Kevin Hart is energetic as ever in a mostly uninspired episode
Kevin Hart was never less than energetic during the midseason finale of Saturday Night Live, which sadly lacked the excitement or inspiration to match its host. The comedian arrived on the SNL stage for his monologue amped up and assured us that he had lots he could talk about — his new film Jumanji, the fact that he’s hosting for a third time and going on his third comedy tour — before landing on his topic of choice: being a father. Hart admitted that he had doubts about having his third child with his wife: “I didn’t want to deal with that 2-year old age. … All you do is repeat yourself all day to a 2-year old.”
The comedian kept the dad jokes going for a while, telling the amusing story of another father whom he helped out one day. But he then turned toward more outdated — and, given the current climate, rather tone-deaf — material about men, women, and parenthood. “Women, I give you so much credit, you guys do so much,” he began. “When it comes to bathing, feeding, taking the kids to school … you’re responsible for that and I applaud you for that.” He then waded into more controversial waters: “The one thing you’re not is fun … You’ve never heard a kid say, ‘I can’t wait to get home and play with my mom.’”
Hart wrapped up by admitting that a “fun” child is stress-inducing for any parent — mainly because “the kid doesn’t know how to shut ‘fun’ off.” Returning to the topic of fatherhood, he cracked, “You gotta have a lot of patience as a man to deal with that.”
“You can finally say ‘Merry Christmas’ again because the War on Christmas is over,” Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump teases to begin this week’s episode of SNL. “It will soon be replaced by the War with North Korea.” The final cold open of the year is framed as a Christmas message from the White House, initially with just Melania and Donald Trump. But before long an entire parade of Trump family and friends strolls through to contribute to what the president calls the “Tree of Shame.”
Each administration official or ally brings an ornament with the face of a person disgraced (or soon to be disgraced) at the hands of Trump. Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway is the first to arrive with a James Comey ornament, then Sarah Huckabee Sanders with tributes to her predecessors, Anthony Scaramucci and Sean Spicer — “whose mangled corpses I stepped over to get this job,” she admits. Mike Pence and the Trump kids are also around, while Leslie Jones’ Omarosa — newly resigned from her post — bangs against the window from outside, begging to be let in. (“Nobody kicks Omarosa out the White House!”)
The sketch is distinguished by two arrivals near its end: First Scarlett Johansson reprising her role as Ivanka Trump — she played her in that famous “Complicit” sketch — and then McKinnon as the “elf on the shelf”: Jeff Sessions. Now in miniature form, she gives a hilarious, brief monologue with some thoughts on the holiday season. “I do not recall who’s been naughty or who’s been nice,” Sessions says. “I only recall a simpler time when you would judge not by the color of your skin, but — wait, it was the color of your skin.”
Weekend Update co-anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che began with the past week’s biggest political news: Doug Jones’ stunning upset victory as Alabama Senator. He’s the first Alabama Democrat to hold statewide office in more than 20 years — to which Jost cracked, “Said Roy Moore: ‘Gross. Over 20 years?’” Che meanwhile focused on the outpouring of love from liberals toward the black community, since they — especially black women — overwhelmingly voted for Jones and carried him to victory. Che remained skeptical that black folks wouldn’t be taken for granted again by the party in the future. “Democrats know that black people aren’t really Democrats — we just vote for the guy that’s less likely to put us on a boat,” he explained. “I ask myself, ‘If I got pulled over, which one of these candidates would I rather see approaching my car?’”
The pair turned their attention to Trump before long, noting that nine senators have now called on the president to resign because of the sexual misconduct allegations against him. “You’re never going to shame President Grab-ass out of office,” Jost reminded. “It’s hard to assassinate a guy’s character when his character committed suicide 40 years ago.” Che then discussed Omarosa’s unceremonious (read: reportedly forced) exit from the White House, playing a montage of black female commentators celebrating the news before Jones’ Omarosa again appeared out of nowhere. She just wanted to send the message that she left by choice: “I escorted myself off the premises and then I threw myself into the bushes,” she said. Then, as a security guard began escorting her away: “You better take my arm because I’m throwing you out of the building.”
Finally, Che and Jost continued to tackle the sexual misconduct scandal that’s only getting more widespread in Hollywood. On the controversy that there were no female directors nominated for a Golden Globe this year, Jost said, “It’s a snub women in Hollywood are calling ‘The least of our problems.’” And later, when he invited Alex Moffat’s Guy Who Just Bought a Boat for another appearance, things were a little different: the Guy admitted he’s a “changed man” after being confronted for his behavior, in light of the new climate. (That didn’t stop him from such douchey sayings as “I’ve got some tips that could help even Santa slay,” “When it comes to buying her gifts, you can’t lose with booze,” and “’Tis the holiday for lingerie.”)
