Saturday Night Live embraced the holiday spirit this weekend with a warm and fuzzy showing from guest host Matt Damon.
Damon returned to SNL and opened the last episode of the year with an unexpectedly emotional story, where he recalled being a young kid and wheedling his late father to let him stay up late to watch the show. Reflecting on his own fatherhood, he explained how he now extends that tradition to his own children.
“My dad knew there was nothing more important in the world than to laugh with the people you love,” Damon said.
But before the crowd got too misty-eyed, Damon cut through the sentimentality with the sharp commentary of his eight-year-old daughter, adding a quick anecdote about her blowing him off when he told her he (“Me. Your dad. Matt Damon.”) would be hosting. Pivoting, he joked that she immediately asked, “Who’s the musical guest?”
Basically playing Dad Damon for most of the show, Damon’s enthusiasm for the institution of SNL translated into a game performance throughout the night. In a standout sketch, he and Cecily Strong played an exhausted couple navigating a chaotic — and relatable — Christmas day, from a morning of screaming kids opening presents to loud arguments with family. In another, he and Leslie Jones got into a shouting match over Weezer’s best music. Throughout the evening, the spirit of Damon’s speech lingered, striking an appropriate tone for an end-of-year holiday special.
“Here’s to closing out the year, and to an even brighter year ahead,” Damon said at the close of his monologue, “but most importantly, here’s to all the moms and dads who let their kids stay up late for all the right reasons.”
Damon’s showing was a reminder of the show’s lasting and often goofy impact. With SNL so frequently making headlines for its topical comedy and political skewering, it can sometimes be difficult to zoom out and fully comprehend the show’s legacy. But SNL, now a 43-year-old institution, has been a major part of our modern entertainment landscape for decades, not only reacting to the capital-C Culture but actively shaping it. As with Damon and his family, it’s been a part of people’s lives for years — and it will be back for yet another in 2019.