Not every star is cut out to be host of Saturday Night Live—when the cast and writers are saddled with a Justin Bieber, Blake Shelton, or Bruce Willis, none of whom showed any comedic chops to speak of during their episodes, it's a matter of working around them and minimizing the damage. In the most extreme form of this, like when Donald Trump hosted last fall, he was only on air for 12 meager minutes. All the good stuff happened while he was off-stage boosting his bronzer.
Yes, it was a little different in that case because of TV’s "equal time" rule for political candidates, but based on that and his previous time hosting a decade ago, there's little doubt that the time restriction was a huge blessing for everyone involved. And it feels like we had a somewhat similar dynamic last night with first time host Russell Crowe, who only appeared in four sketches plus the Monologue.
A lot of people really hated this episode—I wouldn't go that far. It was nowhere near the nadir of the Trump episode, nor was it as D.O.A. as the Jonah Hill and Ronda Rousey episodes this year. I didn't think Crowe was as dire as some, although the fact that his most memorable roles were as Henry VIII (endlessly repeating "bear me a son") and a sexually-explicit professor from Germany on Match Finders—and they weren't, uh, very memorable or funny—probably isn't much of a recommendation (though I have been wondering all day whether Crowe was the one to pitch that Henry VIII sketch).
The highlights of this episode all came in the non-Crowe sketches and moments, including a few political sketches which were much sharper than similar SNL political sketches this season. The Cold Open was a wonderful showcase for Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton; Al Sharpton showed up to spar with himself (Kenan Thompson) in Politics Nation with Al Sharpton; and best of all, Colin Jost and Michael Che tore into all the candidates (especially Ted Cruz) in one of the best Weekend Update bits this season (and arguably, one of the best the two have produced together).
Depressed standup comic Bruce Chandling (Kyle Mooney) was also a wonderfully downbeat guest during Weekend Update. The other highlights came toward the end of the episode: Pogie Pepperoni’s was a great showcase for Mooney and Beck Bennett, even if it ended with a pretty big nod to Key & Peele. And my personal favorite sketch of the night was Mike O'Brien's episode-ending Oprah, a pre-taped short that had a lot in common with his similar Jay Z biopic from last season. This sketch may have been even better, thanks to O'Brien's deadpan, unenthusiastic-but-sincere take on his subject.
Click through for all those sketches, plus Kate McKinnon as "someone’s mom Deenie," Leslie Jones as an expert ninja, a very gross Preparation H ad, and music from Margo Price. SNL alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus will host next week with musical guest Nick Jonas.