SNL: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in December 2015.

“SNL’s” Christmas episodes often have a homecoming feel, insofar as good vibes are easier to come by than usual, and visits from old friends are part of the deal. Usually sports teams designate a winnable game as homecoming, because nobody wants to lose homecoming. So it only makes sense when the “SNL” Christmas lineup features as co-hosts two of the show’s most famous alums who have developed quite the comedic partnership, and as musical guest one of the most iconic rock stars of all time who has a beloved Christmas song in his arsenal. It would take a lot of effort to screw this one up.

Republican Presidential Debate – The GOP primary circus is a bit of a boon but also a formidable challenge for “SNL’s” political machine. The endless supply of candidates ensures plenty of buffoonery but makes for material that is by definition unfocused. Sketches that cruise through a menagerie of characters are reliable for a few laughs, but they are rarely classics. The best political moments have one or two star impressions. Who is the star of this sketch? Is it Darrell Hammond dropping in for his iconic Trump, Beck Bennett as a wimpy Jeb Bush, or is the star the lack of a true star? The best impression is probably Jay Pharoah’s Ben Carson, but he does not have the screen time to show for it. This is all to say, there is plenty of quality here, but it’s all just crowding each other out. B-

Tina and Amy’s Monologue – The reigning sisters of comedy kick off their show by speaking in unison, so flawlessly that they leave us wanting them to do it for the whole monologue (or even the whole episode). Then they switch to completing each other’s sentences, which is also great, because they subvert that gag by making it just gross enough. Ultimately they settle on a Christmas duet that cuts between Amy’s secular approach and Tina’s more traditional religiosity. Those descriptors are a bit of a misnomer, as Tina’s verses are wilder and more disturbing, and Amy’s could use a little more personality. But whatever lyrical heft half of the song lacks is more than made up for by these two’s chemistry. B

Clinton Residence, Christmas Eve – An impressionist’s mark confronting the impressionist is a time-honored “SNL” tradition. What we have here is a much rarer occurrence: that of one impressionist dropping in on the new impressionist playing the same role. This sort of concept is usually about an older and wiser version future self offering a warning or advice, but here that is inverted, with Amy’s younger 2008 Hillary giving Kate McKinnon’s older current Hill the what’s what. The vibe is rocking, as both of these portrayals suggest that Mrs. Clinton knows how to get down with herself better than anyone else. With that in mind, Sarah Palin is a bit of a distraction, but with Tina in town, it’s a misstep that actually isn’t one. B

Meet Your Second Wife! – Game show sketches are a dime a dozen, but hardly any of them raise the metaphysical questions that this one does. The ostensible joke is that all of the middle-aged male contestants are eventually going to marry much younger women, but less commented upon, and perhaps even more fascinating, is the fact that Tina and Amy, as the hosts of this spectacle, know the future. And that knowledge does not just seem to be of a “we know people, so we can predict what you will do” variety. No, whether they be time travellers or omniscient beings, their information is definitively correct. Committing to this sci-fi and/or mystical premise elevates a clever, but limited, joke into something truly disturbing. B

Hoverboards – “SNL” sure does love its radical fake commercials about fun-loving devices that sneak up on you with their danger. Kyle Mooney and Pete Davidson’s enthusiasm goes a long way, but these highly flammable hoverboards are no Happy Fun Ball, or Nerf Crotch Bats for that matter. But the extension of the “Kids Crew” brand into the even more destructive “Plane Lasers” allows it to earn its place in the tradition of the aforementioned pieces as well as the oeuvre of Irwin Mainway. B-

Sarah’s Desire – A lot of “SNL’s” film set sketches take the approach of making fun of old-timey stereotypes. But the focus this time is not really on the lesbian behavior of Tina and Amy’s characters (perhaps inspired by a certain recent release starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara?). On that score, it is actually rather progressive in its simple acceptance of what could be shown as transgressive. “Simple acceptance” is not really the reight description. Nay, “exuberance” is more accurate, and here we see how this sketch is professionally acted but a little too silly. Kenan Thompson is unquestionably reliable for playing broad enough to be worthy of “The Jeffersons,” but broadness is so easy to read, and for a sketch that is trying to tell a complicated story, that doesn’t quite work. C+

