Let’s get this out of the way right now: what a dismal episode of “Saturday Night Live.” Host Jonah Hill was on hand to promote, well, nothing, even poking fun at his decided lack of leading roles of late (including a great dig about starring in the “Hail, Caesar!” trailer that probably made sense to about eight people) during his monologue. This was Hill’s fourth time hosting, and over the years, he’s turned in consistently good hosting gigs, even appearing in a few minor classics, like that digital short where he dates Andy Samberg’s dad and his recurring character Adam Grossman, the Benihana-loving six-year-old who is equal parts bizarre and relatable.
Here’s how bad last night was: We didn’t even get Adam.
That’s right, Hill didn’t even do the Benihana kid. He didn’t even do the Benihana kid. If there’s one thing that you can rely on with a Hill-host, it’s Adam Grossman flinging his bad humor around a Benihana for four minutes like so much deliciously cooked shrimp, and even that didn’t show up last night. Come to think of it, not much showed up last night, including not just Hill’s comedic timing and skill, but that of nearly everyone else on the show, as the entire cast seemed a step behind sketches that didn’t even have much to offer if played to their full effect.
What happened here? Let’s find out.
The Two Best Sketches: “Voters for Trump Ad” and “Murder Mystery”
This political season has been a rough one for “SNL,” as the show has proven unable to amusingly and cuttingly top the real-life drama playing out on the campaign trail by way of sketch comedy. It was hard to blame them in the early days, however, because who could have possibly seen this wild race coming? And then continuing? And then, somehow, continuing still more? Now, it’s just bad form. The world has had months and months to deal with the latest round of political wilding, and it’s about time “SNL” caught up to it. When they’ve dumped the run-of-the-mill, forward-facing bits like “here is a politician sitting by a fire and saying weird things” and “here is everyone yelling during a debate,” there’s been hope, but the majority of the show’s political coverage has, sadly, been lots of fireside-sitting and debates. This race demands more.
And, damn, there it was last night with a campaign commercial that targeted the widely echoed question, “Who the heck is voting for Donald Trump?” and did it guns blazing: racists, Nazis, white supremacists, etc. Biting, bruising and quick, it was the first time in a long time “SNL” has shown any teeth when covering the campaign. The only real problem? This would have stuck so, so much better if “SNL” hadn’t used Trump as a host just four months ago. That casting decision was ill-advised at the time, and now it’s just ruinous to a show trying desperately to bounce back into the political game.
“Murder Mystery” wisely veered away from the rest of show’s weaknesses to deliver some old-school humor and a bevy of poop jokes delivered in actually amusing fashion. Scatological humor is not everyone’s bag, but by couching this sketch in old-fashioned manners, it mostly side-stepped doling out real offense. And thank goodness for Cecily Strong’s brassy “but I’m an American!” bellows, which just might have been the best part of the entire show.
The Worst Sketch: “Jonah Hill Monologue With Future”
Other sketches might have been less funny (“School Auction,” hello?), but Hill’s ill-conceived monologue stung because it possessed the kind of promise that no other bad sketch had, and then whiffed so hard it nearly left a visible mark on the studio floor. It started off well enough, with Hill joking about his recent lack of starring roles and Kyle Mooney ribbing him from the audience, before turning into…Jonah Hill rapping as Drake with musical guest Future? Did we all hallucinate this? Kudos to Hill and Future for being game for it (the musical guest, in fact, was charmingly down for appearances throughout the show), but points to Drake for having the good sense to not show up for this bizarre trainwreck of poor thinking and terribly absent comedy.
Best Male Performer: Michael Che
Che was the only person who showed up 100 percent last night, delivering his “Weekend Update” jokes and jabs with ease, while also looking appropriately bewildered — like the vast majority of his own audience. When he turned his trademark exasperation on Cecily Strong’s The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party, huffing out, “Stop! Please stop!,” suddenly, we were all Che.
Honorable mention: Taran Killam
Best Female Performer: Kate McKinnon
What kind of show wastes the talent of “Weekend Update” superstar Vanessa Bayer by asking her to recreate a days-old news meme that, frankly, wasn’t that funny to begin with? You guessed it! Last night’s show! At least Kate McKinnon was on hand to zip up any and all sketches she appeared in, especially the years-long “Flossie Dickey” gag that only she emerged unscathed from. (Of note, Colin Jost and Michael Che using a remote reporter bit is fresh and funny, and we hope they try it again soon, with much better material.)
Honorable mention: Cecily Strong
Sketch Most Likely to Go Viral: “Voters for Trump Ad”
This sketch will be everywhere this week, as it deserves to be, but lest we forgive and forget the existence of a series of clips from this show, starring the guy they are calling a racist leader, that happened mere months ago. Like this one or this one or this one… “SNL” has long taken political stances (ones that might alienate portions of their audience, but here we are), and while it now seems crystal clear that they are, at the very least, not pro-Trump, it’s hard to shake that these same people literally hosted this man and tried to cook up some comedy with him back in November.
Best Impression: Jason Sudeikis as Mitt Romney
Not to harp on the show’s inability to amusingly skewer the political race more, but…let’s harp on the show’s inability to amusingly skewer the political race more. One of the other missteps of this season has been consistent casting shakeups that jettisoned Taran Killam’s much-touted Trump impersonation in favor of Darrell Hammond playing the big-haired politico, saw the frequent appearance of Larry David as Bernie Sanders (so good that they asked the guy to host an entire show!) and wound up to last night’s decision to bring back Jason Sudeikis to play Mitt Romney. Cameos and callbacks are great, but it’s become increasingly obvious that “SNL” doesn’t know how to handle the political race from the top down, even including casting its own people in key roles.
Character Most Likely to Become a Franchise: Not a One
Because let’s never speak of this episode again.
Colin Jost Tie-Watch: Still Wearing It
At least there are a few things you can count on in this world, like that Colin Jost will continue to wear his same “Weekend Update” outfit throughout the season. Bless you for the consistency, Colin.
“Saturday Night Live” returns on March 12 with host and musical guest Ariana Grande.
READ MORE: ‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: Host Larry David Kicks Off First Stop on New (And Necessary) Political Tour