Kate McKinnon, renowned Saturday Night Live cast member and celebrated comedic actress, made her long-awaited return to Studio 8H this past weekend to host the show’s Christmas episode. McKinnon was joined by frequent SNL collaborators and guest stars Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig for an evening jam-packed with holiday cheer, musical numbers, spot-on impressions, and of course, McKinnon’s signature oddball humor.
McKinnon Opens With Musical Monologue Alongside SNL Alums
McKinnon received a rapturous standing ovation as she took the stage for her opening monologue, marking her first time hosting the show since her emotional sign-off last May after 10 seasons as a cast member. The comedic tour-de-force explained she was reluctant to return “so soon after leaving,” but “it’s Christmas, like my favorite time of year…and my therapist said it’s healthy to celebrate big change.”
McKinnon then dove into a charming musical number, performing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” while decorating a tree. Halfway through the song, she was joined by Rudolph and Wiig, reprising their fan-favorite musical trio act. The three SNL icons belted out classics like “Silver Bells” and “Winter Wonderland,” showcasing their stellar vocals and chemistry. They closed the monologue with a rocking rendition of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” even incorporating the SNL house band.
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The joyful, nostalgic opening set the tone for McKinnon’s evening back in her old haunts. “It’s so nice to be back,” she told the cheering crowd. “I have so many memories here with so many wonderful people.”
McKinnon Revives Fan-Favorite Impressions and Characters
Never one to shy away from poking fun at the rich and powerful, McKinnon busted out several of her most beloved political impersonations throughout the night, to the immense delight of the audience.
In one sketch, she portrayed U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as an overly eager Christmas elf at the North Pole, hanging ornaments and prancing about Santa’s workshop. “Christmas cheer is my business, and business is booming,” McKinnon’s wide-eyed Buttigieg proclaimed.
She later embodied new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a sketch alongside Bowen Yang’s King Charles III. The duo exchanged passive-aggressive holiday gifts like stale biscuits and a cheap porcelain corgi.
McKinnon also thrilled the crowd by reviving her acclaimed portrayal of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In a split-screen interrogation sketch alongside Mikey Day’s Michael Flynn, she nailed Sessions’ distinctive southern drawl and befuddled manner. “I do not recall…anything, ever,” she insisted.
In addition to her unforgettable impersonations, McKinnon slipped into the skin of several of her most beloved original characters. She showcased her killer physical comedy as the clumsy, leotard-clad Ms. Rafferty in an alien abduction sketch. And she pranced about as the bubbly, hijab-wearing Colleen Rafferty in a Christmas baking segment — getting messier and messier with ingredients as she prattled on cheerfully.
McKinnon Teams Up With New Cast For Additional Laughs
While comparisons to McKinnon’s erstwhile castmates Wiig and Rudolph — both SNL royalty themselves — were inevitable, the show’s newest cast held their own alongside the venerable pro.
The multi-talented Molly Kearney featured prominently, anchoring several sketches with McKinnon. One highlight was a pre-taped segment in which McKinnon played an aging theater thespian who took Kearney’s upstart young actor under her wing. Naturally, her “mentorship” mainly consisted of shameless attempts to undermine her protégé’s career.
Kearney also figured prominently in a rival carolers skit alongside McKinnon and ensemble player Sarah Sherman. Their intentionally awful, made-up Christmas tune “The Farting Reindeer” involved twerking, vulgar lyrics, and increasingly absurd crescendos of fake flatulence noises.
While not flashy, Kearney demonstrated excellent rapport with the veteran McKinnon. Combined with standout moments earlier this season, Kearney continues staking a claim as the show’s next breakout star.
Meanwhile, longtime cast members Aidy Bryant, Heidi Gardner, Ego Nwodim, and Chris Redd provided the usual fan-pleasing supporting turns throughout the evening. And Weekend Update anchors Colin Jost, Michael Che, and special guest Tina Fey landed some sharp jabs on current events.
Musical Guest Billie Eilish Croons Christmas Classics
Providing tunes for the festive episode was award-winning singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, making her second SNL appearance following her acclaimed hosting debut earlier this month.
The 21-year-old pop sensation treated fans to stripped-down, melancholic renditions of classic Yuletide tracks like “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “The Christmas Song.” Signature Eilish touches like sparse instrumentation, breathy vocals, and moody changes to the arrangements made them feel current while retaining the warmth of holiday tradition.
Eilish also took a star turn for the night’s final musical performance, trying out a new original tune written for the upcoming Barbie movie soundtrack. After an introduction by the film’s director Greta Gerwig, Eilish performed “What Was I Made For?” Inspired by the famous doll’s story, the synth-laden empowerment anthem saw Eilish hitting big high notes as she sang, “I was made to inspire/Made to carry my head higher.”
The song looks to be another hit for the young superstar, perfect for gracing Hollywood’s latest feel-good blockbuster next summer. And combined with her evocative Christmas tunes, Eilish and McKinnon made a classic SNL pairing fans will remember for seasons to come.
McKinnon’s Return: Triumphant or Bittersweet?
In the end, McKinnon’s much-hyped homecoming episode has to rank as an unqualified success. Though facing sky-high expectations, the show’s recent ex-MVP effortlessly picked up where she left off with an abundance of hilarious characters, incisive satire, and good old holiday cheer.
McKinnon confirmed the return was meant “to reset” from her decade-long tenure, giving proper closure after her final episode last season was overshadowed by departing castmates on the same night. Based on this performance — with so much comedic gas left in the tank — one must expect McKinnon will be a recurring SNL presence in the coming years.
That said, her considerable absence was strongly felt in recent months. And this taste of McKinnon’s singular talents only reaffirms that SNL suffers without one of its all-time greats regularly roaming the halls.
While cast turnover is inevitable at SNL, McKinnon leaves almost impossibly large shoes to fill. One struggles to name her heir apparent within the current lineup. The show always reinvents itself with fresh new voices — and there are promising talents emerging — but stars like McKinnon separate the memorable seasons from the forgettable ones.
So while fans should savor McKinnon reprising her greatest hits from time to time, it looks unlikely we’ll witness another performer assume her mantle as the show’s marquee star anytime soon. McKinnon belongs on the SNL pantheon alongside other icons of comedy’s highest echelon from the John Belushis to Will Ferrells.
Such once-in-a-generation, transcendent talents never truly get replaced. As much as audiences crave more Kate McKinnon on Saturday nights going forward, we should appreciate the enormous joy and laughter she’s already given us over an amazing decade of comedic genius.
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