Saturday Night Live returned from its traditional midseason break with diminutive host Kevin Hart and musical guest Sia, and the proceedings started on a strong note largely thanks to Kenan Thompson’s amusing Martin Luther King, Jr., impersonation, complete with a resonant sermonizing voice.
The setting was Pete Davidson (committing my personal SNL cardinal sin of literally reading straight from the teleprompter/cue cards) struggling to write an essay on King’s legacy. King (Thompson) appears to him, getting an update on progress in the 50 years since the march on Selma. The eternal optimist, King evaluates the situation regarding the placement of highways in his name (decidedly not adjacent to that parks and gardens that King guesses), the state of protesting (largely Twitter based as Davidson demonstrates and led by Macklemore, “like the whitest dude on earth.”), and, most amusingly, the reception to his biopic Selma.
“I guess that will be nominated for a lot of Oscars, right” King asks. Zing!
Hart’s monologue was largely an extremely random piece of his stand-up routine. Nothing really special there.
But each week with SNL, you hope for something viral worthy, something you’d go to work on Monday morning (or, this week, Tuesday morning for many of us) and share.
That moment came thanks to Kate McKinnon’s brilliant Justin Bieber impression in a take-off on his recent Calvin Klein ads. Largely poking fun at his boyish looks and body, McKinnon referenced Bieber as “a big boy now” with Cecily Strong standing by looking hot, bothered, and disgusted.
“Yo, my pee-pee’s in there,” Bieber says, pointing to his Calvins. It’s a joke they carried through the remainder of the evening, each skit growing in brilliance along with the escalating bulge in Bieber’s briefs.
Hart led the next skit, the Instagram-based “Why’d you post that?,” where he critiqued bad Instagram pictures and banished offenders to the dungeon behind his set. The dungeon idea was fairly funny, but the logistics behind pulling the couch into the low-tech set distracted from the comedy of the skit, which wasn’t that great to begin with.
Much more clever was the following skit, “Bushwick, Brooklyn 2015” where Kenan Thompson, Hart, and Jay Pharoah (nicely used in a skit that didn’t require an Obama, Eddie Murphy, or Will Smith impersonation) played black men talking on a street corner. The humor in the skit comes from the descriptions of their days. Hart, for example, recanted his trip to buy some artisanal mayonnaise (from a shop called “Martha’s Mayonnaise”), and Thompson referenced spending the day with the woman for which he nannies.
It ended somewhat out of left field when Hart was seen shooting someone in front of his “10 bitches” (the 10 dogs that he walks). That was a weird misstep in an otherwise nicely diverse skit.
Diversity continued in the next skit, “Get On Up” at the Apollo, where Hart played James Brown leading mostly the full cast in a performance. Rather than actually playing instruments or singing a song, Hart asks each cast member if they’re ready to bring the funk and what they’d like for dinner.
The most distracting bit (so to speak) of the sketch was Hart’s tightish pants that highlighted a real-or-fake penis every time he did a pelvic thrust and sang “sex machine.” That’s all I have to say about that…
The “Nancy” soap opera reunion skit was, unfortunately, more of what we’re accustomed to from SNL lately. The central joke revolved around Vanessa Bayer receiving comic, farty music when she walked around the set as opposed to the beautiful, swelling music employed for her fellow soap opera cast members. It was a one-joke skit that failed to elevate beyond the farty music (which, admittedly, my inner 10 year old found funny). Bayer, yet again, goes wasted.
Sia’s first performance of the evening (“Elastic Heart”) included Sia wearing a ruffled mask to hide her face (like people can’t Google her to see what she looks like) and Maddie Ziegler, the dancer from the “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart” videos. It was as engaging and as bizarre as intended (more artistic than the typical SNL musical performance), but I couldn’t help but drift back to Kate McKinnon and Jim Carrey’s rendition of “Chandelier” earlier in the season. Speaking of which, she performed that Grammy-nominated song later in the show next to a mime with enormous ears.
What to say about the Weekend Update segment? Some things hit (“Will Wosby” endorsing a marijuana-based spray that improves sex for women). Some things didn’t (everything else). At this point, literally nothing Colin Jost could do would make me approve of his stint as primary anchor. Michael Che seems to be warming to the spot, so maybe give him the post?
Kate McKinnon, as usual, did brighten the proceedings with another vaguely European character, Mrs. Santini who lives in 5H. There’s nothing this woman can’t do with an accent and a wig.
In the post-Weekend Update zone of bizarro comedy, “The Journey” supposed a cross between Galavant and Game of Thrones. Kevin Hart played the character that didn’t understand the main cast’s persistent singing. Hart worked it as hard as he could, but it went long. Very long. Side note: Taran Killam has a nice singing voice. Side, side note: Leslie Jones does not.
Jones returns with Hart as a woman who introduces Hart to the product of a one-night stand, Jay Pharoah. The highlight here was Pharoah’s eerily accurate impersonation of Hart.
“Listening Party” featured Hart as a rapper named “Chocolate Dropper.” That’s as good as it got. An energetic Hart danced and rapped about his friends’ secrets, of course humiliating them all. Sometimes, the end of the show yields comic gold. Sometimes, it’s a turd… or a “Chocolate Dropper.”
Overall, it was a decent episode, one that naturally featured a great deal of the diversity that the host and the holiday deserved. That Bieber sketch, though, that goes in the canon of great SNL skits, and it should net McKinnon another Emmy nomination.