Clearly Lorne Michaels has a thing for the cast of The Hunger Games. Every time a new movie comes out, one of the leads takes a stab hosting Saturday Night Live. Jennifer Lawrence was first, followed by Josh Hutcherson last year. With that pattern in mind, Woody Harrelson was the only logical next step. Okay, perhaps “logical next step” doesn’t do Harrelson justice. That man is great and he’s had a solid year. True Detective absolutely blew up with popularity and he scored an Emmy nom for a truly outstanding performance. I’ve been a fan of Harrelson for a while (his role is Zombieland is easily my favorite) so I’m pumped to have him here.
I’m more or less indifferent to Kendrick Lamar though. I know he’s a really talented rapper and his music was all over the place this year, but I’ve never actively sought him out. That doesn’t mean I’m not open to it though. Maybe this episode can make me a fan.
The Match’d skit was an early hit for me. It was easily much better than the Secret Billionaire segment that aired during Jim Carrey’s episode. Cecily Strong once again played the clueless contestant looking for love, but this time around the punchline was different: Strong’s character was the host’s (Harrelson) daughter. He only revealed this after the three potential suitors, expertly played by Beck Bennett, Kyle Mooney, and Taran Killam, spoke at length about how horny they were. The complete about face for the three guys was amazing. You could really feel the awkwardness too. But the true star of this was definitely Strong. Her aimless delivery as Desiree was the perfect capper to the uncomfortable stammering for the three men. I mean, you really can’t beat a one-liner like the quickly said, “You can’t shake hands with a ghost.”
The Weekend Update was once again held afloat by the guests and not Colin Jost and Michael Che. Che in particular messed up a few lines again, which seemingly happens more often than not. The Kim Kardashian ass jokes are already worn out now too and they made three of them! So when Leslie Jones came back out as a relationship expert, I breathed a sigh of relief. She hasn’t impressed me too much with her time as an official cast member (it didn’t help that her first co-lead skit with Chris Rock absolutely bombed either) and it was great to see her back in her element. As expected, she was hilarious. However, Jones was quickly overshadowed when Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey (Killam) came out to discuss True Detective. Just like how McConaughey overshadowed Harrelson when people were discussing their Emmy nominated performances, Killam’s impersonation absolutely stole the show. It was impeccable. That’s saying a lot for me too because I find making McConaughey jokes the equivalent of beating a dead horse now.
I’ve become quite of fan of Kate McKinnon’s barfly that occasionally appears near the end of an episode to make out with the host. I find her to be one of McKinnon’s better recurring character’s because it allows SNL’s strongest player to go absolutely nuts. This time around, she tried to make out with Harrelson through a sheet of cling wrap so they can avoid getting any diseases. The quick one-liners were all great too. “I replaster glory holes for a living,” “You had me at when you didn’t leave with the others,” and “You can take a trip to STDetroit” were three personal favorites of mine. McKinnon truly is SNL’s golden star right now and ending the show with a bit anchored by her is always smart.
Young Tarts and Old Farts was a tough sell from the start. The premise is interesting, for sure, but skits like this primarily serve to give everyone screentime and not actually present much comedy. There were a few good ones this time around, like Killam’s Barry Manilow and Kendrick Lamar (which actually sounded awesome musically, by the way), but there were even more misses, like Bennett’s Elton John with Ivy Carter and Vanessa Bayer’s Miley Cyrus teamed up with McKinnon’s Lorde. The latter especially was disappointing as these were both roles played by these talented ladies before. But when you make Bayer’s punchline actually describing what the joke is, you did something wrong.
The Old New York segment was too one-note to matter too. The ultimate crux of this revolved around Harrelson talking about how great crack was with everyone else thinking he’s crazy. Harrelson did a great job carrying this through to the end, which was a feat when you consider this was one of the night’s many drug jokes, but the foundation of this segment was very flimsy. The crack reference was a great “Wait…what?!” moment and it never really grew from there. We knew Harrelson would make a crack joke and it wouldn’t go well with the others. Wash, rinse, repeat basically.
Campfire Songs was DOA. It had no set up and Harrelson’s insistence to sing a song about apples quickly grew tiresome when you realize the song was just stupid. The skit kept trying to hit the same beat too, which mainly was everyone else yelling at how they don’t know what the song is. Then once you think the segment is over, you learn the whole thing was a joke and the people actually know and love the song. Uh….sure. The skit may have been four minutes long, but it felt like it went on for an eternity.
I think we can all appreciate what a week off can do in terms of quality. Chris Rock’s show two weeks ago was a disappointment but Harrelson’s handedly rebounded with a truly funny night. The performers seemed refreshed, the writing was so much better, and Harrelson was the absolute comedic force that we all know he can be. The fact that Harrelson is known for putting some slight stammering into his performances made any mistakes he made easily forgivable. His weakest showing was definitely the monologue, but that was easily saved by Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, and Jennifer Lawrence, three secret weapons that SNL used at the perfect time. Also, Kendrick Lamar killed it.
The good thing is that there weren’t any truly terrible skits this time around. The bad ones I mentioned above, including Jost’s and Che’s performances, were never so awful they weighed the episode down. This really was a well-crafted and maintained episode from start to finish. Good job SNL. Hopefully this can be maintained for next week with Cameron Diaz and Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars.
Saturday Night Live returns on November 22, 2015 with Cameron Diaz as the host and Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars as the musical guests.
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.