Bilbo Baggins makes his hosting debut, and proves that Middle-earth isn't as serious a place as it seems.

By Jonathon Dornbush
Updated December 14, 2014 at 03:00 PM EST
Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC

Martin Freeman may have stopped by Saturday Night Live to promote one of his more serious roles in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, but the British actor has a long history of comedic roles. From his fantastic turn in this year’s Fargo adaptation to his role in the original British version of The Office, Freeman definitely has comedy chops—and this week’s episode rose to meet him.

It all kicked off with what was probably the year’s best cold open so far, a Charlie Rose discussion featuring the two “torture teachers” mentioned in the CIA report that’s been dominating the news this week. Maybe it was just a fluke, but this sketch proved the show still has some political bite left in it—which started the night off on much better footing than cold opens recently have.

Freeman, or the “funny George Clooney” as he described himself, immediately assured the audience that he was a smart first-time hosting choice. He dramatically elevated a so-so monologue with occasional improvised jokes based on the audience’s response, which probably went a long way for viewers who didn’t know Martin’s comedic history. The first half of the episode really kept up the momentum, especially when it comes to the night’s…

Best Sketch

Just about no one thinks Leslie Jones and Martin Freeman should be married, as everyone from their parents to the priest raises concerns. While the sketch becomes a revolving door for the rotating cast to voice a number of bizarre and hilarious objections, Jones and Freeman hold their own with a set of fantastic reactions to every concerned attendant–even Kate McKinnon’s old woman who just stumbled in off the street.

Honorable Mention

None of the holiday-themed humor this week quite matched St. Joseph’s Christmas Mass Spectacular. A riff on the Underground Music Festival sketches, this version presents the hottest mass in town. The sketch pulls a lot of humor out of the smallest observations–see anything with Bobby Moynihan’s pastor. Yes, you’ll enjoy this more if you’ve spent a few Sundays in church, but at least one or two of the churchgoers should be familiar and funny even to those not planning on attending a Christmas mass.

Worst Sketch

Nothing really happens in the Heinz factory assembly line sketch. It just sort of exists, and despite Taran Killam giving it his all, there’s not a whole lot to enjoy here. The night had a number of long sketches, but whereas that normally is an issue for SNL, the night’s shortest sketch had the most problems. The sketch essentially repeats the same joke or two, dying quickly out of the gate and never actually finding much humor in the idea.

Best Musical Moment

Charli XCX’s performance of “Boom Clap” lacked the energy inherent in the song, with a stationary performing presence that wasn’t helped by the sparse stage design this week. Thankfully, she began to really enjoy herself while performing “Break the Rules.” Charli really delivered on her second and final performance of the night as the show’s momentum finally caught up with her. It certainly helped that she actually appeared awake for this song.

Cast MVP

Taran Killam ruled the show from minute one. His Charlie Rose helped kick off one of the most consistent episodes of the season, and he quickly transitioned into an Alan Rickman during the monologue that NEEDS to be used more often. (Die Hard parody next week, anyone?) Sure, he was also in the night’s worst sketch, but he clearly tried to infuse it with some energy—and he redeemed himself on an number of occasions, perhaps most delightfully in his role as possible murderer Roman.

Best Hobbit Reference

Speaking of Killam, he also stole the show in the night’s funniest pre-recorded sketch. Yes, it’s a bit late to be doing a parody of The Office, even if one of the original version’s stars is hosting. But still, The Office: Middle Earth worked, largely thanks to Killam’s Gareth/Gollum. Bobby Moynihan’s Gandalf, the David Brent of the office, also lends the sketch some great energy, becoming funnier with every appearance. Some of the other characters could have been used to better effect, but really, Gareth’s reactions to Bilbo Baggins’ pranks were completely worth that underdevelopment.

Best Weekend Update Guest

Cecily Strong as another extremely long-named character—A One-Dimensional Female Character From A Male Driven Comedy—starts off slow but offers the highlight of Weekend Update. Her delivery of lines like “Wow, you really have changed. It’s all over your face” is hilariously monotone, and ending the segment with her removing her glasses to reveal how beautiful and in love she is nails a trope that’s never really made sense.

Unfortunately, most of Weekend Update’s actual jokes weren’t all that funny, from a lame and tired joke about high video game players to a lame and tired joke about Cuba Gooding Jr.’s career woes. And as SNL may look to do some retooling on Weekend Update after next week’s episode, EW has already offered some suggestions about how to fix the ailing but popular segment.


– The torture report opening smartly blamed the torture teachers for everything else terrible in life, from Time Warner Cable to… autocorrect? Yes, it seems they’re to blame for your phone’s ability to make you sound stupider. “It sure ducking was [us],” Moynihan says while taking credit for that particular problem.

– Kenan Thompson was very close to stealing the MVP crown from Killam this week, with a number of funny performances, starting off the night with the weird but enjoyable Sump’n Claus.

– While Weekend Update definitely had some issues, hearing how Michael Che pronounces “barrels,” as well as a couple funny Dick Cheney jabs, give the beginning of the segment some energy to keep it going.

– “Right Side of the Bed” was one of the show’s weakest outings, but Kate McKinnon’s Keith Urban cameo at the end is a hilarious and unexpected button on an otherwise mundane sketch. She definitely needs to revisit that character.

The Holiday Gig sketch, another great showcase for both Thompson and Killam, started off slow but really picked up steam as the sketch turned into a therapy session for Freeman’s saxophone player.

– Freeman often played the straight man to most of the cast’s weirdest characters, but he had enough funny moments that I’d love to see him come back a second time eventually. He’s clearly a funny guy, although the episode didn’t take quite every opportunity it should have to highlight him.

Episode Recaps

Saturday Night Live

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

  • TV Show
  • 46
  • TV-14
  • Saturdays at 11:30 PM
  • Lorne Michaels
  • NBC
stream service