Darrell Hammond stepped out of the announcer’s booth and onto the Saturday Night Live mainstage to resume his rightful place as the show’s Trump card. “This is what he does!,” said Beck Bennett’s crybaby Jeb Bush during the show’s cold open parody of the latest Republican Debate. Jeb – or “Jeborah” in Hammond’s astutely sophomoric Trumpian insult – was whining in character about the Republican front-runner, but he might as well have been describing Hammond and the other veteran SNL-ers who came home for Christmas. This is what they do, and the old timers — hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and surprise guest Maya Rudolph — handed the episode its best moments.
The debate sketch, for better or worse, did what SNL does, which is okay impersonations of the GOP clown car that only occasionally find a resonant comic core (or even a simple weirdness) to amount to more than mannerisms. Hammond’s Trump, of course, is just about perfect, all smarmy arrogance and childish sadism. “Oh really Jughead,” he sneered at Bennett’s Bush. “I know for a fact you pee sitting down.”
The other debaters were passable one-notes – Bennett’s frustrated Bush, Taran Killam’s Ted “I have what doctors call a punchable face” Cruz, Bobby Moynihan’s fearmongering Chris Christie. But Jay Pharoah’s odd Ben Carson is morphing into something altogether unexpected. Knocks at Carson’s sleepy-eyed know-nothingism is low-hanging fruit, but with each appearance Pharoah seems to be sketching Carson as a fey closeted something or other. The Ghosts of SNL Past weren’t always the enlightened liberals today’s conservatives remember, and Pharoah is walking a limp-wristed thin line here, but at least it’s a twist I didn’t see coming.
The rest of the show was standard holiday issue, with a few Christmas-themed sketches that won’t threaten Schweddy Balls in the annual compilations. Fey and Poehler, tapping into their Sisters polar-opposite schtick, sang a naughty and nice monologue medley, with Poehler taking a Darlene Love approach on a Motown-style rocker while Fey went with grim reverence for her joyless hymn (“Romans are cruel and the Pharisees are worse”).
Later, SNL offered exploding hover boards, a Carol knock-off as directed by Kenan Thompson’s former Jeffersons director (“a lessbiiaann!!!???”), a game show in which happily married men meet their future wives — who all happen to be, at the moment, children — Bruce Springsteen (with a quiet Paul McCartney cameo) and, during a mostly forgettable Weekend Update, Kate McKinnon’s new character “Somebody’s Mom” (stop with the lazy shortcut names!), a soap opera fan who re-tells the plots of her “stories” despite a fuzzy memory. Which soap does she watch? “The one before the other one.”