Of all the send-offs in all the lands, none was as sweet as Saturday Night Live’s for Cecily Strong. Hours before the Christmas episode aired, news broke that the brunette angel of the show—our Mom to Kenan Thompson’s Pops—had gotten her wings. She gave us 11 years of Jeanine Pirro and Cathy Anne and Goober the Clown. Eleven years of breaking into song; each time a revelation that this generous and brave performer was also an old-school chanteuse. It’s hard to think of an SNL without her as its sturdy moral center. Some goodbyes are for the players. They need to walk off into the sunset waving goodbye. Last night, the adieu was also for those left behind. It seemed like the cast needed to let Strong how much they loved her and how greatly she’ll be missed.
In a clever Radio Shack sketch, which gave all the grieving a little emotional distance, Thompson’s store manager gathered his modest staff to toast a departing Strong. “I don’t think Radio Shack could’ve survived this long without Cecily,” he said, all glistening eyes and marble-throated voice. “She had a power and a joy to her performance which made you remember why you loved working at Radio Shack in the first place.” As a special surprise, the staff had pooled the store donations for sick and needy children and hired an Elvis impersonator to sing the employee of the month into the sunset.
Then the evening’s host Austin Butler, Baz Luhrmann’s King, SNL’s prince, joined Strong as a decidedly casual Elvis impersonator (not to be confused with Jewish Elvis, who would pop up later in the episode to serenade Butler in costume as an old lady) to sing “Blue Christmas.” Kudos to this adorable man-child and his baritone voice, who somehow earned his spot standing next to Strong in this emotional moment. He has a specific kindness and unexpected gravitas about him that made him the essential ingredient of the number without hogging up any of the emotional energy. And when Strong came in for the second verse, her clear voice equal parts Patsy Cline and ‘50s Christmas movies, the tears really started flowing.
“You’ll be doing alright, every Saturday night,” the two promised each other in makeshift lyrics, with Strong choking up, “but I’ll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas.” Thompson joined in for a verse, his voice reedy and tight with feeling. Even Colin Jost sang a few emotional lines, leaving his habit of mugging behind. May she transition well into a New Year with better hours and a book deal and a plum role in a musical.
And let our own nerves for the show in the year ahead be steadied by the great kookiness still on display in clip after clip. The Marzipan sketch, with Bowen Yang mewling over his lump of almond crud, was perfect absurdity.
Bravo to Heidi Gardner’s Great Aunt Pat, an ape of Southern Charm’s caftan wearing-Patricia Altschul, bleating for her butler Mikey Day and booping him on his gooch.
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