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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: The Show Limps Out of 2017 With Kevin Hart at the Helm

Some questionable choices led to more misses than hits in the last episode of the year.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1734 -- Pictured: Host Kevin Hart during a promo in 30 Rockefeller Plaza -- (Photo by: Rosalind O'Connor/NBC)

Rosalind O'Connor/NBC

It’s the last “Saturday Night Live” of 2017, and you’d think NBC’s perennial sketch show would go out with the bang. Getting Kevin Hart to host and the Foo Fighters as the musical guest is pretty much a case of busting out the big guns, after all.

Unfortunately, this episode of “Saturday Night Live” can barely be considered an extravaganza, and the holiday aspects of it aren’t even memorable or strong enough to use “it’s a holiday episode!” as an excuse.
So, what happened?

Host: Kevin Hart

Let’s start with the monologue. Kevin Hart goes with the standup routine monologue, which is obviously a good idea for a standup comedian — in theory. Boy, is this monologue a good idea in theory. (His execution is good too, but…) He brings up how this is his third time hosting, how he just had his third kid, and how he’s about to go on his third standup tour.

He then performs what we can assume are excerpts from of his standup set, a lot of which is based on being a parent at different stages of life. But the elephant (or maybe the llama, given one of the episode’s sketches) in the room as he starts his set is impossible not to see: He’s telling jokes about his struggles with having a third child, when he just very publicly cheated on his wife when she was pregnant with that child. The jokes obviously never touch on that particular aspect, but it’s looming. Then we get into the material about young women “making” older men have children, which… is definitely not the best way to paint women after this year. Also, he’s telling that joke on the same show Alec Baldwin just can’t seem to leave. The monologue is just non-stop material that makes you wonder if this is really the way “SNL” wants to go out for 2017. In fact, that’s pretty much the question of the episode.

Apparently, Kevin Hart wanted to do his okay Shaquille O’Neal impression. So we get a sketch where he does his okay Shaquille O’Neal impression (and everyone else does the same quality as Kenan’s Charles Barkley, because it doesn’t matter) and wears stilts. Some pretty ridiculous looking stilts, and yes, they’re pretty funny. But Kevin Hart clearly wanted to do voices all episode, as the majority of the sketches don’t appear to have a point outside of that. And that’s what he does, in this episode that feels more like Hart came in and gave his own ideas of what the episode should be than a collaborative episode of “SNL.” The only parts of the episode that don’t have his fingerprints at all over them are the ones he’s not involved in. But when he’s involved, it’s abundantly clear he’s involved.

Best Sketch of The Night: Active Jack

At first, the sketch feels off, as the supposed “theme song” to this show is just long and without any payoff. Then they get to the reunion (and Kevin Hart becomes Kenan Thompson) and it all clicks.

Honorable Mention: Captain Shadow

Chris Redd’s portrayal of black Robin… er… Cardinal is so high-energy and dweeby and perfect that one can only assume this is something he’s had in his back pocket for a while. The sketch itself also has the bite the rest of the episode lacks, though the finish — with Hart’s Captain Shadow having cocaine as “energy dust” — kind of deflates the points the rest of the sketch is making.

Considering this makes there more than one Batman sketch in one season, within episodes of each other, the comparison needs to be made: The Chance The Rapper episode’s Batman sketch was better.

“Worst” Sketch of The Night: Office Phone Call

This is the first live sketch (not counting the cold open) of the night, and it’s one long poop joke. They start this
show off with one long poop joke.

The thing about this sketch is that it feels like it belongs in a late ‘90s episode of “SNL,” with Will Ferrell and/or Jimmy Fallon in the mix. “It’s 2017” shouldn’t be the biggest reaction to come out of this episode, and yet, that’s what happens.

To be fair, this isn’t truly the worst sketch of the night. (“Christmas Party” might take the cake.) The final moments — with the emotional music and the imaginary phones — actually end the sketch on a high note. But considering this is the first sketch Kevin Hart does in front of the audience, it essentially sets the bizarre tone for the rest of the episode. Also, it feels wrong to even consider the Inside The NBA sketch “a sketch” when making this designation.

Best Male & Female Performers: Foo Fighters

No, this is not an “SNL” cast member or any sketch performer in this episode at all. But you can’t say Dave Grohl and the boys and girls didn’t bring it in their “Everlong”/”Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”/’Charlie Brown Christmas” medley. They brought it hard, and it was the highlight of the show. Well, that and the goodnights from the ice rink at Rockefeller Center.

Best Follow-Up To “Henrietta & The Fugitive”: Nativity Play

Somewhere in all of this, Leslie Jones becomes obsessed with a horny llama. That fits the qualifications of this particular honor.

Best Impression: Leslie Jones as Omarosa

Leslie Jones isn’t doing a pitch-perfect impression of Omarosa — she’s pulling a Kenan, really, just wearing a dress and being the same race. But the “Say Anything”-ing attempt at staying in the White House in the cold open and the clarification of her quitting, not being fired, in the Weekend Update is a solid one-two punch. There’s always room to appreciate continuity between sketches/segments.

Honorable mention: Alex Moffat as Guy Who Just Bought A Boat (Weekend Update)

This isn’t so much praise for an impression as it is praise for how scarily good Alex Moffat is as this douchebag character, right down to the abbrevs.

Grade: C-

This episode certainly won’t provide any highlights for future ‘SNL’ holiday compilations. Okay, maybe the cold open and Foo Fighters medley will. But you get the point. Oh, and Scarlett Johansson showed up.

It’s a technically proficient episode, but perhaps more than any other episode of the season, it seems toothless and irrelevant outside of the cold open and Weekend Update. There’s no edge to the sketches, which you might expect from a holiday episode, but at the same time, the holidays haven’t stopped “Saturday Night Live” before. And when discussing the voices of “SNL” hosts, this episode comes across like it’s too dedicated to Kevin Hart’s voice. While there are “SNL” standards like sketches going on too long or not quite landing, the hit to miss ratio hasn’t been this miss so far this season, and as far as standouts from the cast go, that genuinely doesn’t happen this week. At least, not as regularly or obviously as it does other weeks, regardless of episode quality.

It’s an unmemorable episode from top-to-bottom. And since Kevin Hart has done two previous episodes, it’s worth noting that hasn’t always been the case for him on “SNL.”

“Saturday Night Live” will return in 2018.

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