‘Saturday Night Live’ Recap

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘SNL’ Recap: Kevin Hart and Sia.

The end of 2014 and beginning of 2015 have been kinda rough for Kevin Hart. The biopic “Whitney” (Lifetime at 8 p.m.) follows Whitney Houston’s remarkable ascent up the charts in the 1980s, her marriage to fellow chart-topper Bobby Brown and the tribulations that followed.I mostly know Kevin Hart from movie trailers, some talk show appearances and his lackluster freshman outing as Saturday Night Live whose only memorable moment was the wonderfully surreal Z Shirts sketch.Kevin Hart gets damned with coded faint praise a lot, something along the lines of, “Well, he’s very energetic.” Translated: “He’s not very funny, but he’s loud and plays to his (mostly black) audience.” But Hart is a funny guy (even if the movie he’s here to promote is apparently a bit of a dud), and his undeniably live-wire energy comes off as a measure of both commitment and professionalism on SNL, something my esteemed predecessor nailed down accurately when he reviewed Hart’s first hosting gig.

In December, a leaked email thread revealed that he’d allegedly asked to be paid additional money beyond his $3 million salary to tweet about an upcoming movie; “I’m not saying he’s a whore,” a studio exec reportedly wrote, “but he’s a whore.” (“Knowing your self worth is extremely important,” Hart wrote on Instagram after the email was published. “I OWN MY BRAND….I MAKE SMART DECISIONS FOR MY BRAND.”) The jokes he made while presenting at last week’s Golden Globes—one about how animated filmmakers have imaginations “fueled by weed,” one about how he wasn’t going to promote his new movie from the stage…before he promoted his new movie from the stage—both bombed, loudly. The press-shy Australian artist is set to bring Dance Moms star Maddie Ziegler onstage, most likely to perform “Elastic Heart” from her latest album, 1000 Forms of Fear. 1. Like I always do, I’ll be writing the recaps “live,” meaning I’ll watch a sketch and immediately write a short blurb reviewing and recapping it. The choice of a stand-up comic to kick off the fourth decade of the show’s existence was only appropriate, as it echoed the very first SNL broadcast, which premiered in October 1975 with legendary funnyman George Carlin (RIP) as host.

The two songs from “1000 Forms of Fear” the Australian singer-songwriter performed live on Saturday night were: the Grammy-nominated “Chandelier” and the next official single “Elastic Heart”. The Wedding Ringer doesn’t look on pace to earn anywhere near that much.) As of now, it’s anyone’s guest—though Hart certainly couldn’t ask for a better week to host SNL.

In the two-part special “Betty White’s Smartest Animals in America” (Great American Country at 8), the beloved actress, who turns 93 today, goes on a road trip to meet an array of intelligent animals. And Hart’s lightning-fast timing, as well as his ability to think on his feet when the writing or technology (like a disobedient television in the “Why’d You Post That?” sketch) wasn’t clicking, helped make this quietly momentous episode a mostly painless affair—not one for the record books or the trash bin, just a solid sketch comedy show, filled with skits that hit and missed in mostly equal number. For the “Elastic Heart” performance (watch here its recently-premiered music video co-starring Shia LaBeouf) Sia brought back on stage (been song long since Sia’s performed on television) her ‘little me’ Maddie Ziegler for her to do her contemporary dance thing.

Martin Luther King Day and Selma‘s Oscar snubs are topics that are both ripe for Hart and the show’s cast to dissect—especially, perhaps, Leslie Jones, who also appears with Hart in Chris Rock’s film Top Five. Although Sia’s desire to stay out of the spotlight and focus on her craft is respectable, she has nevertheless become so ubiquitous with the success of “Chandelier,” and can be unmasked with a simple Google search, that the turned-back decision is starting to feel fruitless. RETURNING SHOW: “The Musketeers” (BBC America at 9) returns for a second season with the men sent to retrieve a man who escaped from a Spanish prison.

And while it’s fair to ask whether we should expect more from SNL considering how much experience they have under their belt by now, 40 is a challenging age for anyone to adjust to. Hardly an anomaly with this cast over the past two season, certainly—there’s been an inordinate amount of flubbing all around—and at least this time, some of the awkwardness wasn’t Hart’s fault. In the Instagram sketch right after the monologue—a sketch with a lot of moving parts which nonetheless must have been rehearsed a lot—Hart was forced to vamp for a long, long time when the video screen prop just didn’t work. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.); “White House Chronicle” (WETA at 9) has the Providence Journal’s Edward Achorn; “State of the Union” (CNN at 9) features Sen. Brooklyn’s ongoing gentrification probably isn’t funny to anyone outside of a 718 area code, but those of us in the borough understood exactly what these three Bushwick boys — Hart, Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah — were talking about.

