If you’re brave or dumb enough to follow my Twitter, you know I have the bad habit of bitching about Saturday Night Live every time a new episode airs. And there’s been a lot to bitch about this season. One could (easily) argue that the show’s been in decline for years, and the departures of Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg certainly didn’t help matters as SNL opened its 38th Season. But this year has been not-so-laughably bad, and it hit an especially low point in the March 2nd airing that saw the manic comedian Kevin Hart fast-talk his way through some of the most uninspired and lazy skit-writing I’ve seen in a season laden with the uninspired and lazy.
I’ll put aside Hart’s rambling monologue. That was entirely his own creature, and he spoke more words in it than in probably the last three hosts’ monologues combined, delivered with such urgency that you’d think he and Chewie were making the Kessel Run. It was occasionally chuckle-worthy, but the bulk of it served to call into question why this man was even standing there. SNL — as Hart so rapidly exclaims — turned him down when he auditioned as a cast member. And while that certainly doesn’t preclude the possibility of him being a good host, it isn’t a ringing endorsement, either.
Again, that aside, the first sketch after the monologue and commercial break is a parody of Steve Harvey, played by Keenan Thompson, as he helps a guest played by Hart overcome his pho-by-ah of horses. Hart has a bizarre line about a horse being able to take off its hoof to reveal four dagger-like fingers, and this is easily the funniest line of the whole thing. They wheel out a fake horse, and both men freak out when it whinnies. This is the sketch. That’s how it ends.
Next, Hart dressed in drag and ill-fitting wig to play the 9-year-old Oscar nominee, Quvenzhané Wallis as she was inducted as new Pope of the Catholic Church. On paper, this is actually a hilarious idea, and might have actually worked if Wallis herself was on the stage. But as ridiculous as Hart looked, it was more creepy than funny to see a 32-year-old man playing a female child.
A Shark Tank parody, while built up with its own fancy introduction, took a short trip to absolutely nowhere. Kevin Hart’s desperately inept salesman made a cluelessly impassioned presentation, only for the sketch to end suddenly with absolutely no resolution. I watch Shark Tank quite a bit, and it’s actually a concept that can be very easily parodied, so it’s especially hard for me to understand why SNL couldn’t even hit this one out of the park.
But on and on this show went, with bad ideas or bad execution. The Steve Harvey and Shark Tank sketches were the most disturbing lapses for me, however. Their abrupt nature seemed to throw out the most basic rules of comedy writing. Even the most surreal SNL sketches of the past had a beginning, middle, and end. These had a beginning, part of a middle, and then jumped off a cliff. It was as if the writers took a lunch halfway through and then never came back to it.
It wasn’t entirely bad. The “Z Shirt Commercial” was a great idea that took advantage of Hart’s manic persona and was a spot-on parody of 1990s ridiculous fashion trends and ads. Toss on the unexpected funeral reprise, and you had SNL at its most energetic, Zany potential. A more traditional parody sketch of The Walking Dead was very solid, but played the race card far too quickly. And “360 News” was funny for as long as Hart was selling us on how much pain he was in.
Overall, though, it was a mess all-too indicative of how rocky this season has been. Far too many lousy set-ups, far too many good ideas torpedoed by lackluster writing, too much reliance on recurring characters that simply aren’t funny. (I swear, if I have to watch “The Californians” again, I will not tune in again this season.) And arguably their biggest star, Jason Sudeikis, has largely been featured in bit parts that don’t play to his strengths. SNL infamously ran Kristen Wiig into the ground, so it’s curious that they’re now taking the “team approach” with Sudeikis. I really do hope this is his last year, because he can do so much better. (Of course, now that he’s engaged to Olivia Wilde, maybe he’s justifiably content with life.)
Justin Timberlake swings in next week to (hopefully) save the day. But I’m not even sure his enthusiasm is enough to elevate a show that is — at very best — in a rebuilding year.