Confession: I was one of those people who didn’t know who Kevin Hart was prior to this weekend. But I had tentatively high hopes on learning that he was a comedian. He’s experienced performing before a live audience and comedians have had pretty decent track records hosting the show in the past… What could go wrong? But, as Hart admitted in his opening monologue, there was a reason he was turned down from Saturday Night Live years ago. From the moment Hart overran his monologue, the entire show felt rushed, fizzling out to an unsatisfying conclusion.
There were plenty of choices for the cold open, but SNL wisely decided to go with Friday’s sequester budget cuts. Don’t know what the sequester is? Never fear, neither does Obama. Jay Pharaoh opened as the Commander-in-Chief, reminding us that while the $85 billion in cuts seems harsh, it will affect everyone. “My wife Michelle will only do four television appearances a week,” he lamented. He was then joined by regular folks to show how the cuts will affect us normals. “We’re going to let every tenth Mexican run across the border,” said Bill Hader’s border control man. “Our space helmets will no longer have glass,” Kate McKinnon’s astronaut added. But by far the best was Aidy Bryant’s fired inner city teacher. “This is greatest day of my entire life. Good luck reading Beowulf, you monsters.” But no worries, guys. Because nine months from now “there will be another way worse financial crisis to deal with.” All in all, I thought it was a solid way to kick off the night.
Unfortunately it was followed up with Kevin Hart’s rambling opening monologue, starting off with a story about why he left New York (something about seeing a homeless guy put his hands on a guy’s sandwich at Panera?), then transitioning into a description of his audition for SNL (approximately 67 months ago). It’s not that that the comedian wasn’t funny — I laughed at his “impersonation” of Robert De Niro – but for the most part it felt absolutely endless.
Back from the commercial break we went right to Kenan Thompson’s spoof of Steve Harvey. “I want to apologize to our audience volunteer for catching on fire,” Thompson opened. Great line, but unfortunately it only went downhill from there. After showing pictures of dogs that looked like him (doggelgangers), we then went into a segment about overcoming phobias (or as Thompson pronounced them: foe-by-ahs). For example? “I’m scared after I fall asleep my mustache is going to slide down my throat and choke me to death,” Thompson as Harvey said. But the show wasn’t about him — it was about Hart’s horse-phobic character (“You take that hoof off, four fingers pop out.”), who was forced to overcome his fear by petting a giant fake horse. The horse neighed, Hart and Thompson went a-running, and… That was it. The sketch ended there. I mean, it didn’t even compare to real TV shows about overcoming your phobias. Remember that girl on Maury who was afraid of pickles? Now that was funny.
The Onion sure learned a thing or two about making fun of Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis this week. SNL took a nicer route in an edition of The Situation Room, where Wallis (played by Hart) was named the new Pope (notable for being “the first African American, first female, and first child Pope”). It was a cute play on how much everybody adores Wallis (and it gave Hart a chance to do those muscle arms she busted out at the Oscars), but except for Jason Sudeikis’ zinger about horsey rides in the Vatican (“That’s got to be a first but probably isn’t.”), it didn’t really go anywhere. “Is the Pope Catholic? She is not, but I don’t think anyone cares,” Sudekis’ Wolf Blitzer concluded. I didn’t really care about this sketch either.
Up next was one of the better sketches of the night, which is rather sad given that it had aired before. In this pre-recorded bit about the Starbucks Verismo, Vanessa Bayer played a frustrated woman trying to vocally order a latte from the weary machine (“Once Verismo says hold up, you’re only nine minutes away from getting your tea.”). And if you love your Verismo so much, why not purchase Verquonica, a “larger, non-functional machine for Verismo to talk to”? The machines? Not so funny. The line about Starbucks accessories (“If you order now you’ll also receive…non-refrigerated milk pitchers, a bunch of discarded wooden stirrers, and a packet of Sugar in the Raw smashed into a puddle of cream.”)? Priceless.
Naturally the Starbucks sketch was followed by a Barnes & Noble staff meeting in which the store manager (Hart) threatened to fire someone for stealing inventory. Two café workers (played by Bobby Moynihan and Cecily Strong) panicked, then started criticizing the staff in the hopes of saving their own skins. It wasn’t too great at first, but it built momentum towards the end, thanks to Taran Killam’s creep (said Moynihan: “Somebody better check Randrew’s crawl space because I’m a thousand percent sure that it is full of orphan bones.”) and Bayer and McKinnon’s conjoined twins (Strong: “Why do I never see you two apart?” Bayer: “We’re conjoined twins. How could you not know that?”).
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (and Wanz) put in their first appearance of the night, singing — you guessed it! — “Thrift Shop.” Confession: I was so late to this song that I still enjoy hearing it. And while nothing compares to the video, Macklemore certainly managed to bring energy to his performance, leaping about the stage. Sure, it was hard to understand him, but it was fun to watch.
Seth Meyers was up next with Weekend Update. After a couple good one-liners, Pharaoh and Moynihan came out as this year’s most unlikely BFFs: Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un. “We’re like Mark Wahlberg and the bear from Ted,” Moynihan said of their friendship. My favorite line? “Tomorrow we start Jedi training.” But nothing compared to Weekend Update’s coverage of Downton Abbey adding a black character who moves to the house “after he got in one little fight and his mom got scared,” complete with Photoshopped picture of Will Smith with the DA cast. I belly-laughed at this (but it might just be because I was thinking of Number 18 on this). Weekend Update closed out the night with “Really with Seth & Kevin,” taking on the Voting Rights Act. The best line? “Don’t get me wrong. I’m short, but I’m not that short,” Hart said on being considered 3/5’s of a person.
What’d you think of the Walking Dead skit? Look, I love the AMC show as much as the next person, but this sketch just felt too random to me. Hart asks the Walking Dead crew for asylum, then gets bitten while they confer about it and tries to pretend he’s fine, accusing them of being racist (an accusation that was thrown out in almost every skit tonight) when they became suspicious. I wanted to cheer when the emotionally damaged Carl finally shot him. Though I will give props to Hader’s Daryl: “Guys, can we discuss the fact that Maggie just died?” Nope, not on The Walking Dead.
If I thought the Walking Dead sketch was random, the Shark Tank one was outright pointless. Hart as a salesman with sunglasses for lamps? Yeah, okay. The only thing that salvaged this sketch was McKinnon’s impersonation of Barbara Corcoran. Alas, there was all too little of her and too much of Hart’s shaky salesman.
Be honest: Do you want a Z shirt? I kind of loved this skit starring Hart and Tim Robinson as two guys in a commercial that never ends (in a good way, unlike Hart’s monologue). “Wait, I’m confused. Is that an A shirt? Is it a B shirt? Is it a C shirt?” asked Hart, wearing on Robinson with each question. “Why are you going in order? You don’t have to go in order,” Robinson answered. So maybe it wasn’t the most brilliant of concepts. But Robinson’s panicked face on realizing Hart would go through the entire alphabet was great. (And having Hart return later while Robinson was speaking at a funeral was even better.)
Hart and Bayer competed to voice a Dove chocolate commercial in this next sketch. It was fine, I guess, but the joke once again relied on Hart’s strident voice, much like the Z shirt commercial before it. Maybe if the two had been separated, I would have liked this one better. Fred Armsen’s curt delivery of “They’re called bites, Dante” was its only saving grace.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis returned to perform “Can’t Hold Us,” then the evening closed on a quick sketch with Hart as the host of 360° News who’s informed by his colleagues that using eight cameras is probably not the best idea.
What’d you think of this week’s episode? Did you even watch? Or are you just counting down the hours until Justin Timberlake hosts?