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'Saturday Night Live' recap: James Franco tried his best to save Christmas, but...

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James Franco was our last hope of the year to help pull off an excellent Saturday Night Live. He proved funniest early on, in his opening monologue, making sport of his career choices including his current stint on General Hospital.

After that, I’m afraid, the smart charmer spent the night playing mostly secondary roles, or talking to Christmas trees. (That was the entire joke of one sketch — a tree salesman talking to the trees: sheesh.)

Remember last week, when I wrote that SNL should have worked up a Jersey Shore sketch? Well, last night during “Weekend Update,” Bobby Moynihan dressed up as Snookie complete with “poof” and did a pretty funny version of the Shore floozy (“Guido is not a deroga-tony word!”).

The “Digital Short,” featuring The Tizzle Wizzle Show, a parody of the current rash of hip-to-be-square children’s shows, was mildly amusing, with Franco joining cast members dressed in their jammies, singing kiddie melodies while wielding knives and popping pills.

I also laughed at a fraternity-hazing sketch. Samberg was the pledge, and Franco, Jason Sudeikis, and Moynihan were so dumb, Samberg’s hazing included showing them how to tie their shoes and explaining where babies came from.

There was a “What Up With That” sketch, overseen as usual by Kenan Thompson playing a host singing and dancing so much, the guests had little or no time to speak. Here, Mike Tyson made a nice cameo, complaining about his “existential angst” and joining in with some surprisingly enthusiastic dancing at the very end.

If you’d never seen SNL do it before, the latest version of the Vogelchecks, the “kissing family,” was pretty amusing, with Franco as a Vogelcheck son bringing Abby Elliott into the clan that tongue-kisses and makes out with each other.

I usually enjoy Bill Hader’s Vincent Price 1950s tv-special sketches, but this one lacked punchlines. Franco didn’t have to stretch, reprising his James Dean impersonation from a 2001 tv-movie. Kristen Wiig’s version of Katharine Hepburn was actually a good impression, but by the time it aired I was, frankly, so tired of her, after watching Wiig do her baby-hands character, her Latina dancer, her Vogelcheck mom, and a “Weekend Update” bit, that the nuances she brought to Hepburn almost passed me by.

The hero of the night, if there was one, was Fred Armisen, who did impeccable Lawrence Welk and Liberace impersonations, as well as joining Wiig as a red-plaid-vested singing duo, Garth and Kat, that hadn’t prepared their material. Armisen and Wiig seemed to be improvising a fair amount of this, and Armisen’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics were clever.

Music guest Muse slammed out some vehement rhythms.

The night dribbled to a conclusion with a “Mark Wahlberg Talks To Christmas Animals” moment featuring Andy Samberg as Wahlberg, and, before that, a sketch about three businessmen (Franco, Hader, and Will Forte) deciding what to give out as a company Christmas gift — you had to find the repetition of the word “dildo” funny. Tee-hee. The problem with most of the night wasn’t with Franco or the performers; it was the writing, which used word-repetitions or jiggly dancing as substitutes for crafted jokes.

No new SNL until Jan. 9: Happy holidays!

Did you watch? What sketches did you find funny?

(You can follow me on Twitter @kentucker.)

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