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “Meet Me in the City” – Bruce is right at home in his 3rd “SNL” gig (2nd with his legendary backing crew). They kick things off with the first outtake released as a single from the “The River” deluxe reissue. It is the typical tale of bighearted rebels making it happen in the streets at night, and the Boss gives everyone – Little Stevie, Max Weinberg, and especially Jake Clemons honoring the legacy of his big man uncle – a chance to shine. B+

Weekend Update – The final Update of the year is a relatively quiet affair, with no showcase point-counterpoint nor any extended rant from Che. Partly that may be because they just have so much material to get to. It could also have something to do with these two anchors’ growing comfort; they respect each other’s punchlines enough that there’s no need for ragging. Of course, they must also make time for a drop-in from the night’s hosts. Wisely, it is a quick visit. Tina is fine, but her joke does not really fit her all that notably. That bit about subway flashing, though? Totally Amy. Michael and Colin (and Tina and Amy’s) Grade: B
Weekend Update: Deenie, Somebody’s Mom – After the alien abduction debriefing sketch from the Ryan Gosling episode and now this take on a soap opera fan who is terrible with names, it is clear that Kate McKinnon knows how to amuse herself. The laughter she and Colin fall into is that of familiarity. Everyone knows someone who refers to fictional characters as terribly unhelpful nicknames, and that person is often a mom, whether your own or someone else’s. It is not groundbreaking stuff, but it is solid comfort food. B-

Chad and Mrs. Douglas Show (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – Tina and Amy bring Maya Rudolph along to capture that spirit of variety show oddities that are kept alive by Time Life collections. They are generous hosts and comedians, as Maya’s slurred version of “12 Days of Christmas” is the highlight of the sketch (and the episode), and her friends and former castmates are surely happy to giver her that moment. The rest of this retrospective is also mighty fine. Amy’s cocaine-fueled number is a quick hit, and Tina goes there (with a longtime target of hers) by giving the “special guest” role to Kenan’s Bill Cosby, performing a devastatingly appropriate Christmas song. A-

Tina and Amy’s Dope Squad – Responding to the friendship style of Taylor Swift and taking visual cues from her “Bad Blood” video (although the beat sounds most like A$AP Rocky’s male-centric “F**kin’ Problems”), Tina and Amy sing an ode to the village of support that makes female living possible. With all the music sketches the current “SNL” ladies have been putting out, this plays as a response in which their forebears show off that they have still got it. Then it all sputters out in endearing fashion, as good friend Amy Schumer helps the ladies realize that they do not really know what the point of all this is. B

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “The Ties That Bind” – The Jersey crew takes it back with the leadoff track from the original release of The River. Jake gets another solo, and everyone just looks so tight, both in terms of their instrument-playing and their emotional connection. B+

Bronx Beat – Since Maya has dropped by, she and Amy sensibly put out a new edition of their northern borough talk show. There are the usual complaints about the awful state of the world giving way to the waterworks over matrimonial love despite the everyday annoyances between husband and wife, which still work because they are so character-specific. They keep it low-key with Tina appearing as a cousin from Philly, nailing an accent that is not often portrayed too well. (Yes, “wooder” is a real thing and perhaps the most distinctive piece of Southeastern PA linguistics.) B+

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” – And as expected, Bruce took the night into the credits with his classic Christmas carol rendition. Naturally, he had the whole cast join along, and a very special guest (Sir Paul!) stopped by as well. B+

Notes & Quotes:
-There were a couple of glaring technical snafus; thankfully both were rather amusing. First, Jeb Bush was credited as Jon Kasich at the end of the debate sketch. Then the wrong intro kept playing for Meet Your Second Wife (almost promising a much more surreal and experimental sketch).
-“We’re at the point where we’re-” “finishing each other’s sente-” “pedes. Human” ““centipedes. Favorite Christmas movie!””
-“You know I heard that you were a bitch. I like that.”
-“No one is exactly sure where the cough came from, but it’s now polling three points ahead of Rand Paul.”
-“If you’re unfamiliar, Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday that’s only celebrated by Rachel Dolezal and McDonald’s.”
-The intro leading into Tina and Amy’s Dope Squad is an interview on PopNewsDailyAfterShowPodcast.Jpeg.
-“The only space I’m interested in is more counter space.”
-“He’s farting in his sleep. And I’m blaming it on the dog. Dog looks at me and says, ‘Unh-unh, it’s that guy.’”