Johnson brings enough energy to carry the show from its hilarious highs to its forgettable lows.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson returned for his fourth hosting stint last night, and from minute one he filled the screen with incredible energy. For whatever faults the episode may have had, Johnson brought his everything to the show and fit into the episode like he was a regular, and starring, member of the cast. I hope we don’t have to wait too many years between hosting stints—next time, he joins the Five-Timers Club—because he’s nonstop fun to watch.
As for the episode as a whole? Like much of this season, it had its moments, particularly with a run of solid sketches in the first half. But the second half trailed off with bits that felt unrehearsed or that could have used a few more passes in the writers’ room.
Thankfully Johnson dominated the episode, turning up from the start with the crowd-pleaser cold open of The Rock Obama and remained almost the entire evening. And when the writing matched his engaging presence, it led to some of the season’s finest material, particularly in the night’s…
The escalation of the Wrestlemania promo sketch was perfect, with Johnson and Bobby Moynihan playing two pro wrestlers trash-talking each other. But Johnson’s trash-talk is real dirt, which he found by hiring a private investigator. It’s amazing how the instigating herpes taunt becomes tame in comparison to the revelation of a long-lost child for Moynihan’s wrestler. Utterly dark, but totally brilliant, and Johnson, Moynihan, and Taran Killam sell it with incredible timing and delivery.
Look, the Wrestlemania sketch was, without a doubt, the funniest and most well-constructed sketch of the night, but I loved the Furious 7-ized live-action Bambi trailer. The shootout at the end delivered some great moments, and the character introductions were all great, but Taran Killam’s impression of Vin Diesel as Thumper made me immediately rewind and rewatch several times before moving on. For that alone this sketch deserves some recognition.
There’s an arguably more problematic sketch I’ll address in a bit, but the unfunniest sketch of the night? The “Brogaine” commercial, in which the only actual joke seems to be adding a “B” to Rogaine. Everything from the bald caps to the Borat reference at the end feels lazy, while Johnson goes underused, and the point of the sketch is undercut by the idea that a balding bro could still just use normal Rogaine. In comparison to Bambi, it’s a stark reminder of how hit-or-miss pre-recorded bits have been in the post-Lonely Island world.
Best Case for Making Johnson a Regular Cast Member
This reunion sketch featuring two guys who did jury duty together turning a night out into a double date isn’t necessarily high concept, but the chemistry works from the start. Whether it’s Kenan’s reaction to seeing Johnson’s character, or Johnson and Cecily Strong’s “Banana Song,” the actors’ back-and-forth can make you forget Johnson is just visiting and not a fulltime castmate.
Most Disappointing Missed Opportunity
The pre-recorded sketch mocking Starbucks’ racial discussion initative has a great kernel of an idea. A company like Pep Boys wanting to discuss gender identification is, in itself, a promising start. But each joke feels like a lost chance to say something funnier, to either really go after Starbucks or take the general idea to more ludicrous heights. It’s not the night’s worst by any stretch, it just misses the mark on realizing its full potential.
Best Musical Moment
George Ezra delivered two solid performances for people who are already fans of George Ezra. If you hated “Budapest,” his appearance will do nothing to sway your opinion, but Ezra delivered two solid, if low-key, performances. As someone who hasn’t sought the artist out, I’m going to give the slight edge to “Blame It on Me,” if only because it’s just as enjoyable as “Budapest” and pushed me to seek more of his music.
Best Weekend Update Moment
Weekend Update had a few great jokes tonight, from the American Apparel model bit to the Cee-Lo Green peanut butter cup dig. But the night’s best moment is unfortunately lost to music rights. Colin Jost takes down how The Jinx‘s opening credits music gives murder an inappropriate sense of cool. The show then replaces the music with more ridiculous tracks, ending on “Oops, I Did It Again.” Hopefully the bit makes it online in some legal form, because it was truly a great idea.
Tonight’s episode won’t be remembered as a standout for anyone. Killam gave my favorite performance as Vin Diesel, but Kate McKinnon deserves recognition for her work in the installment. Her return as Olya Povlatsky saved a lagging first half of Update, and even if the sketch around it proved unfunny, her take on Robert Durst offered a amusingly creepy presence. But she deserves credit for turning what could have been written as a complete gay panic sketch into being something more.
The whole point of “Escape from Jungle Island” is that McKinnon’s character desperately wants to have sex with Johnson’s Indiana Jones-like figure. Her increasing desperation is hilarious, even as the humor becomes focuses around “Isn’t it funny these two guys will act sexual together?” It’s saved from being absolutely offensive by McKinnon’s character, and she sells it with her intentionally stilted, but hilarious line delivery.