – One thing that often goes unacknowledged in Christmas stories is just how creepy the modus operandi of Santa Claus is.  “Realistic” versions, however, are perfectly built to reveal that side.  Thus, the description by the eyewitness mom of Kris Kringle coming down the chimney hit the right note of weirdness.  Overall, this “Serial” parody was epic territory, rendering the Christmas fairy tale into a thorough mystery.  The swarm of details – Santa as impossible myth, Santa as potential criminal, Santa as fraud, Santa as conspiracy – combined for a very lived-in portrait of a world in which Kris Kringle is real but unexplained. B+

Girlfriends Talk Show – Aidy Bryant may command the most immediate attention in the Girlfriends sketches, but it can be tough to watch Morgan because of how cringeworthy she tends to be.  She may declare that she is her own woman, but her difficulty with owning her own shortcomings constantly undercuts that claim.  Cecily Strong is ultimately more compelling her, because while Kyra is oblivious and a little casually cruel, she is confident.  This edgy friendship has never taken this sketch to heights of brilliance, but it has allowed it to endure for several appearances.  The same cannot be said for the dance team played by One Direction, whose acting proved to be hopelessly stiff.  Amy Adams fared much better, naturally evoking a bubbly high schooler, in one of several chameleonic performances throughout the night. B-

Office Christmas Party – The work soiree portrayed in this video was not especially interesting, and just setting it to the tune of a rap did not add much, considering that it was not a very good song.  Plus, the premise that playing “Ghostbusters” over and over would not make for a fun party was simply unfounded. C-

One Direction – “Night Changes” – Initially, the 1D boys sounded unpolished and unprepared, which is the exact opposite of how a harmonizing vocal group should sound, but ultimately it became clear that they were the victims of “SNL’s” notorious acoustics.  This song had a somewhat more mature vibe than most of the One Direction catalog, and Harry Styles had some style to differentiate himself.  Overall, this was a perfectly pleasant experience, and nothing more. B-

Weekend Update – Colin Jost’s question of just what the hell is a backup singer for Bill Cosby may have been the best joke of his time behind the desk, especially coming hot on the heels of a Kathie Lee Gifford wino burn.  Otherwise, there was not much worth gushing over here (except perhaps “NOW That’s What Jost Calls Music!”), but thankfully nothing to get too upset about. Michael and Colin’s Grade: B-
Weekend Update – Kim Jong-un – It kind of felt like Bobby Moynihan quickly put the brakes on his appearance as the North Korean ruler because of racial insensitivity more so than fear of retribution.  But then the laser dots showed up and it became clear what the joke was.  It was welcome that that element of risk was acknowledged, but the abruptness made it seem like “SNL” was just backing down from that risk. C+
Weekend Update – Michael’s Neighbor Willie – The premise of this new (but not particularly unique) character from Kenan was that a supposedly cheerful fellow tells only depressing stories without seeming to realize it.  This worked well enough, as it was a type of premise that is not immediately obvious right away.  But while this bit was good for a few laughs, it was ultimately the definition of forgettable. C+
Weekend Update – Garth and Kat – Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig’s perpetually unprepared musical duo is the definition of a “love em or hate em” recurring bit, causing either frustration when they appear yet again or prompting fits of uncontrollable laughter despite their tired formula.  Count me firmly in the latter camp, with new gags (like a national tour that only takes place in Hawaii and Pennsylvania) and the same old reliable ones (like incessantly referring to the Update anchor as “Sir”) both killing it. B

A Very Cuban Christmas – This sketch felt lazy and cheap in concept and execution, but then Cuba Gooding, Jr. showed up as a “Cuban,” and it became clear that that laziness was the joke.  Unfortunately, that is a hard joke to sustain beyond one or two gags.  Fred Armisen’s Raúl Castro did manage to add another joke by purposefully confusing the terms of lifting the embargo; this sketch might have benefited from that being the entire focus.  It would have been more pointed and allowed for natural variation. C

One Direction – “Ready to Run” – 1D’s second performance did not have the auditory wonkiness of its first, but it also was not particularly notable in any way, either good or bad.  The guitar kept the momentum kicking, and everyone was synchronized, but there just wasn’t any oomph to take it over the edge. C+

A Magical Christmas (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – It is not every day that you can say that the perfectly natural way for a particular comedy sketch to end is by having a trio of human women turn back into a gaze of raccoons.  That twist both expanded and clarified the premise of a charming group of ladies who were just about perfect in every way except for their inexplicable obsession with eating garbage, making for the unlikeliest of heartwarming holiday tales. B+

Whiskers R’ We – This sketch, returning for a second go-round after first appearing in last season’s Charlize Theron episode, could have resorted to cat lady and lesbian clichés, but it had bigger, odder goals on its mind.  Thus, we got a true feline menagerie, consisting of a 55-year-old cat going through “menopaws,” a Muslim cat (Cat Stevens), and a cat that is maybe-definitely an alien.  Kate McKinnon and Amy Adams could have been off-putting with their raggedy hairstyles, drab clothes, and freaky voices, but they managed to successfully pile on the eccentric charm with the help of their furry friends. B

Some Bullet Points:
-“It’s like watching two bald men fight over a comb: who cares?”
-“Been there, done that, smoked it, humped it, called it an Uber.”
-“I think you know where the cat ends and my boobs begin.”