Looking super chic in a black suit, Sia sang her pop smash hit looking straight to the camera this time, although she kept using the concealing face gear of the previous performance. After always complaining about toothless political cold opens, it feels wrong to overly criticize this skit too much as it actually includes a few moments of hard-hitting satire, such as MLK’s reaction to twitter protests. As Sia belted the Greg Kurstin-produced song over a stripped-down instrumentation, the mine would interpret the story of “Chandelier” with his hands and face.

I dunno if his ad-libbed smacking brought the thing back, but the instinct was understandable. (The way the ejector-seat couch gag slammed poor Vanessa Bayer into the side of the set was yet another miscue—a recurring issue that the show needs to take in hand before said disaster actually happens. Tonight’s guest is “Chandelier” chanteuse Sia—a singer/songwriter who’s taken to hiding her face in public in recent years. (Even though, er, it’s not that hard to find out what she actually looks like.) Gimmicky as that may be, her camera-shyness leads to visually-striking live performances—and we know already that tonight’s will feature Maddie Ziegler, the pint-sized Mini-Sia who’s performed as the singer’s avatar in her “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart” videos. You know—with the first sketch of the night or something crazy like that.) Colin and Michael, Michael and Colin—the worst thing that can be said about this anchor-team at this point in their tenure is that they have no chemistry together. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.); “This Is America and the World” (WETA at 10 and WHUT at 6 p.m.) talks to Brookings Institution’s Harold Trinkunas; “Face the Nation” (CBS at 10:30) talks to White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer. Whoever dreamed up this particular premise seemed to want to cross HBO’s Game of Thrones with Broadway’s Camelot, but those two things simply don’t go together—at least, not without much better writing and significantly funnier songs.

Oprah Winfrey honors key figures in the civil-rights movement who made the film “Selma” possible on “Oprah Winfrey Presents: Legends Who Paved the Way” (OWN Sunday at 9 p.m.). Each had a higher percentage of hits than misses in a brief Update tonight, but they never connected with each other, barely even appearing on the screen together.

John Lewis (D-Ga.) and many more. “Girls” (HBO at 9) finds a new part-time home in Iowa when Hannah begins her stint at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she encounters more foes than friends. The documentary “Nicki Minaj: My Time Again” (MTV at 10) follows Minaj through the walk-up to her most introspective album so far, “The Pinkprint.” SERIES PREMIERE: The six-part British crime drama “Grantchester” (MPT and WETA at 10) centers on a young priest in post-World War II Britain who turns into an amateur detective.

And the NFL/”Let It Go” domestic violence joke had a touch of un-Jost-like edge to it. (It’s always a good sign when the studio audience lets out a little gasp before laughing at an Update joke.) The idea of giving Che a little Daily Show-like monologue in the middle of Update is something I can get behind, too. With the boys back in San Francisco, Patrick and Kevin’s relationship heats up and Dom continues to pursue his dream of opening his own restaurant on “Looking” (HBO at 10).

While I appreciate when stand up comedians do their routine in the monologue instead of phony “let’s talk to the audience” shtick, this specific routine was just all right. His take on the Oscars had bite, reminding how Oscar-winning black actors haven’t found their wins all that helpful in Hollywood, and spotlighting how “black people with ‘funny’ names” is still an insulting side-story every year.

Not her strongest bit, but, as ever, McKinnon simply sells—her line, “Dear elephant family in in 6H, I am very sorry you are elephants and every step you take ruins my life” lived in the performance. It didn’t really have anything new to say about social media that hasn’t been complained about online for years and went on so long I was almost hoping for more technical problems so that this would be over.

Perhaps buoyed by thoughts of Eddie Murphy from the ”SNL Vintage” 10 p.m. episode tonight (from the Ebersol years—Lorne must be mellowing), the sight of Hart doing a good but not great James Brown impression was initially a letdown, until the sketch veered onto a giddily silly track, with Brown’s famous rhetorical mid-song questions turning into strange, awkward mid-song conversations with his huge band. Comedy is subjective, we all know that, and I can’t help but think that this very funny and very well executed sketch would be a hell of a lot funnier if I lived in or around Brooklyn.

