Jimmy Fallon Brings Former Glory Back to 'Saturday Night Live'

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Jimmy Fallon hosted a nostalgic episode of "SNL."
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Jimmy Fallon hosted a nostalgic episode of "SNL."

Jimmy Fallon made the Christmas episode of "Saturday Night Live" an old-home-week reunion with visits from numerous former cast members. As usual there were some sketches that bombed, but there was such an aura of positive, zany free-for-all good humor that it didn't really matter. Both old and new cast largely seemed to be having a good time, and the episode had some solidly funny sketches that offered the best laughs of the season.

Unusual for "Saturday Night Live," the guest host actually appeared in the cold open. Rachel Dratch returned to give Jimmy a hand with a "Boston Teens Grown Up" sketch that had the adult couple trying to recapture their youth by sneaking into a high school formal. Most of the laughs from the live audience came each time the two stars frantically made out like crazy hormonal teens, with bonus giggles for Fallon's surreptitious fondling of second surprise guest Amy Poehler.

The monologue was sweet, upbeat and funny, all the things the returning "Saturday Night Live" host is known for. Fallon strapped on a guitar and did a tour of the backstage area, reminiscing in song about his time on the show. This included shout-outs to the "Barry Gibb Talk Show," "Debbie Downer" and "More Cowbell," which the former "SNL" player hilariously admitted that he "laughed and ruined all of those sketches." After catching musical guest Michael Buble doing coke and getting asked by some of the current players to add a "verse for Jews," Fallon made his way to the main stage where the entire cast danced happily around him in their festive Christmas sweaters.

Nasim Pedrad and Kristen Wiig teamed up again for their Hoda and Kathie Lee sketch, and Wiig was right on this time with her perennially tipsy daytime TV host and her wine IV. Kathie Lee was ruthless in her constant jabs at Hoda's "imaginary" boyfriend, and then Fallon showed up as recently retired Regis to shove Hoda off the show altogether. Not a laugh riot, but Wiig's zingers made it worth a few chuckles.

Buble was the perfect straight man, or rather, dubious-and-frightened man in the non-stop-funny sketch of duets for his next CD. "Saturday Night Live" host Fallon was on fire with uproariously accurate impressions of Sting, Russell Brand, and a winking and dancing Justin Bieber. Wiig took a surprise turn with Taylor Swift by showing her surprised, "OMG-I-can't-believe-I-won-my-billionth-music-award" face. Biggest spit-takes came when Lady Gaga turned up as an actual silver and pink decorated Christmas tree, and when Buble ran for cover as M.I.A. (Pedrad) punctuated a chorus with gunfire. Honorable mention for Jay Pharoah's auto-tuned Kanye West and the egomaniacal song lyric: "Jesus, I'm so much better than you." Watch on the "SNL" site here.

Fallon turned up next in a dressing room sketch, firing himself up for the show in front of his mirror image, played by Andy Samberg. The "SNL" host gave us Seinfeld and Barry Gibb impressions, even funnier because Samberg couldn't quite pull them off. The two seemed to be having an inordinate amount of goofy fun, particularly after Fallon did a water-logged spit-take on his reflection after learning that no, Justin Timberlake would not actually be on the show tonight.

Sadly, "Saturday Night Live" followed up with two bad sketches. There was the 1928 New York sketch with Wiig's character imploring her party guests: "Don't make me sing," when no one was asking. Fallon showed up as her "don't make me dance" partner and the repetitious and not terribly funny routine ended up with three raccoons with storybooks on the veranda...or something. Does it really matter?

This was followed by Fred Armisen's one man show, "Half Jewish, Half Italian, Completely Neurotic," which played to an uncomfortable theater critic and a few audience members waiting for the right moment to flee. The painfully awkward off-off-off-off-Broadway jokes only earned a mild laugh or two, and the whole "trying to get a video to work" bit might have been funnier when Charlie Sheen's bizarre stand-up tour debacle was fresh in the news.