Best Sketch: “Office Phone Call”
Unfortunately there were no standout sketches this week — though the first to follow the Cold Open was at least its funniest. The premise: Employees regularly gather for a post-lunch meeting, at which point Doug (Hart) consistently fakes dramatic phone calls as an excuse to go to the bathroom. On this particular occasion, he’s called out on it and told he doesn’t have to lie to excuse himself. Doug indignantly stays put in response.
What follows is a sketch of increasing desperation, with Hart hilariously playing Doug’s inability to keep his need to use the bathroom to himself. Things keep getting worse until, finally, he can no longer hold it in (literally). “Doug, did you just S your Ps?” a colleague asks. Doug’s coworkers devise a method of allowing him to exit without humiliating him, which allows for some broad but effective physical comedy from Hart. There’s not much to it, but this sketch builds well.
Best Digital Short: “Captain Shadow and the Cardinal”
What initially plays like a standard superhero spoof emerges as something funnier — and more intriguing — in “Captain Shadow and the Cardinal.” Kevin Hart plays a superhero who’s just enacted some justice with his sidekick, Cardinal, played by Chris Redd. But their triumphant trip back to their “cave” is stopped when they’re pulled over by a cop. “They probably want to thank us,” the Cardinal says, enthusiastically. Not so.
The cop says he clocked them going 140 mph and mutters, insultingly, “You’re rappers or something,” after Shadow tries to explain who he is. Cardinal then only makes things worse when he says he’s 16 and that, with Shadow, they play together in a cave. “Any time a black person wants to do something good for his community, they gotta go through something like this,” Shadow laments — at which point he’s actually found with something incriminating on him. It’s not an all-timer or anything, but it’s a surprising and shrewd sketch, one in which the very funny Chris Redd emerges again as a featured player to watch.
Best Holiday Sketch: “Holiday Jewelry”
The Christmas-themed sketches for this final episode of the year weren’t great, but the best was a digital short asking a simple question: “What do you get the woman who makes Christmas for Christmas?” The answer: “A beautiful charm for Pandora.” This short but sharp bit satirizes the industry of wife-gift-giving, with dopey husbands too lazy to think of an interesting gift drawn to the simple, personalized jewelry charm. “We take one little fact about your wife and turn it into jewelry,” the ad says. So what do these men get their wives? Let’s just say that they view them as principally interested in drinking coffee, drinking booze, or playing with dogs. The women are left a little disappointed, of course, since there’s clear inequity in the quality of gifts — as Cecily Strong’s character says, “I got him a threesome!”
Best Animal Sex Joke: “Nativity Play”
“Nativity Play,” in which a church’s Christmas production needs to replace a camel with a llama, is pretty superfluous, but it does get surprising mileage out of its unusual premise: It’s mating season for the llama. This means he’s territorial and prone to outbursts in the first act, which leaves the Three Wise Men very tentative around him, and, erm, aroused in the second act — with the church placing a blanket around his private area so as not to disturb the audience. The cast can barely focus on the play as they’re mesmerized by the llama, and soon the audience — particularly a very intrigued Leslie Jones — is in on it too. Some, but not all, are horrified when the blanket comes off and the llama’s arousal is rendered visible for all to see.
Worst Sketch: “Christmas Party”
The audience’s near-complete silence was telling on this one. A couple, played by Kevin Hart and Leslie Jones, arrive at a friendly Christmas party, and the entire joke is built around the husband’s subservience to the wife. She doesn’t let him drink alcohol, forces him to drink out of a crazy straw, and eventually convinces him to make out with and later undress a giant teddy bear under their friends’ Christmas tree. “Kiss that teddy bear like you mean it,” Jones’ Crystal says. “Show them what I have to deal with every night.” Hart, meanwhile, just says “Come on, now!” on repeat. The silence from the audience turns the sketch awkward, as it spirals toward absurdity without the humor to match. It was a relief when this one finished.
Best Foo Fighters Performance: Christmas Medley
SNL mainstays the Foo Fighters did a typically solid performance of “The Sky Is a Neighborhood,” their hit new song from the album Concrete and Gold, which was released earlier this year. But this was the designated Christmas episode and the band brought out all the stops to infuse it with some holiday cheer. Their Christmas medley included renditions of “Everlong,” “Linus and Lucy,” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” It marked the perfect way to ring out the year for SNL.
Episode MVP: Leslie Jones
The repeated interruptions of Omarosa felt fitting after her highly publicized White House exit, and Leslie Jones’ take on her — deeply proud, slightly delusional, undeniably desperate — was very effective. She also emerged as a quiet highlight of the “Nativity Play” sketch, eliciting laughs as an engaged audience member, and was admirably committed, even, to what was by far the worst sketch of the night.
Sam Rockwell, an Oscar contender for his supporting turn in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, will host the first episode of 2018 on Jan. 13, with Halsey as musical guest.
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