Hart’s great, keeping the energy and the impression intact while coping with band members who aren’t unanimously sure whether they should, indeed, get more funky, or who question why he’s the only one who gets a cape, or, why one of his backup singers changed her first name when she got married. It’s a sketch all about performance, timing, and odd little logical swerves, and I laughed all though it. (“Should we take it to the bridge?” “No.” “Just a flat ‘no’?”) The Bushwick sketch has turns, too, the digital short following a trio of corner guys (Hart, Jay Pharoah, Kenan Thompson) as their conversation about their evolving neighborhood reveals their conflicted feelings about the new challenges posed by the area’s gentrification. Each twist is delivered impeccably by the three, their blustery outrage shading into tales about artisanal mayonnaise shops, spin classes, a dog walking business, and raging parties involving watercolors, wine and cheese, and folk singing. (Thompson’s line, “You actin’ like somebody put gluten in your muffin” encapsulates the premise with impeccable brevity.) And the final twist—revealing the complexities of the characters’ world even in the midst of $8 mayo, is outstanding. For worst sketch, sadly, it’s too close to call as well, with the aforementioned Instagram sketch (technical problems aside) undeserving of its prominent position on the show. A strange and quick Weekend Update tonight with one big takeaway (OK, besides that great “Let It Go” joke and that Kate McKinnon is a national treasure): perhaps the way to make the Jost/Che era of Update work best is to allow Che is break free of the typical format and let him tell longer form jokes.

But five minutes is far too long (Hart’s quick, final summation, “Don’t take pictures of coffee” would have sufficed.) Vying with that was the sketch where Hart meets his supposed son, played by Jay Pharoah. I like Jones a lot—she’s got a brashness SNL sorely needs—but she has yet to prove she can carry a sketch without going wobbly. (Conversely, both the visual of the towering Jones picking up Hart and bodily hurling him around and the reminiscence of her swaddling a post-coital Hart to her breast were pretty damned striking, and funny.) But the biggest problem with this sketch was that, in what should have been a showcase for Jay Pharoah, the “dueling Kevin Harts” just didn’t come off. No, this isn’t Jagger/Jagger or Seinfeld/Seinfeld but, after tonight’s mostly dire line up, Pharaoh’s infectious energy and spot on impression alongside Jones’…ahem…intimidating presence won be over.

Jay Pharoah is a very good impressionist—a world-class one if he gets the right character and script—but, here, as with the rest of the sketch, his mimicry just doesn’t land. Not even an alum dropped by to take advantage of what seems to be Lorne’s open-door “do an old character if you feel like it” policy of late. (Although Kate McKinnon’s Update character has appeared under another name on Comedy Bang! She’s strange and quirky, yes, but in a way that feels genuine and meaningful rather than weird for weird sake (I’m looking at you Gaga!) Her voice, too, is so raw and real. I know Sia’s relatively popular and all, but if every top-selling musical guest wants to bring in an element of odd, offputting performance art to their segments, I say SNL will be more entertaining for it. The evidence tonight: Sia’s never-removed duck-billed veil, two bodysuited dancers in Sia wigs performing deliberately-awkward interpretive dance throughout “Elastic Heart,” a mime signing ASL to “Chandelier,” and Sia’s entire stage demeanor, which, unconnected to the audience, left it to appear that all the stage business going on around her was a visualization of what was going on in her mind while singing.

Bobby Moynihan had two bit parts in two sketches this week, so the LVNRFPTP spot should go to him. (It’s a big cast, and sometimes on SNL you just get lost.) By the same logic, Kenan Thompson should get “most valuable” simply by virtue of his screen time this week—but I’m giving the edge to Kate McKinnon who, in addition to her Update solo spot, trotted out her Justin Bieber for a show-long runner making fun of the wee little “bad boy” and his current Calvin Klein ad campaign. McKinnon’s Bieber is always so funny because the impression’s accuracy struts hand-in-hand with a knowing mockery of the very fact that anyone would take the li’l guy seriously in the first place.

McKinnon’s Bieber preened in tough guy self-regard while Cecily Strong’s model unsuccessfully attempted to hide her embarrassment at having to feign arousal at a diminutive, tighty-whitied manchild. Hart’s commitment helped sell tonight’s Ten-To-Oneland sketch, with his rapper’s new song dropping his entourage’s every last secret between the rhymes.

In all, a middling sketch that wasn’t weird enough to truly reside here, although the final revelation that two of his crew have accidentally killed another and are trying to pull off “a Weekend At Bernie’s situation” edges it a bit closer. Of course, fart noises are funny because I am 12, apparently, but Vanessa Bayer’s attempts to maintain her dignity in the face of her inexplicably farty theme music was funny, as was Taran Killam’s staunchly pompous former soap star mien.

And the idea that Hart’s stage manager resolutely denies speaking English or knowing anything about “the music I picked for her” supplied just enough weirdness to the proceedings. Killam similarly shone in the musical dragon sketch, with Hart’s sensible footman attempting to get everyone to stop singing about leaving before they all get roasted by a rampaging dragon and actually leave before they all get roasted by a rampaging dragon. Actually, Killam, Thompson, Cecily Strong, and Sasheer Zamata all busted out some serious pipes, but it was Killam’s exaggerated reprise that stole the sketch.

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