After a few weeks off, SNL returned this last Saturday with host Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and musical guest George Ezra. Immediately upon hearing that The Rock was hosting the episode, I was skeptical at how it would go, since I’m not really much of a fan of any of his work. It took a while for me to warm up to him, but as the show progressed, it ended up being a pretty strong episode overall, with real great skits and a great musical performances too.
The show opened with another installment of “The Rock Obama”, where The Rock plays a hulked out version of President Obama that appears whenever he gets mad. The premise wasn’t special the first time it was done, and it was just tired this time. The addition of “She Obama”, played by Leslie Jones did not help matters, and it more importantly gave me a really bad feeling about the episode. The Rock’s monologue did nothing more to impress me, as he simply just sang a song with some support. It really wasn’t a very memorable start to his fourth time hosting SNL, and I was prepared for a total letdown of a show.
Once the skit portion of Saturday Night Live started, the episode gradually started to improve, much to my approval. The show started in earnest with a pre-taped skit making fun of Starbucks’ movement to start conversations about race at their stores. In this skit, Pep Boys mechanics engaged their customers in “genderflecting,” having serious conversations about gender identity. It was a pretty fun spin on a ridiculous real life story, and it was well played and well written. The first live sketch of the night was a fantastic grower, as The Rock and Bobby Moynihan played wrestlers taping a promotional commercial for a fight. Every time they did a take, The Rock’s character took the banter for the commercial a bit further, and a bit more personal, even going as far as telling him he catfished him with a profile using the face of his long lost daughter. The whole bit was elaborate, fun, and beautifully written, featuring really great reactions from Moynihan and small, but great acting from Taran Killam as the announcer who couldn’t give a damn between takes. This was definitely one of those skits that builds thanks to a bunch of little moments coming together perfectly. It was a highlight of the night.
The show kept rolling with a couple really funny skits throughout the night. The Rock and Cecily Strong were amazing with their character acting in a skit where a guy meets an acquaintance he doesn’t know well and forces himself into a conversation at a restaurant booth. The Rock ended up doing a solid ‘Jersey Shore’ type character and Cecily strong put on one of the best performances of the night as his trashy British girlfriend. The reaction of Vanessa Bayer’s character to the fact that her guy, played by Kenan Thompson, “sent a guy to the chair” was close to perfect, and The Rock’s line “If you don’t have a boner right now you should probably go kill yourself” may go down as one of the best of the episode, the delivery was just too good. Later on, The Rock had another great performance, opposite Pete Davidson in an Indiana Jones style movie scene. The two kept getting hit by poisonous darts in the rainforest, and had to suck the poison out of each other, leading to some really odd sexual innuendo that the two acted through remarkably well. The Rock did amazingly well opposite of just about anyone after the first two bits he did that flopped, and his acting with Davidson and Kate McKinnon was comedic gold.
The musical guest this week was a great pick by the producers of the show. George Ezra has been making a name for himself, both in indie rock circles and now in popular music with his breakout hit “Budapest.” Ezra has a unique, deep sounding voice, and the ethereal tones of his music make him just as unique a musician as a singer. He put on a wonderful set on the night, starting out with his breakout hit, and coming back later with “Blame It On Me.” I’ve always been curious at whether or not SNL ever tries to consciously couple the host with the musical guest, but this episode sort of makes it apparent they don’t. The Rock is a very outlandish figure, his movies are usually all action thrillers, and to have him on an episode with a real modest, chill musician like George Ezra seems like a striking contrast. Who knows, maybe it’s the contrast that they go for at SNL, but I still wonder why they wouldn’t attempt to pair musical guests better with the style of the hosts.
So, despite my initial concerns for the episode, the show as a whole was actual quite funny and well written, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson did a fantastic job as host, even if I didn’t care for the first ten minutes of his episode. It’s another cautionary tale of my viewing experience, I shouldn’t write off a host because they come up short early on, because I really was down on The Rock and he proved me wrong after a few sketches. Next week SNL is back live, and it’s a really exciting lineup for the show as the one, the only Michael Keaton will be hosting the show, with musical guest Carly Rae Jepsen. My fingers are crossed for a Bed, Bath, and Beyond skit, but I’m not holding my breath and regardless I’m sure he’s going to be hilarious on the show.