Well, even for SNL, this episode has to set the record for sketches that ended before they really got anywhere. This wasn’t a terrible episode per se, and Kevin Hart came to the show ready to play, but things took a long time to get off the ground and only the last few sketches really had any impact at all for me. Maybe it’s just natural that the show would have a lackluster episode between the best of the year (Christoph Waltz) and a real big-deal host (Justin Timberlake next week), but it’s not like Hart is small potatoes.
I do know that if I mentioned Hart’s name to a lot of my friends, I’d largely be greeted with shrugs—even after his hit film Think Like A Man and his umpteenth smash hit standup special, he’s not quite at a universal recognition level yet. And his standup, which we saw a little chunk of in his monologue, is really dependent on his super-high energy which helped sell some so-so bits (his De Niro “impression” was winking at us with how bad it was, but still felt hacky). But he was obviously pumped to be hosting and threw himself into the sketches, where he fit in fairly well and never really felt like a fish out of water (as so many hosts do).
But none of the sketches really got off the ground. The political cold open didn’t really have a chance—it starred Obama and was about the sequester, for crying out loud. But it didn’t even really try. When your big closing joke is referencing the Village People, you know you’re in trouble. No doubt the sequester cuts are a tough thing to mine original comedy from, but it doesn’t help that Jay Pharoah’s Obama impression remains technically sound but devoid of personality.
The Steve Harvey Show bit to lead off the show was perhaps a nod to Hart’s starring role in Think Like A Man, but quickly went down a strange garden path, with Hart playing a guest who’s phobic of horses and Nasim Pedrad as a therapist bringing in a big stuffed horse (I really was reminded of Maury Povich more than Steve Harvey, but what do I know). Kenan revived his uninteresting Harvey impression for the bit, but the sketch petered out before it escalated into anything interesting (Harvey becoming afraid of the horse was worth a giggle, but nothing more).
Same went for The Situation Room spoof about the new Pope, which came in with a solid premise (the Pope is replaced by Quvenzhane Wallis, played by Hart) and didn’t know what to do with it. She does the Dougie and says she’s the man in Latin. Other than that, there’s not really an impression to work with, so the whole thing feels like a waste (too bad Christoph Waltz wasn’t back to revive his Benedict XVI impression).
The return of Bobby Moynihan and Cecily Strong’s profane employees (this time working at Barnes & Noble) also went over like a lead balloon, mostly because there wasn’t anything new to recommend the thing. We just saw this a few episodes ago! I know the show is casting around for recurring bits in this transitional season, but I don’t think “bitch” really counts as a catchphrase.
Weekend Update saw Bobby Moynihan cement his status as the go-to guy to play chubby Asian dudes in this cast (his Psy impression was better than his Kim Jong-un) and the first honestly funny sketch of the night, which brought Hart on board for an edition of Really!?! centered on the Voting Rights Act. Hart has the perfect energy for such a bit and as usual, it was a winner because it was delivered with real conviction—probably why it’s always been a champion bit dating back to the Seth & Amy days. It’s way easier to get on board with humor when it has a strong point of view.
Everything after Weekend Update was a little better, although only one sketch really stood out as even slightly original. The Walking Dead spoof spent no time on actually spoofing the show and way too much time on a bunch of lame jokes about a zombified Kevin Hart accusing everyone of being racist (although I did enjoy Nasim Pedrad’s casting as young, disturbed Carl Grimes). Like so many sketches, this thing ended abruptly and even seemed to baffle the otherwise friendly audience, not because it was shocking, just because it didn’t really go anywhere. I don’t even know what to say about the Shark Tank spoof that followed, mostly because I don’t watch the show (I’m sure it’s good stuff) so I couldn’t even tell you if the impressions were remotely accurate.
I finally got into things with the last three sketches of the night. Z-Shirts was honestly hilarious (Kevin Hart really nailed this one) and worked even better when it came back around with that nutty fifteen-second tag at Tim Robinson’s mother’s funeral. Something about how the first part of the bit was edited and Hart’s maniacal face just got me.
Dove Chocolate Radio also succeeded largely on Hart’s back (his growing disgust with the radio ad directors was as funny as his increasingly over-the-top line readings). Although some props to Vanessa Bayer, who has to play a lot of lame, frumpy ladies on this show and does an excellent job doing it. And 360 News, while coasting on a simple premise, was a cute end-of-the-night sketch that worked just a little bit better because of Hart’s energy. His material wasn’t up to much the whole night, but the dude brought it as hard as he could and delivered one of the strongest host performances of the year, if nothing else.
- So, who replaced Don Pardo this week? That was immediately obvious. Sigh, I miss him already.
- Kevin Hart auditioned for SNL with an Avery Johnson impression. “I found out that white people didn’t know who Avery Johnson was.”
- Steve Harvey is a well-dressed man. “I used to get all my suits made in Italy, until the country ran out of buttons.”
- “The South is still the Michael Jordan of racism.” Kevin says they changed the game. “When you’re Michael Jordan, you’re going to draw the double team.”
- “You can’t bring a bubble bath to a desert island!”