Saturday Night Live: Season 40, Episode 16
Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?! It’s unmitigated success, that’s what it is. Dwayne Johnson was the highest grossing actor of 2013 and is considered one of the greatest wrestlers in history. This massive human being was born to thrive in the spotlight. He is also a never ending well of charisma, which makes me very excited for his fourth(!) Saturday Night Live hosting gig. This guy definitely knows what he is doing. He picks the right roles that fit his persona, and is generally considered to be an extremely likable dude. I have a lot of confidence that Johnson will do an awesome job and subsequently make his episode one of the best this season.
With him is George Ezra, an English born singer songwriter with only one album to his name. I know very little about him, but a few listens on YouTube have me interested.
For the first time all season, the host was one of the best parts of the night. Johnson absolutely crushed it. This guy is a natural performer and that came across in flying colors. He was confident, charismatic, excited, and a genuine blast to watch. There was no “straight man” comedy here that held back Dakota Johnson and Chris Hemsworth. Johnson fully embodied every role he played and frequently upped the quality of sketches that needed a little boost. It reached a point that, when a sketch didn’t have Johnson as a member, it was that much weaker in comparison. Honestly, I have complete confidence saying this: Dwayne Johnson was the best host of SNL’s landmark 40th season, and no one will top him.
There was a lot of good last night too, so picking out the “bests” is actually really difficult. I guess a reliable pick, simply because it can fit SNL perfectly, was Johnson’s monologue. Johnson swaggered and grooved his way through an awesome performance of “Franchise Viagra.” The idea behind this is that Johnson is a magic addition that turns flaccid franchises into Rock hard successes. It’s hilarious in both concept and execution, and Johnson’s ability to sing through lyrics containing a couple boner references is amazing. The backup singers (Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Sasheer Zamata, and Aidy Bryant) were the perfect support too. How this monologue fits SNL is pretty clear as well. This season has contained a lot of subpar material. It needed this Johnson boost so hard.
The “WWE Promos” bit was unbelievably funny too, wisely using escalating absurdity for plenty of humor. It was obvious that the writers would make a wrestling based sketch. No matter how successful he is as an actor, Johnson will always be The Rock. Yet this was so much more than the token wrestling bit. The apparently limitless commitment Rock’s Coco has to psychologically crushing Bobby Moynihan’s Mutt was hilarious. It honestly never got old. From the moment Coco started off “light” with revealing Mutt has herpes, I was on board for whatever Johnson was prepared to spout. I never expected it would end with Coco revealing he catfished Mutt and had been using Mutt’s illegitimate daughter (that he didn’t know existed) as sexy photos. Genius.
“Dinner Date” is definitely the best example of a skit getting better simply because Johnson was around. When Johnson first came in as an aggressive dinner guest with Strong as his British girlfriend, I had no idea what to expect. The sketch’s direction wasn’t translated from the very beginning. Once it was clear that Johnson’s aggressiveness was the joke along with how Vanessa Bayer and Kenan Thompson responded to it, plus a very impressive British accent by Strong, it fired on all cylinders. The high point was easily Strong singing her new pop song “Banana” with Johnson getting really into it. I honestly cannot remember the last time SNL had a sketch start off average only to become sheer gold.
Because there was so much good throughout the night, there was not a lot that was bad. There was only a smattering of things that weren’t as good as others. “Cooking with Paul” is a big one. I laughed a couple of times at Thompson’s sex offender trying to get on the internet, only to be stopped by his Johnson lead probation officer, but it wasn’t anything close to the rollicking laughter that was from other bits. The repetition of Thompson running to the computer got very predictable too, quickly diminishing the punchline’s impact. In this case, not even Johnson could make this shine.
The “Improv Group” was quite an outlier too. Yes, this was a funny sketch, and McKinnon’s Robert Durst was disturbingly accurate, but Johnson’s complete absence was surprising. He had just spent the entire episode elevating every bit he was in and soundly proving that he is the best host this show could want. To bench him for an entire segment that wasn’t Update or a pre-recorded bit was baffling. I find myself wondering how much better this could have been if Johnson was around. McKinnon is easily my favorite cast member, but with a night like this, all I wanted was as much Johnson as possible.
Weekend Update fortunately didn’t kill the momentum with solid guests like McKinnon’s Olya Povlatsky and Thompson’s Willie, along with several solid jokes by Colin Jost and Michael Che. It was probably one of the more concrete Updates. What I had difficulty getting over was how Jost was devoid of charisma or energy. Okay, the guy is really robotic on a good night, but this time he seemed extra reserved. Was it his near complete lack of his signature smile? Did Johnson’s limitless charisma make Jost seem inferior in comparison? Definitely a mix of both.
This is easily my favorite episode all season. Johnson was absolutely electric as the host and he carried the night on his exceptionally broad shoulders. The return of The Rock Obama and introducing Leslie Jones as She Rock Obama gave a ton of momentum with a very funny Cold Open. That momentum didn’t die either for more than half of the show. Honestly, those “good” sketches barely scratched the surface of quality. The new Bambi movie, Johnson and Pete Davidson sucking poison out of each other in “The Jungle” (“Quick Short Long! Cartwheel up to me!”), “Brogaine”,and “Interrogation” were also awesome. George Ezra was a solid musical guest too, successfully showcasing why we should care about his music.
The night did lose a bit of steam near the end. I’d say it was “Cooking with Paul” that slowed down the laughter enough that I was pulled out of the experience. It’s not that I stopped laughing entirely. It was a very funny night throughout. It’s that I laughed noticeably less, which was unfortunate. Kyle Mooney’s low quality Circus interviews, despite being genuinely humorous, didn’t end the night with the same aplomb it began with. It was mildly disappointing at worst.
Now bring Johnson back for a fifth time and get him into the Five-Timers Club already.
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.