Quick personal indulgence: One of my favorite SNLs of all time was the January 21, 1989 edition hosted by John Malkovich. He did three characters on that episode that I continue to reference regularly to this day -- Len Tukwilla, Driftwood Sculptor; Lord Edmund ("I will not be mocked!"); and the always violent Johnny Canal. Brilliant.
Last night's episode featured Malkovich again. Can it live up to his 1989 height? Let us find out together, shall we?
Cold Open -- Secretary of State Designee Hillary Clinton is back! And so is Amy! And you'll never be rid of the Clintons, do you hear? Never! Never!
They're like the South, vampires and Britney Spears. They keep rising again.
It's great to have Amy back. Even with adding two new female cast members, Amy's absence was evident throughout recent episodes.
Here, she passively aggressively (sort of) praises the new President-Elect and manages to rip on both Alaska and New York. It's the strongest political material since the election. 3 1/2 stars.
Monologue -- Hope you paid attention during the credits. That's the last time you'll see Jason Sudeikis tonight until it's time to say, "Bye-ee" at the very end. He still gets paid, though.
Host John Malkovich proclaims himself full of the Holiday Spirit as he settles down in front of a group of wide-eyed children to share the immortal classic "Twas the Night Before Christmas" with them, along with his own rather horrifyingly inappropriate personal asides and annotations.
Malkovich plays a great creep ... at least, I hope it's just playing. He feels compelled to educate the youngsters along the way about holiday suicide rates and the California home invasion statutes. I hope Saint Nick doesn't steal and feast upon my toes! We're off to a tremendous start as the best political opener since the election is followed by the season's best host monologue. 4 stars.
Gas Right -- Bruce Johnson (Fred Armisen), inventor of the Breathe-Right nose strips, has a new, similar product for those nighttime "sudden noisy eruptions." Yes, it's a fart joke, but it's a good fart joke and I can tell you, I tried the theory at home and it really works! 3 stars.
Shanna, The Sexy New Girl -- It's Gary's birthday, but all the guys in the office are most excited by the imminent arrival of sexy Shanna. Excited that is, until she proves incapable of performing simple, eye-catching tasks with the least bit of sexiness. Hey, Casey Wilson flubbed again! Right at the top of the scene. Someone needs to ply her with alcohol right before 1130PM. Shanna is yet another memorable -- and, I'm sure, repeatable -- character from Kristen Wiig, with her Marilyn Monroe voice and completely inept approach to all things hot. Even bending over to pick up a pen becomes a turn-off. Malkovich is great as Gary, a guy who finds Shanna attractive no matter what. Will Forte, Andy Samberg and Kenan Thompson all provide able chorus support. 3 1/2 stars.
A Message from Barack Obama -- The President-Elect explains his style when dealing with political adversaries. It's all about keeping it cool. Fred's Barack is surrounded by jazzy music and retro graphics and is very cool indeed. Is this the hook that will allow the comedy world an in to parody the 44th President of the USA? We'll see. It works ... mostly. 2 1/2 stars.
La Rivista Della Televisione con Vinny Vedeci -- Once again, Italian talk show host Vinny Vedeci books a guest who doesn't speak his native tongue, as he has before with Jon Bon Jovi, Shia Labeouf and others. It's all worthwhile for the moment when Bill Hader gets to do his Malkovich impression directly to Malkovich himself. Also cracking me up: the massive amount of digitization in Vinny's 20-hour porn movie. Pacifying Bobby Moynihan's tot with a cigarette is funny too. 3 1/2 stars.
SNL Digital Short "Virgania Horsen's Pony Express" -- Kristen reprises the eccentric Horsen character from last season's Tina Fey-hosted show. This time, instead of hot-air balloon rides, she's peddling an alternate delivery system with a decidedly retro twist. Strangeness for strangeness's sake. Although, I do enjoy the bizarre moments when Kristen appears to be checking herself out.
The Twins' Christmas -- Twins Paul and Aden (Fred and Malkovich) are uncontrollably excited at the prospect of receiving a calculator for Christmas. And then they get one. Happy ending! Someone in the writing room must have thought that the repetition of the word "calculator" would carry this scene. There may have been an illicit substance involved. Notify the authorities. 1 star.
T.I. performs "Whatever You Like" -- Obviously as full of the holiday spirit as Malkovich, rapper T. I. proclaims that "you can have whatever you like." He's the best Dad ever! Also, nothing says "Christmas" like a festive gray scarf. Fairly catchy for the genre. 2 stars.
Weekend Update -- Amy's back! Oh, I said that already. Well, it continues to be true and as if to make up for her time away, she and Seth Meyers give us one of the longest Updates of the year. Guest commentators include proud gun owner Plaxico Burress (Kenan), patron (and abuser) of male escorts Boy George (Fred), and nine-year-old author David Rasmussen (Andy). Kenan gets off a few obvious shots (!) at Plaxico, Fred is great as the Boy ("And then I do that thing where I go to the other room to be weird ..."), but Andy is the big winner here. David Rasmussen's tips for picking up girls on the playground are just a tad age-inappropriate. He's right about how white girls love cocaine, though. So I've heard. Give the whole thing an extra star for Amy being back (though I notice that she has only done bits where she could remain seated). 3 1/2 stars.
The Lost Works of Judy Blume featuring "Gertie" -- Gertie (Malkovich) is unsure about her changing body (like all of Judy Blume's protagonists) and hesitates to attend a sleep-over. Big news! Abby Elliott gets lines of more than one word! And she does better than Casey. Malkovich makes a stunningly unattractive girl. His method of french-kissing a pillow recalls a rabid cocker spaniel. Cute, if not laugh-out-loud funny. 2 1/2 stars.
SNL Digital Short "Jizz in my Pants" -- Call it "Dick in a Box: The Sequel." Two digital shorts in one show? You'd think the Lonely Island contingent had an album coming out. Oh, yeah, they do. Andy and Jorma and Akiva and yes, Justin Timberlake, all sing an ode to a lack of self control. The girls are Molly Sims and Tony Soprano's daughter Jamie-Lynn Sigler. The song is pure Pet Shop Boys. It might be a bit of a redux (redo), but it's also the funniest Digital Short in ages. Laughter forgives all. Love the disclaimer on the nbc.com clip. 4 stars.
T. I. performs "Swing Ya Rag" -- Y'know, it's a good thing I'm not some provincial suburban white guy because if I were, I might think that an ode to swinging a rag around is utterly and thoroughly retarded. But I'm not some suburban provincial white guy so I know that there's a great deal of cultural import and significance to swinging one's rag. Yes, the swinging of a rag cannot be overestimated. Excuse me, I'm gonna go swing something. Possibly a rag. 1 star.
J'accuzzi -- Malkovich reprises his Dangerous Liaisons character (20 years on!) the Vicomte Sebastien de Valmonte on stage. In a hot tub. Malkovich's belligerence over the concept scores the only real laugh here. The title's funny. 2 stars.
And as Malkovich wraps things up he proclaims hosting "SNL" to be the greatest gig in show business. I suspect he means it.
This one might not be as great as the 1989 episode, but it's neck-and-neck with Anne Hathaway's appearance for best entry of the year. So far. Ball's in your court, Hugh Laurie.