By Ken Tucker
Updated December 12, 2010 at 01:29 PM EST
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Saturday Night Live

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It was the little things that mattered on this week’s Saturday Night Live. Which is a generous way of saying that in any given sketch, there tended to be a few seconds of amusement to be coaxed out of the material. I’m searching for ways to accentuate the positive here… ah, yes: More use was made of talented rookies such as Vanessa Bayer, Jay Pharoah, Paul Brittain, and (still too briefly) Taran Killam this week.

There was a grim cold-open sketch featuring Fred Armisen as President Obama pushing his lousy tax package. This was as sad on SNL as the bill is in real life — and in a twisted way, therefore, must be counted as a success in reproducing the material it satirized.

Host Paul Rudd came out and did a few more of the two-Paul jokes he and Paul McCartney had done for the show’s promos. Rudd and McCartney are charmers, but they couldn’t pump much humor into this already-exhausted premise.

Early on, Rudd played the prodigal son in a sketch featuring the Vogelchecks, the family prone to excessive displays of affection. These things are always good for at least one startled giggle, such as Bill Hader and Rudd lip-locking while Hader felt up Rudd. Like I said, it was the little things.

The “Digital Short” called “Stumblin’,” set to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” featured Andy Samberg and Rudd stumbling around goofily. The short was made funnier by Paul McCartney’s cameo appearance, performing the “tiny harmonica solo” — an example of a little thing that was cleverly done.

Similarly, a scene featuring Rudd as a math teacher hosting an inner-city school’s holiday celebration was redeemed chiefly by Jay Pharoah’s wonderfully mannered speech as the school’s principal.

For the second week in a row, Bill Hader impersonated WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, this time broadcasting from prison. Among his revenge threats were the all-too-likely-sounding notion that his minions could arrange the internet so that anyone using Amazon.com to send the gift of Mark Twain’s autobiography would actually be mailing out a copy of Everyone Poops.

Paul McCartney’s version of “Jet” wasn’t helped by a poor vocal mix and musicians whose back-up “woo-woo”s sounded like off-key hound-dogs. “Band on the Run” sounded better.

In a nervy move, McCartney reproduced the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” and then folded it into John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance,” no small effort given the challenges of live TV and his accompaniment, and a heartfelt salute to Lennon, acknowledging the anniversary of his death.

A lukewarm “Weekend Update” was rescued by an appearance from Bill Hader’s Stefon, recommending odd or downright pervy party destinations for those visiting New York City. Hader cracked himself up during his unique recitation of the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” but who could blame him?

The closest thing to a completely successful sketch was probably a late-in-the-show one with Jason Sudeikis reprising his surly stage-hand (in this case, a lighting tech) insulting Paul Rudd as the latter tried to perform “Wilkommen” from Cabaret. Sudeikis knows how to modulate his powerful voice so that his bellowed barbs became stingingly funny, and Rudd’s full-make-up M.C. was nicely done.

At the end, standing among the cast, Rudd bade farewell by saying, “Well, this won’t be topped.” I like Rudd too much to be sarcastic about his apparent sincerity. Then McCartney gave his fourth performance of the night, and it was probably his best, a quick version of “Get Back.” As I said at the top, it was the brief moments that gave the most pleasure.

Twitter: @kentucker

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Saturday Night Live

The original late-night comedy sketch show from the one and only Lorne Michaels.

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  • 45
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  • Saturdays at 11:30 PM
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