SNL: Season 40, Episode 15: Chris Hemsworth, The Zac Brown Band
Seeing as Avengers: Age of Ultron is one of the biggest releases this year, it’s no surprise that someone from the cast is coming to Saturday Night Live. I’m glad it’s Chris Hemsworth too. This guy has had a monumental career rise thanks to Marvel and Studio 8H was calling his name. Hemsworth isn’t known for comedy, but I have hopes that his unflappable charisma will carry him throughout the night. I’m ready to be surprised too. I really only know Hemsworth as Thor (and the jock from Cabin in the Woods) and I want to see what he can do for comedy.
With him is Zac Brown Band, one of the biggest acts in country. I’m sure plenty of people are excited to see them here. Unfortunately I’m not into country, so I’m mainly here for the God of Thunder. Zac Brown will probably rock it though. Good for the fans!
With a new Presidential election less than two years away, it’s understandable that SNL is getting their impressionists in line. Last night was Hillary Clinton’s turn. While watching Kate McKinnon play a wide-eyed Clinton prepared to play hardball, one can’t not compare her to Amy Poehler’s performance back in 2008. These are two performances very much tied to their time period. Seven years ago, Clinton was pushed out of the race and Sarah Palin was brought in. SNL mined this for jokes repeatedly to crazy success (Tina Fey’s Palin playing a huge factor) with Poehler’s Clinton as the frustrated professional. Now it’s 2015, which brings us a new interpretation for a new election. McKinnon’s Clinton is a ruthless, plotting woman who can’t relax because she will stop at nothing to reach the top. Her claim to watch House of Cards in full once a day isn’t just a joke. It’s a sign that this Clinton might take a few cues from Frank Underwood himself for humor. If this is what we’ll get for the next election, I am absolutely on-board. McKinnon does crazy well and this is her chance to really nail a new character.
Chris Hemsworth played a solid straight man last night, and this worked best in “Spaceship,” or as I prefer call it, “Chicken Captain.” This sketch was amazing simply because it didn’t fall apart. The entire segment hinged on the behavior of a wild animal. In one instance, the chicken kept turning around while Hemsworth was trying to have a deep conversation. Yet despite this, Hemsworth kept his composure. He played off a chicken and it worked. The end revelation that the reactor core was just a microwave was hilarious too. It felt like classic SNL, which isn’t something that happens very often.
The Retired Porn Stars came back last night, much to my delight. This is still my current favorite recurring sketch. It doesn’t happen that often, which allows me to build up anticipation. I actually wondered when we’d see this again last week. Of course, Vanessa Bayer’s Brecky and Cecily Strong’s “I should be dead now” (still no name) did not disappoint. Their horrendously bad but extremely hilarious selling of “Dolce & Gabbaba” woke me up to end the show with plenty of laughs. Hemsworth was great as Dong Juan De Dark Hole, a role that easily got him the most out of his comfort zone. Though I’m sure doing a sketch with his shirt wide open made it easier. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to grab a bottle of “Douche and Gobyebye” for my next event, Disease Free For Now.
Hemsworth’s monologue was a let down, mainly because it was another Q&A. We already got part of one last week with Dakota Johnson and really didn’t need another so soon. Yet Hemsworth isn’t a stand up comic or a musician. He’s an unreasonably handsome Australian. This meant that the monologue defaulted to a Q&A about appearances, which was both predictable and disappointing. His brothers Luke and Liam came out too, but their main purpose was to stand there and make everyone think, “Why did this family get the good genes?” Thompson was a generally humorous Callum Hemsworth, the fourth brother adopted from Atlanta. The monologue never went anywhere though. It was cookie-cutter Q&A and the style grows stale unless it’s actually changed up a bit.
If “Chicken Captain” is an example of how playing a straight man can work very well, “Empire” is the exact opposite. This is where Hemsworth’s inability to rise above his material backfired pretty badly, which sucks because that’s exactly how it was written. Chip (Hemsworth), the new, white employee, was intended to be the average worker in a sea full of crazy people played by Thompson (Luscious), Sasheer Zamata (Cookie), Leslie Jones, and Jay Pharoah. He was the straight man. Yet it produced hardly any humor. The most I laughed was when Chip awkwardly ran into Zamata beating up Pharoah. Perhaps I need to actually watch Empire to understand this? The writing was really weak though, especially for Chip, so I’d imagine even knowing the material wouldn’t make a difference.
“Movie Set” had barely any depth too. The main bulk of humor came from Hemsworth and McKinnon having cartoonish reactions to tragic things like affairs and death. These started out funny, especially Thompson as the director, but it quickly ran out of steam. You could even see Hemsworth mentally preparing himself to spin his head around with goofy noises. The fact that the skit just ended is a prime example of it having no direction. Literally, Thompson was having a monologue, and suddenly McKinnon and Hemsworth were gone. That was it. They left without word and the sketch ended. It’s tough to consider the ending a total crash though. The sketch never really took off in the first place.
Another week, another host playing it safe with their characters. Don’t get me wrong, playing the straight man (or straight woman) is always preferable to an uninterested host. Hemsworth was undoubtedly game for whatever. The guy even played off a chicken without cracking. That’s just impressive. However, after Johnson played it careful last week too, I found myself wanting a little more. I know that Hemsworth isn’t a comedian, but sometimes actors filled with charisma can really surprise people. The next host hasn’t been announced yet but I really want it to be someone who can take a skit and own it for a change.
It also didn’t help that this week’s material was weaker than last. A lot of the night stemmed from one basic premise: Chris Hemsworth is a god among men (on and off the screen). There was an entire American Express parody dedicated to this, which was actually the funny highmark on this topic. It really should have stopped there, but it didn’t. This lead into a “Brother 2 Brother” sketch that was also all about how Hemsworth looks like a man chisled out of marble. It got old really fast. That obligatory Avengers: Age of Ultron sketch was “eh” too. Am I the only one who was hoping for a cameo by another member, like Robert Downey Jr.?
A quick note about Update too. It was average this week, but one thing is blatantly apparent. The writers desperately want to make chemistry between Colin Jost and Michael Che. There’s still some rough patches, but last night provided a pretty humorous banter where Jost took one of Che’s jokes. It honestly seems like Update is turning around. If only it didn’t take so long.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.