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Thursday, December 26, 2013

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Rocks the Halls Once More

Article first published as SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Rocks the Halls Once More on TheTVKing.

Coming back to host another Christmas outing, the Jimmy Fallon-led installment of Saturday Night Live this past weekend is the best of the fall run. In fact, the whole show is on a bit of an upswing, at the good end of the cycle for a series that ebbs and flows over the years. Buoyed by a plethora of wonderful cameos, and joined by musical guest Justin Timberlake, who appeared in plenty of bits, as well, Fallon shows us what SNL should be.

It begins right off the bat with an opening that brings back Timberlake in a rapping (this time, wrapping) costume, with Jimmy and Aidy Bryant joining him. This isn't the only recurring sketch in the episode (Barry Gibbs himself shows up for Jimmy and Justin's "Barry Gibbs Talk Show"), and it's definitely a crowd pleaser.

There is some debate as to whether Saturday Night Live should rest on its laurels, reusing the same roles over and over again. However, the most memorable characters in the series have been ones who have returned many times. It's hard to come up with an hour and a half of new material every week, and as long as the performers and writers can do something new with the material, as they do for both of those follow ups this week, why not let them continue? They usually just build upon the past as a starting block, anyway.

A well-used surprise guest spot is always effective. Besides Gibbs, Paul McCartney pops in for the monologue, and Mayor Bloomberg and Madonna appear. I'm disappointed Chris Rock, seen in the closing, stays off stage, but overall, these are some big names that are not wasted, and that's appreciated.

Fallon is a veteran of SNL, which means he already knows what he's doing coming in (yes, losing it on stage counts as knowing what he's doing, as he did it back in the day, too). Hosts are not created equal, and sometimes it's hard to predict how a new one will act during the show. Going with Fallon, there's a known quantity that works, especially in the impressions department, and the episode plays to his strengths.

Timberlake has been a very frequent guest, and has hosted with success in his own right before. Combined with the already-wonderful chemistry he has with Fallon, he's a strong addition. From playing a Gibbs brother, to his spot-on mocking of Jimmy himself in the all-around funny Celebrity Family Feud bit, which has several hilarious moments, Timberlake adds much to the proceedings.

One of the most memorable sketches of the night, though, barely involves Jimmy or any other person who is not a regular cast member. The girls in the cast, including Bryant, Cecily Strong, Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Nasim Pedrad, and Noel Wells, make a music video about having sex in their childhood bedroom. The tune is catchy, the lyrics are smart, and these women can carry a tune. It reminds me both of the highly successful Digital Shorts SNL used to have and the strong female ensemble during the time of Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Tina Fey. Might we poised for a second coming?

There actually was not a single dud in the whole installment. A couple of scenes were weaker than others, but still would have been great on any other week, when the bar wasn't set quite so high. After a couple of years of much mediocrity, it's great to see SNL get things together again, whether it lasts through the winter and spring or not.

Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. ET, returning in mid-January to NBC.

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