Saturday Night Live: Season 41, Episode 8 – Chris Hemsworth (host), Chance the Rapper (musical guest)
Chris Hemsworth is back for number two! Not only that, his first hosting gig was last March. A celebrity leading Saturday Night Live twice in one year doesn’t happen very often, so clearly Hemsworth has an unstoppable popularity. I’m a fan of the actor of course, so I’m pretty excited to have him back, even though I felt his last showing needed some work. Hemsworth has a winning charisma and that’s frequently a deciding factor on how enjoyable a night can be. I expect plenty of jokes about his unreasonable good looks, a possible Thor reference, and something to do with whales for In the Heart of the Sea.
Considering how popular Chance the Rapper has become, I really should be more familiar with his music. I mainly know of him but can’t think of one of his songs off the top of my head. Time to right a major wrong!
Will Ferrell returning to play his classic George W. Bush impression was a very pleasant surprise. Sure, it’s not unheard of to bring a favorite cast member back for one of their classic bits. Darrell Hammond has already done it a few times with Bill Clinton. Ferrell however is a fairly infrequent guest, so seeing him again is always special. The sketch was excellent too. There’s been a lot of talk about how the current Republican candidates aren’t great representatives of the party, so making their last actual president be the ultimate judge kicked the show off with laughs. A few jabs had some teeth, like Carly Fiorina being really unqualified and Bush just laughing at how ridiculous Trump is, but most was played purely for silliness. Like declaring Rubio and Cruz as the next popular Miami law firm. This also reminded me that we haven’t had Ferrell host a show since 2012. I’d say we’re due for another!
Weekend Update just continues to get better. Last night’s episode saw the hosts rant against Trump’s recent statements pretty hard, and it lead to some of their best laughs this season. This actual team up on material is exactly what Update needed to start being good again. In fact, it’s not even a surprise anymore that Update is enjoyable now. Riding off the recent TIME Person of the Year announcement, Kate McKinnon returned with her winning Angela Merkel impression. Her inability to celebrate was some nice physical humor, and her statement that Trump liked Germany’s “earlier material” prompted some big applause. Clearly, not a lot of his fans were present. Leslie Jones ended the segment doing what she does best, ranting about things (this time the Golden Globes) and flirting with Jost, and it ended another Update on a good note.
“Christmas Sing-a-Long” was more impressive than comical. Cecily Strong is a really versatile cast member, but she doesn’t get a chance to show it very often. I’ll never forget her amazing musical number with Jimmy Fallon a few seasons ago. While this one definitely wasn’t of that quality, it was still really entertaining. Strong is a fantastic singer and this musical focused bit absolutely needed her as the lead. Hemsworth wasn’t too bad either, bouncing off her energy and bridging jokes to the four other befuddled party goers. The ending nearly killed the segment though. SNL’s issue with conclusions really pokes through sometimes and this was one of those moments. It was all about music, and then it ended with everyone getting into a car accident. It was so random and an obvious throwaway.
“On The Record” could have done so much more with its material. Trump’s recent policy on Muslims and the Republican party’s aversion to really rejecting him is ripe for satirical criticism. Kate McKinnon’s Greta Van Susteren tried this too, but each of her subjects were written in a manner that let everyone off easy. Taran Killam’s Ted Cruz spouted off an exaggerated rhetoric on the man’s view of the Constitution, which was less a criticism and more of an observation. Moynihan’s Chris Christie made a reference to the infamous Fort Lee closures, an event from 2013 most people have moved on from. Jay Pharoah’s Ben Carson probably received the most flak with several knocks against his lack of a foreign policy, but even this didn’t go too far as it primarily focused on his inability to properly pronounce certain names.
The “Pirate Ship” sketch really needed some more substance to stick a strong landing. Its joke was laid out for you right in the beginning. Pirates are mean people, but every ship needs a Mark, AKA, a funny person, to keep the high seas lively. Jon Rudnitsky received the most attention he’s had in weeks and he did a good job, but all anyone else said was commentary on how great it is to have a Mark. Rudnitsky danced around, “Mark is great!” Rudnitsky pretended a cannon was a fart, “Mark is the best!” It was silly, which I’m sure is what the segment was going for, but the similar call and response got very repetitive. At least the sketch wasn’t horribly prolonged.
“Aron’s List” aired again as the final sketch of the night. It’s always disappointing to watch time spent on a bit we’ve already seen before. True, it’s very likely a lot of people watching never saw this before, and I’m sure there’s good reason why Lorne made this decision. Maybe the night was running short or perhaps an unforeseen event occurred that prevented the show from airing an already scheduled live bit. Whatever the reason, we still ended the show with reused material, which is a bummer for regular viewers. In cases like this, I’d much rather have a new pre-recorded segment by Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney. We haven’t had one of those in a while.
Chris Hemsworth isn’t a comedian, that much we know, but he has a strong enough sense of humor to carry him through a live show. While he was never singularly responsible for making a sketch funny, save for “Time to Bleed” where his physical humor was on point, he was a solid figure to bounce jokes off of. The “Brunch” sketch thrived on this as the idea of Hemsworth wearing a dress to see what women think of him is an absurd concept, and it was fitting to make the entire joke revolve around that. I was also really impressed by Hemsworth’s ability to recover from mistakes. He blew a few lines and actually stumbled on the set, but played them all so well, they weren’t disruptive like Gosling’s giggle-fest. For his mostly stable work, I’d expect Lorne to bring Hemsworth back a third time.
The show as a whole was pretty entertaining. Will Ferrell’s Cold Open started things off incredibly well, and while the momentum did lessen as the show went on, there was nothing overtly terrible to kill it. The Star Wars toys hit a pretty well mocked aspect of nerd culture but still had a few laughs to dish out. “Brother 2 Brother” returned and, despite not being anything different from when this sketch happened last March, still found some humor in the idea that Hemsworth is an adonis compared to normal people. It also helped that the night didn’t have nearly as many of these sketches as last time. “Male Strippers” thankfully avoided this pitfall and would have been a good 10-to-1 sketch to end the night on if we didn’t have to watch “Aron’s List” again.
Next week is Tina Fey and Amy Poehler with musical guest Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. This has the exact ingredients to be my favorite show of the season and I absolutely cannot wait. Less than a week to go!
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his 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.