SNL closed out 2021 with no live audience and no musical guest, but a few surprises.

We live in uncertain times and all may yet be taken from us. Welcome, sweet Coneheads, to the final SNL in Review of 2021. It's the Saturday Night Live Christmas episode, hosted by new Five-Timers Club member Paul Rudd. Before COVID-19, with its rolling, merciless redefinition of how we function in everyday life, both those things might've meant something. Not long ago, you could conjure in your mind what this episode was going to look like. There's greatest hits compilations on YouTube that approximate this exact episode and its various beats, let's face it. Close your eyes: imagine the poinsettias in Studio 8H; tongue-in-cheek cameos from previous Five-Timers welcoming Rudd to their magical club; slice-of-life pretapes about enduring the holidays with family. Etcetera. 

Chaos reigns. Tonight, SNL's live audience has been nixed and many in the cast and crew sent home. Musical guest Charli XCX's performance was also axed. What we are left with is an assortment of pretapes — some that were already planned for tonight's show, plus some very greatest hits you've seen countless times on YouTube — introduced by Rudd with help from Tom Hanks, Tina Fey, and Kenan Thompson. A clip show, in other words. This is an unprecedented show, but - even in today's world - maybe not the one we were expecting... 

Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Tom Hanks, and Kenan Thompson open final 'SNL' of 2022
Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Tom Hanks, and Kenan Thompson open final 'SNL' of 2022.
| Credit: NBC

I am joined tonight by former SNL cast member, Jeff Richards. As a stand-up comedian, who launched a brilliant podcast in response to the pandemic's restrictions, here's his take on tonight's show and all its changes: "First of all, I hope everyone is safe and recovers. But tonight is the latest reminder about the ways that COVID and its variants have struck at live comedy in such a sinister way, destroying performers' ability to connect with a live audience; in this case totally ruining what makes SNL so exciting - by being live. This is what's been going in the comedy world for essentially the last two years across the country. SNL has persevered through so much and will continue to do so, but it's hard not to be sad seeing how disruptive the pandemic continues to be."

One more note: There isn't a ton of precedent for an episode to not have a musical guest — Rob Reiner didn't have one during the third episode of the first season, but John Belushi did his Joe Cocker impression to fill the gap. In season 4, at Walter Matthau's request, Garrett Morris sang an aria from Don Giovanni. Sigourney Weaver didn't have an announced musical guest at the start of season 12, but Buster Poindexter (of New York Dolls fame) was on hand to perform. Anyways, I am curious how they pull this one off, folks…

Five-Timers Opening

We open with Tom Hanks in his Five-Timers jacket and the sound of a few remaining crew members. Tina Fey joins him; this is not the smallest crowd she's performed in front of, she jokes, as she's performed improv in a Macy's. 

Hanks started the Five-Timers Club back in 1990. Tonight, they welcome Paul Rudd to join, and he comes on stage. We last saw the actor in the FaceTime With Rudd (a.k.a. Cousin Mandy) sketch during the "Saturday Night Live at Home" period. The Ghostbusters: Afterlife star admits he's "extremely disappointed" by the circumstances of the episode, but at least he's still got the PEOPLE's Sexiest Man Alive title. Longest-tenured cast member Kenan Thompson comes out too to bestow the jacket on Rudd for hosting "four-and-a-half times." Fellow Five-Timers Clubber Steve Martin alongside Only Murders in the Building costar (and assistant) Martin Short have sent in a pre-recorded message to help celebrate.

Tonight's upheavals aside, Jeff Richards is happy they were still able to honor Rudd joining the Five-Timers-Club. "It's one of the show's longest-running institutions, reserved for only the best guest hosts, or at least the ones SNL likes the most. When I was in the cast, Justin Timberlake had his first show as host and you could immediately tell he wasn't going to be a one-and-done. Dwayne Johnson did his second episode, out of five, during my time back when he was just the Rock - Andrew WK was his musical guest. Anyway, it is a great honor for Paul Rudd, who I loved as Tommy Doyle in Halloween 6." 

HomeGoods Commercial

Rudd is directing two moms (Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon) in a HomeGoods commercial. He's interviewing them to record what they want most for the holidays. But they just want grandchildren. That's all they answer. It is a bit eerie without the laugh track. Funny to have the roles reversed at the end, and Bryant and McKinnon interrogate Rudd about wanting children. "I want weird opinions about Israel — not bad, weird!" cries Rudd, realizing he wants to be a grandfather. Attagirl Kelsey. 

Dick in a Box (2006)

Thompson and Fey introduce Dick in a Box, which is noteworthy because Thompson acknowledges appearing in The Mighty Ducks. Love that. Anyway, this is obviously iconic and so, so important in terms of the show adapting for the Internet age. One question for the peanut gallery: Timberlake dressing for Kwanzaa, spoofing early '90s R&B is actual appropriation, and not just part of the joke… right? Like, they wouldn't go this far in 2021, I think? 