"Saturday Night Live" brought us more nostalgia with the return of Chris Kattan, Horatio Sanz and Tracy Morgan joining the host for another performance of "I Wish It Was Christmas Today." This was just entertainingly silly, as always, and fun to see Fallon and Kattan cracking each other up from the get-go. You can see the guys then and now by checking out this 2006 rendition and comparing it to the 2011 version.

Weekend Update had two gems tonight, the first being Samberg reprising his Nic Cage role and demanding to know why he wasn't in "Sherlock Holmes"--with surprise guest Jude Law. Samberg's Cage was hilariously unhinged, and Law's work as straight man to Robert Downey Jr. apparently honed his skills perfectly for this role. Cage declared the new blockbuster perfect for him because "It exists," and confessed he never reads anything, including his movie scripts: "That's why my characters always look so surprised! I'm finding out the twist at the same time as the audience!" Law finally cracked a little when Cage referred to him as "Judy Bloom," and the usual monologue about Cage's hairline was possibly the best one yet.

The second "Saturday Night Live" bonus was a Weekend Update Joke-Off that paired up the news teams of Poehler and Seth Meyers against Fallon and Tina Fey. The lines in response to a "bring in a toy for needy kids, get a free lap dance" news item weren't all that hilarious, but the fake buzzer noises the cast made were, and Fallon did get one good "ooohh" laugh from the audience for his joke: "Unlike the strippers, the toys must NOT be damaged." Better than anything was the delighted hug and smooch fest at the end to celebrate the brief news team reunion.

Another top "Saturday Night Live" sketch arrived when the ubiquitous guest host turned up as Beethoven, using an "Ode to Joy" interlude as a way to introduce his "band," as any concert headliner would: "He's first on bassoon, last to pick up the check--Oboe he didn't!" The sketch managed to combine classical music jokes, modern slang, puns, historical humor and pure nonsense to keep the giggles rolling. There were even appearances by a Hitler ancestor, B.B. King (Bertram Bertram Von King) and "Triangle Sally." Fallon had some hilarious interplay with Sanz, the rogue tuba player: "That's Mozart, you sonofab--ch!"

Wiig and Bill Hader showed up as audience members for "War Horse," which included a guy playing a horse and a puppet playing a person, and by this time the theater jokes have probably worn a bit thin.

The "Saturday Night Live" sketch that provided the best water cooler fare turned out to be the final performance of the night, with Jesus (Jason Sudeikis) showing up to tell the Denver Broncos "You're welcome" for intervening in their last six games, to thank their kicker for helping save their butts, and to politely ask Tebow (Taran Killam) to tone it down a little. The Tebow jokes, jabs about other great Jesus moments like "the Country Music Awards" and a play on the "God helps those who helps themselves" ideal were perfectly pitched. The wide-eyed fanatical Killam and laid-back Sudeikis played well off of each other, and Tebow's invasion of Jesus' personal space set up the perfect line of "Leave a little room for the Holy Ghost, okay?" If you missed it, watch the sketch on the "SNL" site here.

Michael Buble performed "A Holly, Jolly Christmas" beautifully, with the "Saturday Night Live" stage decked out gorgeously with tons of holiday poinsettias and sparkly red and green goodness. Something happened before the second number, however, when a return from commercial gave us an abrupt cut to the house band and then back to commercial. When the jovial crooner returned for "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," he sounded fine, but seemed to be suffering from a lack of focus. As his eyes darted around the stage, he seemed caught between a bemused smile and perhaps some other interfering emotions. It's always a possibility a cast member was making funny faces at him during the song, or maybe he caught sight of Sudeikis strolling by in his Jesus costume followed by Fallon dressed as a bee. In any case, he looked seriously relieved once the song was done.

And yes, Fallon was indeed dressed as a bee--on ice skates. For a perfect holiday send-off, the cast and guests all said their goodbyes from the ice rink down in front of Rockefeller Center.

What did you think, "Saturday Night Live" fans? Was it the best show of the season, or were you disappointed with Fallon's guest hosting stint?

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