This week’s episode of Saturday Night Live, hosted by Jason Bateman, featured two different kinds of sketches that felt inevitable the moment they aired. First there was the cold open, which became obligatory the moment that Melissa Carone did her uncanny Cecily Strong impersonation at a Michigan hearing about voter fraud, necessitating a Cecily Strong impersonation of Melissa Carone. That’s a classic example of SNL in a reactive mode, with current events setting the agenda, and although there’s some sense of satisfaction hearing the chords resolve, there’s no surprise in the process. But this week also featured “Stu,” an instant-classic Christmas sketch, which felt inevitable and surprising, because it’s a perfect synthesis of the cast members’ individual interests and strengths.
Everyone is cast perfectly here. Kyle Mooney and Chloe Fineman were born to play elves, and although Beck Bennett is less naturally elven, he makes up for it with facial expressions alone:
Meanwhile, Pete Davidson has been making goofy comedy rap videos since lockdown started, to somewhat mixed results. In “Stu,” though, he’s in top form lyrically and has reached deep within himself to find aspects of his role—a mentally ill young man who enjoys rap music, video games, and impulsive tattoos—that he could somehow relate to events in his own life. The sketch isn’t a career highlight for Kate McKinnon, but it’s nice to see her playing something a more subtly than she does Giuliani or Sessions. On the other side of the subtle scale, Bowen Yang’s unexpected entrance as Elton John, complete with a decent facsimile of the suit he wore for his duet with Eminem at the 2001 Grammys, is just perfect. Jason Bateman’s Santa Claus doesn’t really command the screen at first, but when he finally sits down to write Stu a letter, his verse is worth the wait. Eminem’s cameo is only twelve seconds long, enough time to deliver the joke (the joke is, “Hey, Eminem is in this!”) and not long enough to derail the sketch. Finally, COVID has meant the show’s crew hasn’t gotten to recreate the look and feel of a different TV show, movie, or music video for a while, and they really outdid themselves. The best detail in the SNL version is probably putting Santa’s face on the cover of Sled magazine, but it’s all on point. Compare to the original:
A typical episode of Saturday Night Live these days presents itself as a loose confederation of different types of comedy and different types of comedians, stretching from the broadly accessible cold opens to niche interests like Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney’s frequently cut-for-time painstaking recreations of sitcoms of the 1990s. It’s usually pretty easy to place any individual sketch on that spectrum in its first thirty seconds, and vanishingly rare to see this kind of ensemble work, which combines the cast’s different strengths and sensibilities into something new. It’s a Christmas present from Saturday Night Live to all of us! Which is nice and all, but I wanted a PS5.