‘SNL’ Ranked: Kevin Hart and ‘SNL’ Take on Brooklyn and Bieber
‘SNL’ returns from winter break with comedian Kevin Hart (and musical guest Sia, who’s an event all her own), and it definitely doesn’t feel like they’ve taken a break at all. There’s very little readjustment, and Hart brings an energy to the show that certainly helps keep this solid season going strong. So how was this weekend’s new episode? Read on for a ranking of the ‘SNL’ sketches from best to worst.
“Bushwick, Brooklyn 2015” (Kevin Hart, Jay Pharoah, Kenan Thompson)
Dammit—I didn’t want to like this sketch, which features a trio of black guys hanging on the corner in Bushwick, talking about their bitches and off the chain parties. It’s a familiar bait and switch: the bitches are actually dogs, the party is a polite gathering of people to drink wine and paint landscapes, and the guys talk about stuff like artisanal mayonnaise. It’s the kind of thing that plays off of our assumptions about people, which feels too easy, but it also speaks to the gentrification of neighborhoods where vibrant culture has been co-opted, white-washed, and has an overpriced price tag. I get it, but the sketch didn’t grab me until near the end, when they doubled-down on playing with our expectations and had Hart shoot some dude on the street in front of “his bitches.”
“Calvin Klein Ads” (Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong)
It’s been so long since we’ve seen McKinnon’s Justin Bieber! Her impression is a little toned down in this spoof of Bieber’s instantly famous CK ads, but it really enhances the one-liners about what a big boy he is now and his big wiener. Her Bieber is just so chill about standing on a box to be as tall as a model, like it’s no big deal because he’s wearing Calvin Kleins and it’s sexy no matter what. The ads get progressively ridiculous throughout the episode, with McKinnon getting more insolent and obnoxious, and Strong going from passive to barely tolerating it.
You know what? We don’t usually talk about the musical performances each week, but Sia’s performances are always so beautiful and strange and insanely creative—especially her current collaboration with tiny dancer Maddie Ziegler. I’m thrilled to see Sia give an ‘SNL’ version of her “Elastic Heart” video, which was recently criticized for the casting of Shia LaBeouf, who dance-fights with Ziegler in a cage. That was a knee-jerk reaction waiting to happen, for sure. Sia’s ‘SNL’ version features Ziegler and an androgynous male dancer dressed like Ziegler doing their own very emotional dance-fight. And make no mistake about it: this performance art (which is what it totally is) really enhances Sia’s songs, making them even more powerful. So I’m ranking Sia’s performances kind of high up here because this is my column and I can do that.
“MLK Cold Open” (Kenan Thompson, Pete Davison)
Oh man, sick burn to the Oscars, huh? But that joke about all the boulevards MLK owns now was even better. Kenan Thompson’s Martin Luther King Jr. is a little broad, but the way he looks up with a glint in his eye and says we still have a long way to go up “that mountain” killed me every time. I’m not the biggest Pete Davison fan (yet), and performing with Thompson, you can see how green he still is as his eyes stay glued to that teleprompter. Thompson is such a natural. #blessed
“The Journey” (Kevin Hart, Taran Killam, Kenan Thompson, Sasheer Zamata, Cecily Strong, Leslie Jones)
I am surprised that this sketch is actually a thing that made it to air and isn’t one of those wacky sketches that gets dumped online later. It’s so weird! Kevin Hart and the cast play royalty in a fantasy land who need to vacate their castle to escape a fearsome dragon, and they sing really dramatic friggin’ songs about it. Meanwhile, Hart’s the only one taking the threat seriously, trying to get everyone out of the damn castle while they just keep taking their time with songs. Hart is the MVP of the sketch, for sure, but only because everyone else is so committed to this absurd melodrama. Hart’s line about his butthole, um, slayed me. He also makes a strong case for why Kevin Hart should be on ‘Game of Thrones.’ And oh, hey, there’s Leslie Jones—finally.
Weekend Update (Colin Jost, Michael Che, Kate McKinnon)
Jost and Che are feeling a bit mechanical tonight, but Che’s jokes about the Oscars are so, so great and so, so accurate. And Jost’s deadpan glare after his NFL domestic abuse joke is perfect. McKinnon’s neighbor lady Mrs. Santini is maybe one of her more underrated recurring characters, and although we’ve heard her do this voice with other characters/impressions before (she’s super good at this specific Spanish accent), Mrs. Santini’s well-meaning insult humor is delightful.
“Why’d You Post That” (Kevin Hart, Vanessa Bayer, Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong, Kyle Mooney)
Kevin Hart’s character hosts a show in which he asks guests why they posted particular photos on Instagram, which is such a ridiculous concept for a show that I’m surprised we don’t have a real-world counterpart to this already. What makes this sketch work beyond the inquiries about Bryant’s busted toe is how much Hart’s character seems to just love to hear himself talk and put people down, which reflects our narcissistic relationship with social media. And it’s about time someone addressed people who take sexy photos without paying attention to all the junk in the background.
“Kevin Hart Monologue” (Kevin Hart)
It’s always wise to let comedians do their thing, and Kevin Hart really has expert rhythm (though I think no comedian hosts on ‘SNL’ have come close to Zach Galifianakis and Louis CK’s extended monologues), but his transitions between jokes are a bit rushed. His raccoon story is so weird and funny, and probably the last thing I expected him to stand up there and talk about.
“Get On Up” (Kevin Hart, Ensemble)
What if James Brown’s famous call and response bits went a bit…awkwardly? Hart’s Brown is kind of perfect, but it’s the awkward and unsure responses from white band members like Bobby Moynihan, Taran Killam, and Beck Bennett that really punctuate the sketch.
“Listening Party” (Kevin Hart, Jay Pharoah, Leslie Jones, Ensemble)
There has not been enough Bobby Moynihan this week, but that’s to be expected when ‘SNL’ has a comedian on board as host. Hart’s enthusiastic rapper delivering his crew’s secrets in a new track in a private performance for his crew is a fun idea, and I am always down for a ‘Weekend at Bernie’s Joke’ (see also: a recent episode of IFC’s ‘The Birthday Boys’ that did this exceptionally well). Weirdly, this sketch would not work if it weren’t for Hart’s “pew pew pew” and “pop pop pop.” Pew pew? Is he a ‘Star Wars’ rapper? I’m into it. But ending this sketch with a shooting after the Bushwick short feels like a bad idea. On the other hand, Beck Bennett is the king of awkward white dude reaction faces this week.
“Kevin’s Son” (Kevin Hart, Jay Pharoah, Leslie Jones)
It’s always fun when you can pair a celebrity with ‘SNL’ cast members who do impressions of them, and the show has certainly gotten creative in building sketches around it (the Jim Carrey family reunion was wonderfully wacky). And while Pharoah does a good job of playing Hart’s son, and as much as I love Leslie Jones (and love to see her playing against the type she’s developed in such a short time), this sketch is too one-note. It’s fine.
“Soap Opera Reunion” (Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, Taran Killam, Shasheer Zamata, Vanessa Bayer, Cecily Strong, Kevin Hart)
There’s a good concept to this sketch, but I’m not sure that it translates well to the stage. It also goes on a little too long (or just feels too long). Fart noise music on its own is funny, and Bayer plays a great neurotic as usual, but not even Kevin Hart’s (BS) refusal to understand English and his dancing can’t perk this one up.