Kevin Hart brought in a new year of Saturday Night Live in proper fashion, delivering another solid performance as host less than two years after last hosting. Hart, sticking true to his stand-up persona, successfully managed to bring enough energy and laughs to the show for it to be deemed a success, even without many stand out hilarious moments. In fact, most of the notable moments of the night had nothing to do with Hart and weren’t even particularly funny moments from the show, but instead were topical or just plain odd. Still, SNL opened the second half of their season with a good effort.
Opening the show was a skit featuring Pete Davidson as a student struggling to write an essay about martin Luther King. For some inexplicable reason, Kenan Thompson comes out as Martin Luther King, Jr. talking to Pete’s character about modern society and how far it hasn’t come. I have no idea what the writers were thinking with this opening besides writing something topical for MLK Day coming up the following Monday from the show. It wasn’t really funny at all, it wasn’t satirical or witty, and seemed much more degrading than I think the writers intended it to be. Needless to say, the show started on a bad note in my opinion, but Kevin Hart quickly helped get the show going. His monologue was basically a stand-up act, which works great since Hart is one of the great stand-up comedians of his day. Hart spoke about his home life, and being afraid of the wild life surrounding his home, providing some really funny anecdotes, and keeping the audience entertained for a considerable amount of time. Generally I would prefer a collaborative monologue from a guest host, but Kevin Hart is hilarious by himself, so I think his monologue worked just fine.
The talking point of the night was a recurring commercial segment, very similar to what they did with Jim Carrey lampooning Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln ads earlier in the year. This time they utilized Kate McKinnon’s oddly brilliant Justin Bieber impression to mock his recent Calvin Klein advertisements. While Kate does a great Bieber impression, the advertisement skits were really kind of dull and uninteresting. I do get it, people like to mock Justin Bieber because of his persona, but it just doesn’t seem like a topic that a creative show like SNL should have to run with. If they’re going to mock a celebrity, they should do it in a smart way, and this wasn’t intelligent, clever, or fun, in my opinion. I think this skit, much like the opening, were attempts at driving social media interest just based on the topics themselves, but I sincerely hope the creative minds behind SNL start focusing on writing good comedy instead of just generating online buzz with popular topics that aren’t backed up with anything really funny. Luckily, after this sketch the episode started picking up steam, but these early blunders were a bit derailing to my viewing experience.
I said it earlier, but I’ll reiterate this point; Kevin Hart is a funny guy, and that fact sort of carried the show. His skits on the night were basically all good, and a lot of it had to do with his acting and contributions on stage. His first skit, hosting a show called “Why’d You Post That” probably wouldn’t have been too great if it wasn’t for Hart putting a sincere and sinister take on his character, as he would banish unsuspecting guests to his studio dungeon for posting stupid stuff online. Hart’s delivery throughout this skit was enough to turn an ok idea into a fun skit. The pre-taped skit about three friends’ lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn was hilarious as well, lampooning the mix between different cultures in certain parts of Brooklyn. Jay Pharoah, Kenan Thompson, and Hart all played their parts fantastically in this one. Hart continued to dominate the show as he played James Brown in a skit featuring him having some awkward call and response moments with his band. This was finally the first great SNL typical skit of the night, as it featured a large portion of the cast with some great, witty dialogue, and Hart shined both with his impression of James Brown and with his interaction with the other actors. If there’s any skit I could recommend from the night for someone who hasn’t viewed the episode, this would be the one I would pick. It showcases everything great about SNL’s comedic styling.
The musical guest for the night’s episode was Australian pop singer Sia, and while her performance was musically entertaining, the interpretive dancing that became central to her performance was bizarre. Obviously the dance was a nod to her videos for the two songs she performed “Elastic Heart” and “Chandelier” and while the dance was interesting, it was just a bit much for me. Also, I’m not sure why exactly Sia performed and showed up for promotion with a partial face mask, it’s not exactly something she’s done her entire career and it was also just a bit overdramatic for my liking too. While the two songs she performed have garnered her some notoriety, I really wish she would’ve dug into her back catalog and played her brilliant ballad “Breathe Me.” It’s truly a beautiful song, and I think featuring it on live, primetime television would have been a great nod to her long career before her recent, sudden stardom. Regardless of my opinions, Sia did leave a mark on the show with her performances, and I give her a lot of respect for being herself and incorporating theatre and dance into her showcase performances.
Weekend Update seemed a bit off during this episode, and I can’t really put my finger on what was wrong. For whatever reason, the chemistry and timing between Jost and Che just did not seem on point to me, and it sort of made the segment seem deflated at the beginning. Once they got going a little bit, the segment actually picked up and ended on a good note, but I am starting to worry about the duo a bit regardless. I like both Che and Jost as Update hosts, but for some reason their pairing is not gaining any traction with time the way I hoped it would. I still have faith in them, and will support the show’s decision to have them host together, but part of me wonders if there will be a change next season. I hope they can find a way to make Weekend Update successful again, it’s always been a key feature of SNL’s legacy, and I’m just not sure if they’re doing it justice these days. I’m not sure what has to change, but they must make it fresh and exciting again if they want to keep their long time viewers happy. Maybe Lorne will ask John Mulaney to come back to the show once show his comedy ends its less than stellar run on Fox. He was the creative mind behind the Stefon character after all, and has a similar comedy style to Seth Meyers. I think he would pair well with Michael Che.
The show ended strongly with a few more Kevin Hart centric skits. While the skit he starred in opposite Leslie Jones revealing he has a son didn’t necessarily resonate with me, the writers and cast knocked it out of the park with the ‘Listening Party’ skit, featuring Hart debuting his new rap about his posse’s secrets. This was another classic SNL ensemble skit, featuring hilarious acting from the lead (Hart) and great support from the cast. I especially enjoyed the Weekend at Bernie’s reference towards the end, ‘cause you can never ever go wrong with a Weekend at Bernie’s reference after all. Even the most ludicrous themes, like the medieval skit where they had to evacuate their village but would break into song instead of moving were made much better with Hart’s stage presence and delivery. He really ended up salvaging the show this week.
So while I may have had some mixed reactions to different parts of the show, overall I was happy with the first episode of SNL of 2015. The good from the episode can outweigh the bad if I decide to be optimistic about it, which I think I will be. Kevin Hart was brilliant, and showed why the producers invited him back to host two seasons after he last was on. Next episode could prove to be intriguing as the host and musical guest will be Blake Shelton. I’m curious to see how funny Shelton will be as host, I really don’t what to expect from him as a host. I’m rooting for him though; he seems like a vibrant personality who could pull off a hosting gig like SNL. I’ll be tuning in regardless, and you can check back here next week for my thoughts on the next episode.