A little dabbling with newbie hosts and unconventional sketches might be OK the rest of the season, but on the last episode before Christmas, “Saturday Night Live” risks nothing that might get in the way of you and a rollicking good time. The host is a dependable friend of the show, the music comes from a proven quantity, and invitations for celebrity cameos go out far and wide.
This year’s host couldn’t have been safer: longtime cast member and Lorne Michaels golden boy Jimmy Fallon, selling what he’ll bring to “The Tonight Show” next year. True to form, Fallon gave a 90-minute demo of his energy and versatility — but nothing he couldn’t have done in his five hours a week of “Late Night.”
Backing him up were drop-in celebrities galore. The show was so thick with glitterati, Chris Rock showed up to do nothing but wave during the goodbyes.
The supernova among the stars, of course, was musical guest Justin Timberlake, happy to reprise his greatest comedy hits. In the cold open, he again put on a big mascot costume and sang on the street to plug a store (this time, a gift wrapper).
And for the first time since the 2012 death of Robin Gibb, Timberlake played him alongside Fallon in “The Barry Gibb Talk Show,” a gag rendered non-distasteful by an appearance by the real Gibb, singing his blessing in his trademark falsetto.
Madonna showed up in that scene. To say maybe four lines. That’s how starry this episode was.
Who else dropped by? Paul McCartney, of course, for the second December in a row. (He interrupted Fallon’s Macca impression in the monologue and dueled with him on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”)
It was a big night for mimicry. The cast got not one but two of those showcases for quick-hit impressions, first in a “Celebrity Family Feud” (where Timberlake played Fallon, twitchy and gushy) and then in a roundup of Christmas songs by pop stars, four of them played by the host.
The best sketches stuck with the holiday theme. A song by the female cast, playing glammed-up versions of themselves, smartly spelled out the awkwardness of fooling around with the boyfriend you brought home for Christmas in your childhood bedroom, complete with twin mattress, stuffed animals and your seventh-grade portrait.
And Fallon’s funny “Baby It’s Cold Outside” duet with Cecily Strong presented the immediate aftermath of their hookup, with Fallon cajoling his clingy fling to the door with melodic assurances of how warm it is.
“Waking Up With Kimye” returned to again depict Kanye West (Jay Pharaoh) talking up his fiancee’s genius and Kim Kardashian (Nasim Pedrad) proving otherwise. This one included a parody of his “Bound 2″ video with the couple cavorting not on a motorcycle, but on a reindeer.
The biggest lump of coal in the mostly cheery package found Ebenezer Scrooge (Taran Killam) looking back at Fezziwig’s party, when his younger self (Fallon) was a mincing queen. Every joke hung on lame stereotype.
But Killam came on strong elsewhere in the night, bringing back his bizarrely amusing Ashton Kutcher and his cornball Paul Ryan.