For those who missed it because you have lives and weekend plans or something, this week’s Saturday Night Live had a lot going on. Martin Short was an unusually effective host, the Royal Baby sketch was goofy and fun and a whole lot of special guest stars showed up, including Samuel L. Jackson and Carrie Brownstein on “What’s Up With That,” Larry David and Alec Baldwin. Paul McCartney and the former members of Nirvana played together again, and Macca did three (three!) songs.
And, with the horrific school shooting in Newtown still painful and raw in our collective memory, too raw for any incensed commentary or even for words, the show paid a touching tribute to the victims by opening with a children’s choir tenderly singing “Silent Night.” It was one of the most moving openings the show has ever done, to the point where we’re really hoping that some opportunistic website doesn’t do a “10 Most Moving SNL Responses to Horrifying National Tragedies” slideshow. Nope nope nope.
But even with so much heaviness of heart and a stacked guest star bill, some of the show’s best moments still came from the regulars, and they came during Weekend Update. Vanessa Bayer reprised her role as Jacob, the Bar Mitzvah Boy, explaining the miracle of Chanukah to viewers in the format of a d’var torah, the speech Jewish kids give on the day of their bar/bat mitzvah explaining what they learned and what their reading is about. You’re told to write jokes into it, but the sort of jokes a nervous, socially awkward 13-year-old in front of his grandparents would tell. It becomes—and Seth Meyers put this perfectly—“a low-level roast of your family.” And Bayer nails the moment, to the point where I had some serious flashbacks to the bar and bat mitzvah circuit.
The other Weekend Update interview was with newcomer Cecily Strong, who reprised her role as the “Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With At A Party.” And the timing couldn’t have been better, nor could her commentary on the holiday season ("You asked for an iPad Mini? I asked for an end to genocide."). Between the holiday season, New Year’s Eve and recent current events that will unfortunely lead to some negative and ill-informed discourse during family and social gatherings, she once again served as a funny but somewhat painful reminder of what’s in store for us during the most wonderful time of the year. Strong had some other solid moments too, particularly as Fran Drescher in “You’re A Rat Bastard, Charlie Brown.” And if as a featured player, she already has at least one memorable recurring character that people like, she’s on the right track to becoming a headliner. Basically, SNL, more Cecily Strong, please and thank you. Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant too.