There is no safe space in America where the country’s culture wars aren’t being waged — not even the make-believe workshop of a shopping mall Santa Claus — and no ears so innocent that they haven’t heard about the sexual misdeeds of some prominent men and accusations against others.
That, at least, was the twisted Christmas spirit of the “Saturday Night Live” cold open this weekend, in an episode hosted by James Franco and featuring the musical guest SZA. Indeed, the first half of the show frequently returned to the many sexual misconduct scandals roiling powerful men and the institutions that once protected them — including Senator Al Franken, the “S.N.L.” alumnus who said on Thursday that he would resign his seat as he faced allegations from at least six women of groping and improper advances.
The show’s pointed and effective opening sketch, which featured Kenan Thompson as the would-be Santa and Kate McKinnon as his elfin assistant, began with a boy asking Mr. Thompson for traditional gifts like Mega Bloks and Laser Tag.
“And,” the boy added, “can you tell me, what did Al Franken do?”
Mr. Thompson was understandably taken aback. “O.K., wow, let’s see,” he said. “I think I can handle the Mega Bloks and the Laser Tag. Can you take the Al Franken thing, sugarplum?”
Ms. McKinnon answered: “No. And, in this climate, can you just call me Amy?”
Mr. Thompson said to the boy, “Well, Tyler, I guess you could say Al Franken is on Santa’s naughty list this year.”
When the boy asked about Roy S. Moore, the Senate candidate in Alabama accused of sexual misconduct with girls as young as 14, Ms. McKinnon said, “It’s not really a list. It’s more of a registry.”
Other children asked Santa such hot-button questions as, “Is President Trump on the naughty list?” (Ms. McKinnon answered, “Nineteen accusers, Google it.”) One adorable moppet endearingly struggled to ask for “an embassy that’s still at Tel Aviv.” (Hey, plenty of veteran “S.N.L.” performers, many years her senior, have trouble with the cue cards, too.)
And when Mr. Thompson asked one unexpectedly knowledgeable boy, “Maybe you’d like a toy from Santa?” he answered, “Oh, you mean toy like the one Matt Lauer gave to his co-worker?”
One girl told Mr. Thompson she didn’t want any gifts at all — “I just want everything to be O.K.,” she said.
In response, Ms. McKinnon delivered an inspirational speech. “I know that things seem particularly insane right now,” she said. “Like truly, mind-bendingly insane. And we seem to have lost all perspective on what’s naughty or nice.” (The girl interjected, “I know, I’ve seen Fox News.”)
Ms. McKinnon continued:
“But, as bad as things might seem, I promise you, Jenny, it will be O.K. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not for another three years, 42 days and 24 minutes, Jenny, but most people in America are good people, and eventually good people will fix our country.”
The girl answered: “O.K., good. But just in case, I’m putting all my money in Bitcoin.”
In other sketches from the night:
Michael Che’s ‘Weekend Update’ Bit of the Week
Much as we enjoyed Michael Che’s filmed segment in which he went undercover as a “white liberal woman named Gretchen,” we have to give the edge to his riff on the very different consequences facing Mr. Franken and Mr. Moore, and the troubles of the Democratic Party. As Mr. Che put it:
Senator Al Franken announced his resignation this week, in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, and yet Uncle Bad Touch is up four points in Alabama. You see, the Democrats hold themselves to a higher standard to anyone else. Which is why they always lose. It’s the same reason the Harvard football team sucks: because you’ve also got to be a rocket scientist to play there. But to play for Alabama, you’ve just got to be able to spell Bama. Democrats hope by forcing Al Franken to step down, they will paint themselves as the party of the moral high ground. Calm down, Democrats, you’re still politicians. You’re the party of morality the same way Don Jr. is the handsome Trump brother. Nobody actually likes you. Nobody likes Democrats. Nobody’s at a party, like, “Yo, you know who I wish was here? Nancy Pelosi. She’s dope.”
‘Weekend Update’ Character of the Week
Cecily Strong returned in the role of the disheveled Cathy Anne, whom Mr. Che described as “a woman who is always screaming outside my window,” and who identified herself as “kind of a political junkie, and a regular junkie.” Commenting on Mr. Franken’s resignation, Ms. Strong said, “I’m not sure what to think, O.K.? It’s a confusing time to be a woman. And a drug addict. And a very heavy drinker.”
Having seen Mr. Franken’s speech on Thursday, Ms. Strong said:
“Here’s what I do know. Why are you going to resign, if you ain’t gonna apologize? And if you ain’t got nothing to apologize for, then why the hell are you resigning? I didn’t resign from Waffle House because I wasn’t stealing syrup.”
Looking ahead to the Alabama Senate election, Ms. Strong predicted that Mr. Moore would “win in a landslide, and they all pretend like it just happened overnight, they had nothing to do with it — like crop circles or clogged toilets.”
Uncomfortable Harassment Jokes of the Week
A sketch early in the show elicited some uncertain chuckles from the studio audience, as Mr. Franco and Mr. Thompson played corporate employees apologizing to their co-workers before being fired. Mr. Franco’s character was a listless executive who had sexually harassed several female co-workers, while Mr. Thompson was a security guard who had also lewdly propositioned women — but got a pass because he came off as kindly and eccentric (and ended up being fired for other reasons).
Later, during “Weekend Update,” Mr. Che joked:
“At least four major wildfires have broken out around Los Angeles, forcing the evacuation of over 150,000 residents. The fires are the worst thing spreading in L.A. since Harvey Weinstein’s bathrobe.”
When that joke drew disapproving oohs and moans, Mr. Che added, “I said, worst thing.”
Awkward Callback to Classic ‘S.N.L.’ of the Week
A gross-out sketch in which Mr. Franco played a clumsy department store gift wrapper whose mishaps cause a blood-spattered mess drew plenty of comparisons to the vintage 1978 segment in which Dan Aykroyd, as the “French Chef” host Julia Child, slices open her finger while preparing a chicken.
The authors of that Julia Child parody? Mr. Franken, along with his writing partner then, Tom Davis.