The last show of the year is usually a big event filled with returning alums, cameos and holiday-themed sketches. This year we didn’t see a lot of former SNL stars and there was only one big cameo- a visit from a longtime friend of the show Scarlett Johansson, which was surprising considering the charismatic king of all forms of comedy at the box office- Kevin Hart was running the show. We would have expected plenty of alums would want to return to get to hang out and be in a sketch with the comedy super star who everyone wants a selfie with. This was also the first show with Weekend Update’s co-anchors Michael Che and Colin Jost officially serving as head writers for the show, so expectations were high. So far this season, the writing highlights of almost every show have been the Weekend Update segments, so the promotion of the two Update stars to head writers seemed like a decision that could give the rest of the boost a real jumpstart.
It wasn’t, as they say, one for the books.
The show started with the obligatory Baldwin-helmed Trump cold open, an act that had become worn midway through last year’s season. But the worn sketches of last winter look brilliant by comparison to this year’s versions which have come to rely on a revolving door of other characters in the Trump-verse to try to boost the interest level. But visits from Melania (Cecily Strong), Donald Jr. (Mikey Day), Eric Trump (Alex Moffat) Kellyanne Conway (Kate McKinnon), Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Aidy Bryant), Mike Pence (Beck Bennett), Jeff Sessions (Kate McKinnon), and even a visit from ScarJo as Ivanka couldn’t resuscitate the impression particularly since the show has gone to the “bring-out-all-the-characters” well a few too many times. It’s not that we’re tired of picking on Trump, it’s just that Che and Jost jabs made during the Weekend Update segment are so much fresher, funnier and pack a much harder punch.
This week Weekend Update’s Colin Jost gets credit for the funniest line of the entire show, and it came in the form of a Roy Moore joke. “Congratulations to Alabama’s newest Senator, not Roy Moore,” Jost said opening the segment. Mentiontioning that Jones becomes the first democratic representative of Alabama in over 20 years, he added, “said Roy Moore…Gross! Over 20 years!?” Che also had a strong take on the Moore election, talking about the group of voters responsible for the impressive defeat- black women. He said that Democrats will always take black voters for granted, explaining that its because “Democrats know that black people aren’t really Democrats. We just vote for the guy that looks less likely to put us on a boat,” adding that he always votes for the guy who he would rather see approaching his car if he got pulled over. “And its almost always not the one on a horse.”
Other topics making Weekend Updates rounds this week were the latest call for “President Grabass” to step down, and the lack of any nominated women directors in Hollywood. Jost addressed the latter issue with a quick but great line– “It’s a snub women in Hollywood are calling, ‘the least of our problems.” Later, Che and Jost talked about Net Neutrality, generic Viagara, Amazon Echo, and the kid who made 11 million dollars on his YouTube channel.
Kevin Hart was the host of the show, and despite his charismatic and wide appeal to comedy fans, his monologue upset and offended viewers in a monologue that is being accused of being both sexist and tone deaf. After saying that he gives women so much credit, Hart monologized about it being the women’s job to put structure in a child’s life “bathing, feeding, taking a kid to school, from school, you guys do that, you’re responsible for that, and I applaud you for that” he said. “The one thing that you’re not, is fun. I know when you first hear it, I know you’re getting an attitude already,” he said. “You’re not. You never heard a kid say, I can’t wait to get home and play with my mom.” The jokes may have been particularly poorly timed in the current climate where laughing at women seems a lot less funny. And the material might have been taken more lightly if Hart’s fans weren’t still pissed that the self-professed family man was cheating on his pregnant wife. It’s also true that the jokes weren’t great jokes, and if you’re going to step into dicey territory, you want to make sure the material is worth the risk. It should be brilliant. This one wasn’t. And Hart’s magnetic, joyful, energy-filled delivery wasn’t enough to keep the SNL audience from getting upset with him. Even the studio audience seemed disappointed.
But Hart’s monologue (which I’ll be honest, was more forgettable than offensive to me) wasn’t the worst part of this week’s mid-season finale. That honor goes to this week’s sketches. The lowpoint came early with a sketch called “Office Phone Call” in which Hart plays Doug, an executive who isn’t fooling anyone when he fakes family emergencies to duck out of meetings to use the bathroom. And while “I’ve gotta take a shit” jokes can be funny, the risk of a bombed “shit my pants” joke is just too high, and this week, SNL produced a real stinker.
The rest of the night followed suit with an uncomfortable Shaq impression, a creepy Christmas pageant sketch that didn’t even have any jokes, just a premise that the actors in the pageant were all nervous about a horny llama, and a Christmas party sketch featuring Hart as a henpecked husband. The hair and make up decisions for Hart seemed bizarre and a bit ghastly in several of the sketches, and so many of the bits left us with just question marks. There were a few sketches that weren’t bad enough to make the lowlights list but they also weren’t good enough to make the highlights list. Captain Shadow and the Cardinal featuring strong newcomer Chris Redd in the sidekick role, and Active Jack, a well-worn premise of bringing back a 1970’s television star to show what happens when they get old.
The show ended with Hart and the primary cast on the Rockefellar Center rink, with most of the cast on skates (and those who weren’t going to put on blades standing on white cardboard), except for Alec Baldwin who remained in the studio with the Foo Fighters who had just performed the most memorable moment of the night- a great Christmas medley that included a rock and roll nod to the Charlie Brown Christmas theme song “Linus and Lucy.”
SNL begins its holiday hiatus today, and here’s to hoping that newly named head writers Che and Jost can bring more of the greatness of this year’s Weekend Update to the rest of the show in 2018.