I still have hope for SNL. I really do. I’m not going to be entirely discouraged by the first episode of the new year. There are flickers of genius in a lot of the ideas the show tried to get across. The writing loses steam throughout the episode, but the effort is there. This is outside of the fact that I’m pretty much neither here nor there with Kevin Hart. I’m not a fan, but I’m not a hater. There are, as always, well placed performances from everyone. The energy was really high. It just sucks that not everything came to fruition successfully. Let’s take a look.
Cold Open: This started out like a good, strong idea – not entirely new or innovative, but the idea of being visited by the ghost of a hero is a great trope to achieve an end. Obviously, as this is the MLK Jr weekend episode, we explored what this holiday has become through the eyes of a student attempting to write a paper on MLK, and MLK Jr catching up on what life has been like since his death. It really made strong strides as a general commentary not just on how otherwise trivialized the holiday has become, but of the climate of the United States in the last year alone. They just clearly didn’t know how to end it, because it drops while its hot. Valiant effort, and a really good performance from both Pete Davidson and Kenan – they actually had great chemisty together as the new generation vs. the old.
Monologue: As expected, Kevin Hart’s monologue was basically a semi-long stand-up act. I kind of expected crazier stuff, but it was a nice change to hear domesticated Kevin Hart riff about the “hardships” of his life with his fiancee and raising his son. I was caught completely off guard – it kind of had that Louis CK feel, where the standup act was really more a storytelling situation about his home life. I feel like Kevin Hart has otherwise become a screechy caricature of his self (and they obvoiusly play on this later in the episode) so I appreciate that he was just talking about being afraid of wildlife in his new home, and the consequences of this decision as he’s approaching his wedding day.
Best Fake Ad: The Bieber underwear ads really killed it. Kate McKinnon does an amazing impersonation of Justin Bieber, and they really did a great job making her believable as a slightly pumped-pecked Biebs. It breathed funny new life into the print ads and I loved how Cecily Strong as the female model became increasingly weirded out and unimpressed by Justin Bieber. Amazing subtle details here.
Best Digital Sketch / Sketch of the Night: Bushwick, 2015 was the best display of cultural commentary in a fun sketch. Granted, I feel like maybe it’s too specific to the NYC / tri-state crowd, but it still achieves the goal of showing how gentrified even the roughest neighborhoods have become. There are so many layers to every comment and joke made by Jay Pharaoh, Kenan Thompson, and Kevin Hart relaying about their general livelihood in their “hood,” from Jay Pharaoh getting down to painting and wine parties to Kenan Thompson’s “me time” being brunch with the mom of the kids he nannies. I really got a kick out of the 10 “bitches” literally being female dogs, who all have custom-knitted sweaters from Kevin Hart. There are so many zingers that really hit the nail on the head here. I definitely got a good laugh out of “you’re acting like I put gluten in your muffin” while in the same breath they all comment on how ridiculous artisenal mayonnaise is. It’s funny while also making you think about what’s happened culturally in an urban setting. This was very smart, and pokes fun at the “Brooklyn” culture without letting you forget about the real social commentary going on.
Why the Other Sketches Don’t Work: I feel like I need to at least give credit to the valiant effort put forth for the first half of the episode. The Why’d you Post That? was an amazing opportunity to again give a social commentary through comedy about the state of the 21st century kids and the devolution of instagram posts. It was just not executed that well. The types of photos and criticisms were valid, but the punchline for each was basically “I shuttle you into my dungeon,” which, outside of the clear set malfunction, was terrible. I was down with the hyper-critical hosting chastizing people about their instagram posts, but it didn’t go further than that. But I guess I wouldn’t know how else you can go beyond that either. It’s like they tried to spoof something like Tosh but didn’t know how to make it work well in a short sketch format.
I give Kevin Hart all the credit in the world for pulling off a James Brown impression and keeping high energy. The idea of James Brown having a weird performance at the Apollo though? Not working. I’m cool with him establishing that he has an iffy chemistry with his band, but it was just so weird that it was through song and he had to sing through talking to his band.
While I appreciate a good fart joke, the Soap Opera Reunion was a terrible way to do it. Vanessa Bayer was a great sport for going through with it. And it would’ve been fine with everyone playing dumb to the fact that her cue music was clearly different from everyone else. The problem? Using Kevin Hart’s sound designor character as the guy who “doesn’t understand English” enough as the reason. I mean, that premise is totally ridiculous. He didn’t even try to act like he spoke a totally different language or anything. He was like “I speak enough English to do my job” – the writing here with him in it is poor. He felt like a tacked-on addition to this idea simply because he wasn’t otherwise integrated into the sketch and they needed to include him.
The Journey sketch would have been a good idea – it just didn’t feel like the right fit for Kevin Hart. The distraction by constant musical interlude is a fun idea to play with, I just don’t know that Kevin Hart was the right vessel to comment on his medieval friends not feeling the rush to run and save their lives. Besides him saying, “let’s go now,” he really wasn’t that effective, and his side commentary about packing clothes was eh. Leslie Jones sort of saved this, by getting angry at Kevin Hart for almost leaving her behind. The twist here works – everyone pretty much is cool to leave once she arrives, but the build up is so-so.
My problem with the Kevin Hart’s son sketch is simply that the caricature version of Kevin Hart didn’t feel like Kevin Hart, and it felt unnatural to watch him play into the stereotypical behavior Jay Pharaoh set forth. It seemed way more like a crazed Katt Williams meets Will Smith meets Kevin Smith impression than anything.
Worst Sketch of the Night: The Listening Party. I give Kevin Hart all the props for keeping up the high energy throughout the rap – I got tired of listening to him. But it felt stagnant. It would’ve been great if he integrated the secret-sharing faster, or if it was across several songs or something. It got repetitive, and the reveals were long-winded. And the wrap-up here is cheap: that they all just shoot him up because they’re pissed about his song. Concept had potential. It just became tiring to get through.
Weekend Update Bit of the Night: Mrs. Santini was OK, but felt way too much like the other “foreign” Kate McKinnon characters she usually plays on Weekend Update. The jokes were so-so from Jost and Che. Che seemed to generally fall flat, while Jost’s iffy jokes garnered more loud laughs, which also made it seem mildly uncomfortable since Che attempted to also make some MLK complaint commentary. I will say I enjoyed one of his jokes the best, regarding the Chinese woman who cut her husband’s penis off twice as a testament to the Chinese work ethic.
Player of the Week: Kenan and Jay Pharaoh were pretty strong this week, and they had great chemistry with their fellow sketch-mates in a lot of the sketches. They really boosted the material as best they could.
Again, I think there was surprisingly a lot to appreciate about what was attempted in this episode. I recognize the direction of the writing. There was just a lot of flatness after that first stretch of the show. I’m not entirely sure what Blake Shelton will offer, but well, I still fondly remember the Garth Brooks episode of many moons ago, so maybe this is a format that will work for Blake. Till then!