‘SNL’ pokes Justin Bieber

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Kevin Hart As James Brown On SNL.

When comedian Kevin Hart first host Saturday Night Live back in 2013, the shrieky-voiced funny man was just beginning to embark on his ambitious takeover of Hollywood and the local multiplex. 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.

The ‘SNL’ digital shorts may have begun as scrappy little projects fueled by random jokes and silliness, but recent years have seen them evolve into so much more. Say what you will about the comedian, but you can’t deny he brings a certain energy to the stage. (Or at least, you know, a lot of energy.) That said: Despite Hart’s frenetic quivering, last night’s show still fell largely flat. And judging on her blink-and-you-miss-it-cameo in a promo for the show, she’s most definitely sticking with her 1000 Forms Of Fear campaign by keeping her face hidden, no matter what.

Mike Myers played Mick Jagger next to Mick Jagger’s “Keith Richards” in ’93 and just earlier this season, just about every SNL cast member broke out their best “Jim Carrey” in a sketch with host Jim Carrey. Hart’s first SNL hosting gig was ostensibly in support of the soon-to-be-released Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, the comedian’s first theatrically released comedic special, which went on to make a very respectable $32 million at the box office, setting the stage for Hart’s future successes. Maybe that’s because its best bits—a timely and nicely pointed cold open, and a great prerecorded parody of Justin Bieber’s icky Calvin Klein campaign—came very early in the night, giving it nowhere to go but down. Maybe it’s because this season’s shows continue to be marred by technical glitches; a screen malfunction in the first post-commercial break sketch forced Hart and Vanessa Bayer to frantically improvise about an invisible picture that provided the entire foundation for the jokes they were supposed to deliver, while the aforementioned James Brown sketch included one embarrassing shot that was partially obscured by a blurry camera. (You won’t see either goof in the official clips from last night; it looks like SNL posted dress rehearsal versions of those sketches on Hulu and Yahoo.) Or maybe it’s just because most of the night’s material seemed like the sort of evergreen, middling stuff that gets dusted off when SNL has holes to plug, rather than fresh ideas written specifically to air this week. (That’s especially discouraging coming off of a month-long break.) This material wasn’t bad, necessarily—but it sure wasn’t good.

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. Hart’s high energy and big-time chemistry with seemingly everyone on the show – if this whole multi-million dollar movie career doesn’t work out, Hart could probably just show up at Studio 8H and slip right into the cast without anyone fussing too much – helped drive the episode, which was an otherwise shaggy post-holiday return for the venerable sketch series.

Kate McKinnon’s spot-on Justin Bieber impression should be selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, which recognizes films that are culturally, historically or aesthetically significant. 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. The sketch centers on three friends played by Kenan Thompson, Jay Pharoah, and guest host Kevin Hart, who are hanging out on the street corner of their Brooklyn neighborhood, swapping stories and keeping their eyes out for the cops. Peppered by technical difficulties and flubbed lines, the show itself proved to be mostly middling, but Hart’s contributions kept it afloat (and, yes, kind of screaming).

The scene deliberately plays with your racial expectations, constantly setting these guys to be up to no good when all they want to do is talk about the wine and painting parties they’ve been throwing, the pleasant days they’ve spent shopping with the girlfriends, and their very successful dog walking businesses. 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. McKinnon consistently excels at celebrity impressions, seamlessly embodying a wide range of characters – from Angela Merkel to Jane Lynch – but her take on the Canadian pop sensation and tabloid whipping boy is easily her best. My peepee’s in there”) all the livelong day; it’s a shame those faux-Calvin ads (showing off clothes for Bieber’s big weiner) only appeared twice during the show, though I suppose it’s nice to be left wanting more.

Taking a cue from Bieber’s recently launched Calvin Klein Jeans campaign (shades of Mark Wahlberg), McKinnon and a visibly skeeved out Cecily Strong effectively ape the look and feel of the awkward underwear ads, while poking fun at Bieber at every possible turn. A bit about Martin Luther King Day was inevitable tonight—and SNL leaned right in, opening the show with a sketch in which high school student Pete Davidson chats with a vision of Dr.

A pair of the high-concept fake ads ran during the course of the show, and while both were excellent (and a bonus online-only version scores points for literally stuffing McKinnon into a baby carriage), the only thing any Bieber-centric sketch needs is McKinnon mugging for the camera in a frighteningly authentic approximation of the singer’s Blue Steel face. 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.

