Jonah Hill is a more than capable Saturday Night Live host. He has proved himself three times over, beginning in 2008, where, fresh off the success of Superbad, he reminded us all that as a general rule, comedic actors make pretty decent SNL hosts. (The digital short where he falls in love with Andy Samberg’s dad is one of the most memorable shorts in recent memory.) More recently, he’s shown that he’s not afraid to skewer his own image, poking fun at his shift to Oscar-nominated actor in monologues where he’s berated by Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Which is why this Saturday’s episode, Hill’s fourth time hosting, felt like such a letdown.
As always, Hill wasn’t afraid to make a fool of himself, but it would’ve helped if the writers would have actually given him something to work with. Hill didn’t even reprise his three-time role as the Benihana-loving 6-year-old Adam Grossman, who may not be the absolute funniest character SNL’s ever spawned, but at least he gets some reliable laughs. Instead, we got a bizarre sketch where Hill played a the envoy of a Middle Eastern sheikh and an overly long bit about him crapping his pants. (Actually, two overly long bits about him crapping his pants: the pre-taped “The Champ” and the Clue-style murder mystery. Great.)
Even Hill’s monologue fell flat, a so-so bit with musical guest Future that had Hill rapping Drake’s part in “Jumpman.” In fact, it was Future who got some of the best (and only) jokes in the monologue, reminding Hill that he was, under no circumstances, allowed to say the N-word. (More on Future’s multiple appearances later.)
When it comes to ranking Hill’s four SNL episodes, the 2016 installment definitely places fourth. Here are some of the standout moments from an otherwise forgettable episode.
There was a lot of political ground to cover this week — Colin Jost even opened Weekend Update by saying, “Wow, where do we even start?” — and the cold open tried to cover as much of it as possible in a disjointed if mostly solid opening. Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton trotted out “10 black people and one Muslim person,” who’d all been beaten up at a Trump rally, while Taran Killam gave his most specific (and most unsettling) performance yet as Ted Cruz. But it was the return of Jason Sudeikis as Mitt Romney that made this a memorable cold open, as Romney took Donald Trump to task. “We in the GOP, the party of the great Ronald Reagan, we do not say racist or sexist things,” Romney explains. “We imply them.”
Sudeikis is one of the most consistent SNL players in recent memory, whether he’s playing the straight man or going all out, and it’s a serious injustice that he didn’t get a proper sendoff like Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, and Fred Armisen all did when they left the show. While it would’ve been nice to also see the return of Sudeikis’ overenthusiastic Joe Biden or his dancing tracksuit guy from “What’s Up With That,” I’ll take Sudeikis popping up as Romney whenever I can get it.
All things Donald Trump
Hey, remember when Donald Trump hosted Saturday Night Live in November? The SNL writers sure do, and they’re still not over it. The show went in on Trump hard tonight, beginning in the cold open, where Darrell Hammond’s Trump bullied Chris Christie and bragged about his anatomy. But the most biting sketch of the night was a pre-taped campaign ad — paid for by “Racists for Trump” — that explained why “everyday Americans” love him so much. Dressing Taran Killam up as a Nazi and Vanessa Bayer as a Ku Klux Klan member is a pretty blunt way to go after the GOP frontrunner, but it’s a reminder that SNL isn’t always afraid to pull punches. And it’s always nice to hear some uneasy laughter in Studio 8H.
The fact that this bizarre sketch — starring Hill as the representative of a king from Qatar — came so early in the night is representative of how much this week’s episode was scraping the bottom of the barrel. When Hollywood project after Hollywood project has been accused of whitewashing Middle Eastern characters (see: Gods of Egypt, Tina Fey’s own Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), it maybe wasn’t the best idea to cast Hill and Killam as wealthy Middle Easterners purchasing high school students at auction.
It’s taken a while, but Michael Che and Colin Jost have finally started to settle into Weekend Update, and while this week’s episode wasn’t their sharpest material, a few welcome guest appearances (and no Hill) made Weekend Update one of the only bright spots in a pretty dismal night. Cecily Strong kicked things off with the return of her Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With At A Party, and while the GYWYHSACWAAP has lost some of her novelty over the years, it’s still always fun to watch Strong emphatically declare things like, “People need to start paying intention” and “Maybe Leo Caprio’s right: Bears.”
Kate McKinnon also stole the show (as usual) in a bit that got Update out from behind the desk, as Vanessa Bayer interviewed the 110-year-old Flossie Dickey. SNL is starting to realize that we’re compltely happy to watch five straight minutes of McKinnon flashing crazy eyes and making goofy faces at the camera, and that’s more than fine by me.
But the highlight of Update — and maybe the entire episode — was Jay Pharoah recounting what happened at the annual meeting of black comedians. There wasn’t much substance to it beyond an excuse for Pharoah to show off his arsenal of impressions — including Katt Williams, Kevin Hart, Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Tracy Morgan, Chris Tucker, Hannibal Buress, and Bernie Mac — but it’s a stark reminder that Pharoah is SNL’s best impressionist, hands down, and the writers need to take better advantage of him. Has Pharoah had that Chris Rock impression in his back pocket the entire time? And his Obama is one of the best in the game, and we haven’t seen it in weeks.
News from the Future
Between his two musical performances and the monologue, Future popped up a lot this episode, but the highlight was a two-second “News from the Future” bit on Weekend Update. (See part two of the Weekend Update video above.) The show actually did something similar with “Weeknd Update” a few weeks ago — and speaking of The Weeknd, Abel Tesfaye himself showed up in Future’s first number, “Low Life” off his recently released album EVOL.
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