Saturday Night Live – Season 40, Episode 11
This episode of Saturday Night Live was an extra special one for me. For the second time in my life, I saw SNL in person. Now this wasn’t like my experience last year with Andy Samberg and St. Vincent where I saw it live. This time around, it was the dress rehearsal which has become popular lately for airing some really funny bits. So with the thought of seeing as much as SNL can offer for a night, I was really excited. It also helped that the two guests were talented individuals who have recently become superstars. Kevin Hart is now a leading man in every sense of the word (this is his second time hosting) and Sia is making huge waves with her powerful music. Plus, I was interested in seeing how the notoriously reclusive singer was going to perform. Clearly this was the one show all season that I was looking forward to the most.
For an example of a good ensemble piece, you only need to look at last night’s James Brown sketch “Get On Up.” That flowed really well and kept the humor rolling from the very start. A lot of cast members were on it and only had about one line each, but their brief moments were not wasted. Sasheer Zamata belting out that she doesn’t “want to get no damn capes,” and Taran Killam and Kenan Thompson opposing various changes in music were great. Clearly, asking when to bring the funk or if they should hit the musical bridge aren’t rhetorical anymore. The real star though was definitely Hart as Brown. That performance was solid and his ability to guide the sketch was incredible. It’s not often that a host is the total ringleader in a segment, but that’s what happened here and it paid off in spades.
I really liked the Weekend Update this week. As usual, not all jokes hit home. Both Colin Jost and Michael Che made a few bombs. But the majority of their bits generated plenty of laughs, especially Jost comparing Mitt Romney to Charlie Brown. However, what really made the Update special was Kate McKinnon playing a crotchety neighbor named Mrs. Santini. I was doubled over in laughter during this. McKinnon has perfected the art of playing strange people and she fired on all cylinders here. The moment she started discussing her small business of animal skeletons, my sides started hurting. I also can’t forget Santini calling one of her neighbors the “Mario Batali of Hot Garbage.” Hilarious.
McKinnon fans had more to love than just the Update though. Peppered in throughout the hour, SNL aired their own parodies of the recent Justin Bieber Calvin Klein ads with McKinnon continuing her much praised caricature. It was unbelievable. How the whole thing was staged, with McKinnon dancing in underwear around a disturbed Cecily Strong, was spectacular. McKinnon’s extremely childish comments as Beiber were the perfect representations of how we all view him too. “This tattoo made me say owie”, the constant comments on her dick bulge, and childishly kicking away a scooter were only some highlights.
Last night’s Cold Open was a bit disappointing. To give credit where it’s due, I’m impressed that the writers were able to create a segment dedicated Martin Luther King Jr. Giving it the angle of a high school student who really knows nothing about the man was a clever set up. Yet it failed on execution. Kenan Thompson basically phoned in his portrayal of King and Davidson didn’t do enough with his character to elevate the humor. The skit ended very abruptly too, which is a problem SNL has on occasion. The direction was essentially “Thompson and Davidson talk about current racial events and Selma until it stops being funny.” Unfortunately it wasn’t too funny from the start.
The Nancy talk show segment didn’t have much in the way of substance. Really, the main joke was Vanessa Bayer’s character walking around to farting childish music while everyone else had beautiful orchestral scores. It was funny at the start, and I did enjoy Hart coming in as a sound technician, but the dumpy music got pretty old fairly quick. I don’t even know how this skit came to be either. Did someone on the writing staff just really want to write a sketch with fart music? After watching this on the live show, I was a little surprised it didn’t get cut.
Another skit I expected to get the ax was “Kevin’s Son” where Jay Pharoah attempted to impersonate Hart. I say attempted because he didn’t do that great of a job. Pharoah is a great impressionist but it looked like he was really reaching here to get the persona right. It took a while for Pharoah and Hart to get on the same wavelength too, and for a while it was just individualized hand throwing. Opposite of them was Leslie Jones who continued to prove that the only weapon in her comedy arsenal is being loud and boisterous. For once I want to see her do something that doesn’t involve yelling or physically grabbing someone which she did twice last night.
Differences Between Dress and Live:
Since I saw the dress rehearsal, I definitely want to include this little segment where I detail some differences between the two. For the most part the rehearsal and the live show were the same. Yet as expected, a good handful of jokes were left out once the show went to air. Sasheer Zamata and Bobby Moynihan were also on the Update but were completely discarded. There was this pretty funny segment about a fur-coat that was removed, which is a little sad because it was wonderfully bizarre. Kyle Mooney brought Bruce Chandling back in a pre-recorded bit that just bombed so there was no way that was going to air. Every segment received some tweaks to the jokes and both performances were done in completely different order. The sense of fun was there regardless though, and I for one loved watching the show in a rough state. There were more than a handful of mistakes at dress that naturally were resolved. The screen blanking out in “Why’d You Post That” never happened at dress, but Hart carried that well live. It just goes to show that, yes, SNL is very much a work in progress even as the show is airing.
I’m not someone who runs out to see a Kevin Hart movie. The guy is funny, obviously, but his movies very rarely interest me. I’m not going to see The Wedding Ringer at all. I may see Get Hard at some point but that’s because Will Ferrell is there. When it comes to SNL though, there is no question about it. Hart is very comfortable on this show. This is only his second time hosting and he blends in with the cast perfectly. He’s clearly willing to do whatever and is a lot of fun to watch, whether it is in person or on television. Sia was great too, dishing out two performances that were more about her extra help than her act. Her performance of “Elastic Heart” brought Maddie Ziegler to dance around with another woman in a tan leotard. “Chandelier” had a man miming the lyrics to the song right next to Sia and it was actually very emotional. The singer clearly has her own thing and Lorne Michaels was right to let her do it.
There also wasn’t a single recurring sketch, which is saying a lot. Like any good SNL fan, I have my favorite and least favorite repeating characters. I’m sure you have a good sense of that if you follow these reviews. Yet it’s always better to watch the cast experiment with new material. Last night was all new, save for the Chandling skit that got cut at dress, and it really brought the show’s quality up.
As for seeing the dress rehearsal in person, I obviously cannot recommend it any higher. It’s as exciting as seeing the show live. You get to see it in a rough form and it really makes you appreciate how unbelievably difficult pulling off a show like this is. There clearly were mistakes left to iron out only three hours prior to the live presentation, and yet you don’t get that sense when the show actually airs. It’s a lot of fun comparing the two also. Bottom line, if you can see this show in any capacity, you have to. Whether it’s dress or live is irrelevant. It’s awesome no matter what.
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.