An Evening With Pete

The year is 2054. We're in a spoof of Raging Bull. Instant Schillervision vibes here, folks. "Don't Look Back in Anger," what's good?

Pete Davidson is introduced by Robo-Jost. "Do Chad!" cries Mikey Day in the audience. "Okay," he reluctantly says. Next: Davidson spoofs Eminem's "My Name Is" – Chloe Fineman asks who the audience is for this, and the answer is ME. Rudd plays Davidson's Bob Cratchet, who gives him one of his Oscars (which he apparently stole). 

Another fun commentary from Davidson this season about his celebrity. As always, it feels like he is on his own island. What are his best moments on the show? Just Chad? Update? Is this warranted…? 

Santa and His Elves (2015)

Santa (Bobby Moynihan) summons his elves (Thompson, Vanessa Bayer, Ryan Gosling) and he is upset they have not completed their work. They are very eager for their punishment. 

The Global Warming Christmas Special (1990)

Hanks says this is one of his favorite Christmas sketches. Carl Sagan (Mike Myers!) introduces Dean Martin (pitch perfect work from Hanks.) Great stuff. A weepy Sally Struthers is played by Victoria Jackson. Great to see her! And Jan Hooks and Phil Hartman! God I miss this era. "You got paint in my hair you nerd!" Hanks' Dean is totally puzzled by Paul McCartney (Dana Carvey).

The gifts have been distorted by greenhouse gasses. Who will speak for Rob Lowe or Chad Lowe, asks a tanned Ghost of Christmas Future version of George Hamilton (Kevin Nealon). And the actual Ralph Nader! This is an excellent example of the show successfully using the full cast, organically – modern SNL take note.

Weekend Update

Fey joins Michael Che, saying she is replacing Colin Jost, who is having some work done. They are performing in front of an audience of only Rudd, Hanks, and Thompson. Che lands a fantastic joke about he and Kenan being the only cast members in the studio.

Obviously it is great seeing Fey back in Update mode – and interesting pairing her with Che, who is as caustic now as Fey was in her prime. Her laughs at punchlines during Update always feels genuine, like her writerly taste offering approval. She seems so removed from these low stakes moments – almost above comedy or something, with everything she's accomplished - that it's great watching her riff, land jokes, react. I love Hanks' reactions in the audience too. 

The Christmas Socks

A fun music video about a boy and a strange man at a department store, featuring Rudd, the cast, and Charli XCX. Kyle Mooney plays a 6-year-old, mmmk, buying a pair of socks. They tell a story about meeting in line, connecting about their birds. Shout out the source material, the plodding, saccharine Christmas Shoes. Charli gets to make an appearance in the episode as TJ Rocks, the returning bird. 

Steve Martin's Holiday Wish (1986)

In his introduction, Rudd says he performed this classic sketch when he was in high school. This is an all-timer. If nothing else, I am thrilled there's people out there watching bits like this or the Global Warming Christmas Special for the first time. "The kids singing would be great." Indeed! 

Pageant Auditions (2012)

If nothing else, this sketch is a reminder that Cecily Strong overlapped with Jason Sudeikis' tenure as a cast member. Way back in season 38. Martin Short berates his cousin through marriage, Paul McCartney.

North Pole News Report (2019)

Woof, of all the Christmas sketches – nay, of all the Eddie Murphy Christmas sketches to use. No love for the Mister Robinson's Neighborhood Christmas sketch? It's offensive their snubbing the Ebersol era, in my honest opinion. SMH.

One Direction's No. 1 Fan (2013)

Rudd describes the perfect Christmas sketch: "It needs to be funny and Christmas-y." But it also has to be true. That's his intro to the Dan Charles/One Direction pretape from a few seasons back. Still love him reaching to touch Harry Styles. "Her name is… Dan Charles."

Now That's What I Call Christmas (2013)

Jimmy Fallon is one of Tina Fey's favorite cast members? That's what she says. This is a strange episode, isn't it folks? The admissions! Here's a small problem with this sketch, in my view: none of the impressions are that accurate, or insightful, or funny! 

TV Funhouse: Christmastime for the Jews (2005)

Another classic. If you haven't, I recommend reading this 2018 oral history about the making of this sketch. It's so cool they actually got Darlene Love for this. Also love Fey shouting out the SNL costume department with an anecdote about making a Christmas outfit for her baby.

Final Thoughts

-Well, that was something. What did we learn? Vote here - or weigh in below!

-Thank you to Jeff Richards for his thoughts! Check out his podcast

-"Life is like a weird big chocolate bar." Rudd is very poignant at the goodnights — the show is unpredictable, as is life. Funny him shouting out two current cast members.

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Bowen Yang
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