I was tempted to cite “Why’d You Post That,” which was a weak idea (some people are bad at Instagram!) even before it was sabotaged by a photo that wouldn’t appear. 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.). Two words: “artisanal mayonnaise.” The changing face of Brooklyn – it’s gentrified now, you guys! – is low-hanging fruit for most comedians, but Hart, Jay Pharaoh, and Kenan Thompson inject some fresh (and probably artisanal) blood into the old let’s-make-fun-of-hipsters category of comedy. But then I remembered the episode’s 10-to-1, a shot but interminable sketch about a rapper (Hart) whose newest single is all about the secrets of his crew. Cast as three dudes who look as if they should be diametrically opposed to whatever it is that their new neighbors like (brunch, spin class, bikes built for two, something involving both wine and painting), the trio have instead embraced the lifestyle, with somewhat limited results.

Unfortunately, those secrets are pretty boring, and Hart doesn’t even deliver them via clever rhyming couplets; the whole thing felt like a too-long improv exercise. 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. Clever, unexpected, and punctuated by Pharaoh being gloriously upbraided for using an Evite (“You sound stupid, yo!”) and one heck of a twist (made even better by one deeply confused Cavalier King Charles Spaniel), Bushwick has never looked hipper. 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).

Last year’s James Brown biopic of the same name isn’t even six months old yet, but if Hollywood is interested in remaking it already (and we wouldn’t put it past them), Hart appears to be primed for the gig. If you’re familiar with the place it’s skewering, though—a Brooklyn neighborhood that’s rapidly gone from drug-drenched economic wasteland to hipster-drenched gentrification center—you probably got a kick out of the short’s clever structure and fun if gentle thugs-turned-bougie jokes. The comedian may not have Brown’s signature dance moves down pat and he may not be able to sing like the soul legend, but he spends this entire sketch gamely shuffling around and screaming in what can best be described as a “highly musical yelp.” The sketch is built on a relatively simple premise – during Brown’s 1971 performance at the Apollo Theater, the Godfather of Soul takes a brief musical interlude to chat it up with his band and demand that they get still more funky than their previous funk levels – but the sketch’s low-simmering weirdness and giant ensemble keeps it dancing right along. Though the singer seems to be a graduate of the Ariana Grande School of Enunciation, she’s certainly got some powerful pipes—and her eye-shrouding veil, as well as the special guests she brought along for each song (a sign language-speaking mime in a stripped-down take on “Chandelier;” mini-me Maddie Ziegler and another dancer, who elegantly brawled their way through “Elastic Heart”) gave both a nice aura of Early Gaga-esque weirdness.

I’ll go with “Elastic Heart,” mostly because I can’t resist a good dance-fight. “The Journey,” a sketch that seemed like a vague Galavant parody written by somebody who hasn’t seen Galavant, didn’t boast too many laughs—but it did boast the beautiful baritone of Taran Killam, who should consider this his audition for NBC’s next live musical. (Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson, and Sasheer Zamata also have nice voices, but not on the same level as Killam’s.) Points docked, though, for Leslie Jones coming out at the end and rhyming “kick your ass” with “wail on your ass.” Also: If the game of your sketch is “what’s happening right now is irritating,” maybe expect the audience to get, uh, irritated. (This also goes for the “Hart meets his soundalike son” bit.) An average episode of SNL means citing the show’s general MVP—which isn’t to say that Kate McKinnon was giving anything less than her usual A-game tonight. In an episode decisively dominated by its host, McKinnon still managed to carve out a few places to shine—namely, in the Bieber ads and as Weekend Update’s sole guest, a new character called Mrs. Sure, she talks just like McKinnon’s Penelope Cruz—but who else could wring this many laughs out of a line like, “Dear elephant family in 6H: I am so sorry you is elephants”?

– Your mileage may vary on Hart’s standup monologue, an extended riff on the battles he fights daily with the wildlife surrounding his house—but can we all agree that he should’ve undone at least the top fastening on that snug-fitting leather button-down? – Good Update line about the Chinese woman who cut off her cheating husband’s penis, twice: “That kind of work ethic is exactly why China is beating the U.S.”

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