'SNL' recap: John Goodman returns for a 13th gig, solidly hosting a shaky episode

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Image Credit: NBC

Thirteen times; seriously, John Goodman has now hosted Saturday Night Live 13 times. I can’t think of anything significant I’ve ever done 13 times. And I was really looking forward to maybe rubbing Goodman’s episode in the faces of those who are just holding on until Fallon/Timberlake next week. It’s not that those two aren’t great; they are, and all of my fingers are crossed for them. But Goodman has been just as good in the past, an SNL champion if ever there was one.

It was 2001 when Goodman last hosted and, for reference, Ja Rule was the musical guest. We have a tendency to glamorize the past and I know that there were stinkers back then like there were last night. But there were also huge successes, like Goodman’s Wilford Brimley “diabeetus” commercial or anytime he was conniving as Linda Tripp. I don’t think we got anything like that from SNL last night.

The episode certainly had its moments, but those moments were more, “oh yes, that is a true and funny thing,” than laugh out loud. If next week’s turn with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake is supposed to be like going to the most outrageous Saturday night party, then John Goodman is usually like deciding to stay in with delivery and not feeling guilty about it: As a host, he’s joyous and reliable, a return to a level playing field. It’s been 12 years without the jovial host since his last turn, and I was glad to have him back, even if last night’s episode hovered around a B. It wasn’t mind-altering, but it was better in Goodman’s hands than it would have been in anyone else’s.

If you gave up after Weekend Update, I would understand, but then you missed some of the more redeeming sketches of the night. This was no outright chuckle-fest, but the cast got down to business trying to make a series of one-joke sketches into something more.

Best Sketch
It’s rare that a 12:55 a.m. sketch is the best moment of the night, but “Last Call” brought the laughs as usual, thanks entirely to Kate McKinnon and Goodman’s commitment to their sad sack characters who don’t seem to be aware of just how “de-rousing” their blooming lust is (Kenan Thompson’s barkeep was aware enough for all involved). Sheila Savage first appeared in Louis C.K.’s episode last fall, and now she’s back and looking for a little more weirdo action. Or maybe just a 66: “That’s you and me, upside down in bed, watching TV.” This iteration didn’t have that dark thread of honesty that C.K. takes with him everywhere he goes, but McKinnon devouring a whipped cream beard off of a game Goodman’s face was more than enough to make up for it.

Honorable Mention
I’m very aware that I could be flying solo on thoroughly enjoying the “Dearbon Community Playhouse Holiday Pageant.” It wasn’t the most action-packed of the bunch, but for my money, it doesn’t get much better than watching Goodman as “your doctor,” Gene Halderman, introducing his dance of adult snowflakes with unadulterated, clenched-fist excitement. It gets entirely better, however, when that excitement is adulterated by the crippling self-doubt of a maniacally smiling Aidy Bryant, a potentially homicidal Vanessa Bayer and, of course, Kenan Thompson’s ever-threatening erection.

Worst Sketch
I want to like Shallon. Even when she’s getting very little laughter from the audience, Nasim Pedrad stays committed to her urban Harry Caray sound-alike, and John Goodman’s understandable exasperation with a kid who must be trolling him builds nicely. But the timing of this sketch was off and it seemed like someone forgot a line, maybe more than once. Shallon might work better in a different setting, but I’m not sure it’s worth another try. Confession: I did laugh at “Get on that roof!”

Most Welcome Return to Form
Of the many familiar tricks SNL could have drawn from the John Goodman hosting bag, they went with the “John Goodman in drag” trick. There is something so funny, but still respectful about that man in a wrap dress. Taran Killam’s fairly reasonable defenses of his client who is being sued for firing Goodman for being “too hot” include, “I mean…” and “SAY WHAT?!” But everything falls to pieces when Miss Lazara is asked to show off her signature dance moves (along to Bow Wow ft. R. Kelly’s “I’m a Flirt,” obviously), and her truly distracting hotness is revealed. I mean…Goodman’s got moves. Beck Bennett, too.

