Kevin Hart made his second hosting appearance on Saturday Night Live last night with musical guest Sia. And the first episode of 2015, while not one of the three or four best episodes of the season (hi Woody Harrelson, Martin Freeman, Bill Hader & Amy Adams), continued the upward trend of the current 40th season: it's such a relief to be able to say the show has gotten much more consistent (and better) compared to the past three seasons.
What a difference two years make: while Hart was just as effervescent (and loud) in 2013 as he was last night, his first time hosting was marred by some incredibly weak writing, leading to forgettable parodies of shows like The Walking Dead & Shark Tank. The writers are much better attuned to his style now, which led to an astounding three enjoyable live sketches (and one particularly hilarious pre-recorded one) that utilized him perfectly.
Last time, we were dreading Hart hosting again; this time, he seems to have the durability to become a regular presence ala recent repeat hosts like Melissa McCarthy or Justin Timberlake. Let's give out some awards.
Best Sketch Of The Night: Bushwick, Brooklyn 2015 was everything SNL does great nowadays: a carefully constructed premise, some actual twists in the story, and a huge dollop of surrealism. Oh, and puppies in sweaters. Go watch it now.
The Other Best Sketch Of The Night: But Bushwick wasn't the only classic: we were spoiled with two of the best sketches of the season. The James Brown sketch was a fantastic ensemble piece that allowed Hart to go full-Hart as Brown, and gave Taran Killam, Cecily Strong and some of the rest of the cast some of their only laughs of the night.
The Memorial Louis C.K. Excellence-In-Monologuing Award: While Hart took the spotlight in both of the above sketches (and did good work in Rap Crew and the otherwise middling Instagram sketch), his finest moment was the monologue, which was just a great slice of stand-up. The monologues have gotten very boring and staid in recent years (either the host sings a song, there are 'surprise' celebrity cameos, or they take questions from the audience), so anytime a comedic professional can just unload their stuff, it's a breath of fresh air. And Hart is really at his best doing stand-up.
Best Reminder That Kate McKinnon Is A Brilliant Blinding Blonde Ball Of Hilarity: If someone were to tell us that McKinnon has fused her physical form with the pipsqueak singer, we might believe it. But if someone were to tell us that Justin Bieber has been an ongoing performance art piece perpetuated by McKinnon, we would definitely believe it.
Best Impression That Didn't Involve The Brilliant Kate McKinnon: While McKinnon's Bieber was our favorite impression, Jay Pharoah got to unleash a hilarious Hart impression to Hart's face in the Heinz Hall sketch late in the evening. The gesticulations really made it all come together.
The This Didn't Really Make Much Sense Did It? Participation Trophy: We've been focusing on all the highlights, but we had a few real clunkers as well: the cold open with Martin Luther King Jr. was marred by Pete Davidson (who I normally really like) constantly and noticeably staring at the cue cards. The Nancy talk show just didn't work (was Vanessa Bayer's theme music fart noises?), despite a funny bit for Hart. The ambitious Dragon Attack was completely dead from the start (although it is nice to discover how well everyone can harmonize).
Viral Video That Won't Go Viral Award: The Instagram sketch was a noble failure, the kind of sketch that has relevancy and a slightly dark, vicious streak. It had all the elements of a typical morning-after must-watch SNL viral video...except the execution was completely off. Technical difficulties with the phone screen and couch apparatus threw the pacing off at the start, and despite good efforts from Hart and Aidy Bryant, the cast were never really able to get it back on track.
The Honorary Really? What The Hell Is Going On With Weekend Update? Award: At this point, we feel befuddled: there was only one guest on last night (Kate McKinnon doing great work, as usual) and...a lot of one-liners? Sure, Michael Che continues to be charming (and we did very much enjoy his little mid-Update monologue), but the two still haven't distinguished their partnership behind the desk.
Click through for all those sketches, plus two very theatrical performances from Sia (which included a mime doing ASL!). Next week will see Blake Shelton stepping up for double duty as host and musical guest.