Tina Fey and Amy Poehler strolled on to the “Saturday Night Live” stage this weekend as if they owned the place. Given how good their installment of “SNL” was, it’d be nice if they actually did — if not now, maybe some day down the road. They’re not just naturals at all things “SNL,” they’re a ridiculous amount of fun to watch together.
Political jabs, a revival of their Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton impressions and a pointed (if brief) dig at Bill Cosby were among the Dec. 19 highlights, as were visits from pals like Amy Schumer and Maya Rudolph. It’s hard to think of any 2015 TV moment that was more joyous than watching Fey, Poehler, musical guest Bruce Springsteen, plus Paul McCartney, the cast of the show and the E Street Band singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” just before the credits rolled. Only a grinch could watch that sight without a big smile on his or her face.
One of the most successful skits, “Dope Squad,” was a celebration of the many folks who help keep Fey and Poehler’s lives and careers on track (it included appearances from Schumer, Gayle King and apparently the hosts’ gynecologist). This musically-driven pre-taped sketch encapsulated so much about what makes Fey and Poehler so potent together. In one short song, they both satirized the “squad goals” lifestyle and Instagram-perfect images of Taylor Swift and her famous pals, and featured many visual references to Swift’s “Bad Blood” video.
But the song was also a raucous celebration of the ways in which women help each other and how persistence is often fueled by female friendship and camaraderie. Of course, that aspect of the sketch was subtext: The video, in which Fey and Poehler wore a lot of eyeliner and leather, deftly balanced its deeply silly side and its sincere message. By the time Poehler, Fey, and Aidy Bryant got to their “slow-motion post-apocalyptic walk,” framed by the requisite explosions in the background, I was really hoping NBC would pick up “Dope Squad” to series.
There’s little chance of that, given how busy those women are, but it was obvious how much the hosts enjoyed being back in their old stomping grounds. Even a late-in-the-show sketch like “Bronx Beat” was utterly charming, given the way the participants delivered their staccato complaints (“May the Force give me a break already!”). As Poehler and Rudolph’s characters complained about Isis coming down the chimney instead of Santa, talked about how much they loved their “stupid” husbands and marveled at the “classy” Philadelphia accent of Fey’s character, you could see Poehler almost start cracking up a couple of times. She didn’t break, but Rudolph’s wound-up delivery was really that entertaining.
Most of the show crackled with the spontaneous energy the hosts exuded, which also lifted up bits that weren’t necessarily all that inspired. The opening monologue, which contrasted poppy and creepy holiday songs, was just OK, but at least it didn’t overstay its welcome. If I have one complaint about Saturday’s “SNL,” it’s that Poehler and Fey didn’t spend much time at the Weekend Update desk (they only delivered one joke each). When they sat behind the desk back in the day, especially during political seasons, Fey and Poehler delivered more than their fair share of memorable skewerings, and their brief presence on the desk in Saturday’s show just highlighted the fact that Colin Jost and Michael Che often lack energy and momentum as an Update team.
It was only fitting that Schumer stopped by “SNL,” given that Fey appeared on her show earlier this year, but there’s more to the connection than that. Schumer’s been lauded for the way she makes feminist points through smart comedy, which is something the hosts had been doing since they arrived at “SNL” many years ago. So it was fitting that some of their most guffaw-inducing sketches of the night seemed as though they could have appeared on “Inside Amy Schumer” — or during the “SNL” of the Fey-Poehler era.
In the game show “Meet Your Second Wife,” horrified men — and their confused wives — encountered the young girls (and in one case, a fetus) that the men would wed later on in life. “Sorry, Elaine, we don’t make the future, we just know it,” they told one contestant’s shocked spouse. One man couldn’t believe he’d actually leave his wife for another woman, until it was explained to him that one of the books he would later write would become a bestseller. He told the 12 year old girl he’d just met that he’d see her in about 20 years.
“Actually, it’s seven,” Fey deadpanned.
A sketch about the two hosts playing lesbians in a period piece reminiscent of “Carol” didn’t really work, but it was the rare dud in an otherwise solid night. Even a goofy sketch about ‘70s Christmas specials, which was mainly a showcase for Rudolph to vamp with spectacular verve as a drunken disco crooner, contained a charged moment. Another clip, purportedly from a different ‘70s holiday special, had Fey playing pop star “Angie Francis.” Angie duetted with “a special guest” who looked a lot like Bill Cosby (or Kenan Thompson as “Cosby” — who was never named in the sketch — in one of his familiar sweaters). As they sang “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Angie realized there was something wrong with her drink. As she ran away, he shouted, “No, no, wait — I want to show you my penis.”
Though the cold open, a debate sketch that featured a brisk series of solid jokes about the Republican candidates, was enjoyable, it mainly served as a showcase for another “SNL” alumni. Darrell Hammond’s Donald Trump impression is spot-on, and it’s easy to imagine that executive producer Lorne Michaels will keep Hammond on speed dial during the run-up to the 2016 election.
Viewers hoping for a glimpse of Fey’s Sarah Palin had to wait for an amiable and amusing sketch that united Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton with Amy Poehler’s version of the character. 2015 Hillary (McKinnon) had a great deal of fun telling 2008 Hillary (Poehler) who the Republican front-runner was (2008 Hillary promptly fell on the floor). “Oh my God, we’re going to be president,” Poehler’s Clinton crowed.
Soon after both Hillarys were united, Fey’s Palin turned up. “Well, what the heck! I landed in the bedroom of a lesbian couple,” she said. Not surprisingly, the meeting of the three women ended in a dance party, which was only fitting for this installment of “SNL,” which was one big happy and energetic reunion.