The Wasted Cameo Opportunity Award
The excitement of seeing Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro on stage with the host for “Three Wise Guys” lost some of its luster when the first joke of the sketch was, “What are these, camels or turtles?” It’s easy to coast on De Niro in a velour track suit and “don’t worry about it” mob jokes, but just think of how much funnier it could have been had the jokes run a little deeper. I didn’t mind watching these guys bob on stuffed camels for a while, but the timing was uncomfortable and the dialogue seemed under-rehearsed, perhaps a victim of busy schedules or just a too-last-minute Grudge Match promotional ploy.

Best Musical Moment
Frankly, Kings of Leon lead singer Caleb Followill’s peach-colored cardigan stole the band’s performances of “Temple” and “Wait for Me” entirely, but the latter was a better fit for the SNL stage, showcasing their vocals and laid-back energy. They’ve established a presence and sound that’s easy to watch, even if their sex is less inflamed than it used to be, which seems to have brought their energy down a little. I’m sure any Oklahoma Sooners alumni appreciated the drum set shout out.

Best Musical Performance (non-musical guest)
All cards on the table, you could make even the most mediocre joke about H&M and I would probably think it was funny. There’s just so much gold to be mined from a place like that. The sheer amount of content is absurd, not to mention half of that merchandise is studded with spikes, on the ground, or currently being shoplifted as a rite of passage. While this didn’t have the production value of Pharoah’s last turn behind the mic, “What Does My Girl Say?,” joke-for-joke, it was probably just as funny. Goodman in skinny jeans — and yeah, OK, Taran Killam in skinny jeans — didn’t hurt.

Most Likely to be a Real Commercial
In New York, “The Guy Fieri Full Throttle Christmas Special” was delightfully followed by an actual commercial for Guy Fieri’s TV show that was remarkably similar in theme. The guests of SNL’s version of a Fieri Christmas special included: “godfather to my children, Kid Rock,” “human equivalent of the food I make…Criss Angel MINDFREAK,” “90 percent plastic, 10 percent HPV” Brett Michaels, and performances by Dog the Bounty Hunter and Big Ang from Mob Wives (Goodman and McKinnon) and the Duck Dynasty guys (Kings of Leon quacking “Jingle Bells”). On the menu? A stocking stuffed with 20-layer bean dip and a crumbled Teddy Graham crust and a fruit cake turned into a “straight cake” (“it’s just bacon and cars”).

Cast MVP
Kate McKinnon knows weirdos. Whether they’re western European, mob wives, sexually explicit, or just a teacher eating baby carrots in her car, McKinnon doesn’t do throwaway. Her full range was on display last night and I was particularly glad to see the Cold Open return of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. After a Lemony Snicket-esque “series of unfortunate events” for President Obama at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, Merkel wants a selfie like the Danish prime minister scored. And to be fair, he really DOES owe her after that “wiretapping mein cell phone thing.”

EXTRAS:
- Best interpreting of the night: Kenan Thompson as the “interpreter” from Nelson Mandela’s funeral throwing Spider-Man webs for “huge improvements on our website” and doing the “Thriller” dance for “I can’t say I’m entirely thrilled with the results” from Pharaoh’s Obama.
- Goodman’s singing monologue was nothing to write home about, but I’ve already written a three-part miniseries about his burgundy velvet jacket with silk lapels.
- Was I the only one that thought the “Hallmark Holiday Commercial” could be real for a solid 20 seconds? “Dean Cain in My Neighbor’s a Magi” and “that kid from Modern Family in Scrooge Jr.” seem like things I’ve seen actual advertisements for.
- Boy, was that whistle sound terrible in “Christmas Whistle.”
- “You’ve heard of Secret Santa. Well here’s a secret for you, I’m black as hell.” – Kenan Thompson (continuing to be a weekly Weekend Update contributor) as Black Santa.
- “Stay on your side of the desk, fancy pants!” – Bobby Moynihan as Drunk Uncle saying goodbye to Seth Meyers on Weekend Update. Those pants are going to get even fancier over at Late Night.
- “Where them shirts? ON THE FLOOR! Where them suits? ON THE FLOOR! Where them drawers? ON THE FLOOR!”
- In “Last Call,” Kate McKinnon chooses John Goodman out of “zero more choices” and then orders a white wine with cocktail onions. I like a lady that knows how to party.

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