It’s a new year, and that means it’s time for the first new episode of “Saturday Night Live” in 2015. This wasn’t an episode I was looking forward to all that much simply because I’m not the biggest fan of Kevin Hart, our host for the evening. I don’t find his stand-up to be all that funny, and his movies are generally pretty terrible. However, as an “SNL” host, I found myself enjoying Hart very much, whose big energy actually wasn’t super annoying throughout the night (for the most part). He even helped a sketch that was hurt by a huge production gaffe by thinking quick on his feet and not being rattled at all. So let’s get to the show!
Listening Party – This sketch by itself actually made me dislike Kevin Hart a whole lot less. Most of the time his high-energy, high-pitched screaming bugs the hell out of me, but the fact that he kept it up for so long in this sketch and it only got funnier is a testament to the good he can do with the right material. The refrain (Pew pew pew, bow-bow, bow-bow, gunshot sound), was easily the best part of the sketch, but when it escalated to Hart revealing the secrets of his entourage, it got even better.
Bushwick, Brooklyn 2015 – This is one of those sketches that isn’t just hilarious, but is actually a great piece of short filmmaking. It was also nice to see Kevin Hart a little more reserved since pretty much every other sketch of the night utilized his signature hyper personality.
Get On Up – Kevin Hart is no Chadwick Boseman when it comes to portraying James Brown, but of course, his energetic presence is perfect for this sketch that really felt like a callback to when Eddie Murphy used to be on “SNL.” Plus, it was pretty cool to see nearly the entire cast in this sketch and everyone getting their own time in the spotlight. But again, it was Hart who made this work so well.
Kevin’s Son – At the end of this sketch, Leslie Jones says “This is nice. But it is annoying.” And that’s about how I feel about the sketch too. Jay Pharoah does a spot-on Kevin Hart impression as his estranged son, but much like Hart, it starts to run its course after the first couple minutes. It’s certainly amusing, but it also reminded me how much I don’t like Hart beyond small doses and these “SNL” sketches.
MLK – This was such a simple, innocent sketch with some pretty obvious racial humor and social commentary about how we treat the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., but Pete Davidson and Kenan Thompson still made it work pretty well. Though I was wondering why King didn’t ask what Wu Tang Clan was along with all the other questions he had.
Calvin Klein Ads – While I love Kate McKinnon, and her impression of Justin Bieber is usually pretty great, these ads just didn’t land very well for me. It just felt a little too silly and slapsticky. I get the premise is that Justin Bieber is pretending to be this suave guy when he’s still just an immature little jerk, but this almost felt like a sketch that would have been on “All That” back in the 90s.
The Journey – There’s a great concept for a sketch here, but for some reason, the execution just felt a little off. I’m not sure if it was the little, awkward choreography or just some odd pacing and timing, but it seemed to ruin what should have been a great sketch.
Soap Opera Reunion – Half of this sketch was a one-note joke that really didn’t go anywhere, while the other half was a really funny, weird premise. Kevin Hart being able to speak English but not understand any of it was just ridiculous, but it actually worked out perfectly. Unfortunately, the two halves didn’t meet to make a solid sketch, and this one just felt flat.
Why’d You Post That? – This is the perfect example of the things that can go wrong with a live show like this. At the beginning of this sketch, the monitor that was meant to display the terrible Instagram pictures, thus making the entire premise of the sketch work, malfunctioned in a huge way. Vanessa Bayer clearly got flustered, buy kudos to Kevin Hart for keeping the momentum and energy going and not just freaking out. That’s the stand-up comedian in him, and while he did his best to get the sketch back on the rails, there was another big screw-up with the couch trap. So while the sketch very well had some funny material, it just never recovered from that big mistake.
The whole Weekend Update was one of the shortest we’ve seen in awhile, but Michael Che and Colin Jost both had some great jokes, especially that Oscar segment Though it seemed like they may have cut some stuff from Weekend Update this time, whether that was more of the traditional news jokes or another guest segment, I can’t be sure, but it certainly felt trimmed.
Mrs. Santini – There may have only been one guest on Weekend Update, but the fact that it was a new character by Kate McKinnon made it all worth it. I could listen to her weird letters to the neighbors who ruin her life all day long.
Again, as someone who generally does not like Kevin Hart, this was not an episode that I was looking forward to, especially knowing that the monologue was just going to be his stand-up material. But thankfully, beyond the monologue, Hart made for a fun, dynamic and tireless host. He helped some of the faltering sketches along by keeping up the enthusiasm, and actually appeared to be more endearing than normal.
Jay Pharoah & Kenan Thompson – I don’t know if these two felt elevated by the exuberant presence of Kevin Hart, but both of these guys matching Hart’s endless energy seemed to help them shine. Thompson normally doesn’t have a problem amping things up, and Pharoah has shined plenty of times before with his own characters and impressions, but there was something about them appearing with Hart that put them on another level in this episode.
The Final Word
This was a pleasant surprise for many reasons, most of all for the fact that Kevin Hart was a delightful host who didn’t overstay his welcome as I had feared. But besides Hart’s presence, there was just some great writing on display. There could have been less technical mishaps, but this is just what happens occasionally with a live show that’s put together in a single week.
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