Much like Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock did not have the most illustrious career at “Saturday Night Live.” But much like Silverman, Rock is returning to host with a post-“SNL” resumé that is extremely impressive. It will be fascinating to see how much of Rock”s tumultuous time at the show is explicitly addressed, and how much the show”s current cast composition feeds into the narrative of tonight”s episode.
The program has taken great strides over the past year to combat outcries following its hiring of six Caucasian cast members two summers ago. And now, the show boasts five African-American cast members, by far the most at one time in its history. Does that automatically make the show better? Of course not. But it sure as hell makes the show more reflective of the culture it”s designed to satire on a weekly basis. The show”s work isn”t done, insofar as it will never be done. But there”s almost certainly a link between the show”s comedic resurgence this season and its embracing of new voices to augment its already hallowed perspective. The show has changed since Rock left. And as of right now, in terms of its relevance to the world around it, the show hass changed for the better.
As always, I”ll be liveblogging all sketches, assigning grades to each segment. Some of you will agree with those assessments. Many of you won”t. And I”ll love you all the same. I won't love Prince if he doesn't include “Raspberry Beret” in his planned mega-medley tonight, but that's a different story altogether. See you at 11:30 pm EST when all the fun begins.
The Kelly File: Bobby Moynihan”s Chris Christie makes his return to the show, having to explain his less-than-stellar week in the press. Christie's week doesn”t really get much better here, as the crowd is all but dead for this cold open. Other than some old-school material about the Christie/Obama relationship during the Hurricane Sandy crisis, there are little more than barely-audible titters here. Kate McKinnon”s Kaci Hickox fairs slightly better, with imagery of throwing thousands of M&Ms at Trick-or-Treaters actually generating real laughs. Overall? Another week, another tepid topical cold open. It happens. [Grade: C]
Monologue: What”s fascinating here is how long it takes for the crowd to warm up to Rock”s charged routine about terrorism and marathons. It's also fascinating that Rock thought this was material suited for this audience. Only when he starts laying into The Freedom Tower does the crowd finally come alive. There”s almost a palpable relief that he says something about the IRS versus the horror of human suffering. By the time he moves onto the commercialization of Christmas, things seem back on track. As the crowd warms up, so too does Rock, overcoming initial awkwardness to ultimately deliver a solid monologue. What a strange, strange way to start it off, though. [Grade: B]
How 2 Dance With Janelle: Sasheer Zamata and Kyle Mooney starring in the post-monologue sketch? Fantastic! Rock plays Zamata”s father, who interrupts their livestreaming dance videos to learn about the horrors of hashtags. Having Rock”s energy play against Mooney”s nebbishness is fantastic, and Zamata gets the type of starring role that”s eluded her for most of her early “SNL” run. I could have used more of Jay Pharaoh”s embarrassed older brother, but this was still a fun updating of the old “Jarret”s Room” sketches starring Jimmy Fallon. [Grade: B+]
GoProbe: “It grinds the rails of your intestines with ease!” Well, allllrighty then. Still, I laughed way too hard at “Old Timey Colonscopy” not to give this a semi-decent grade. [Grade: B-]
How”s He Doing?: “You”re watching this because it”s too early for football and too late for church!” Chris Rock left “SNL” to join “In Living Color,” in part out of frustration that a sketch like this was simply not possible during Rock”s initial run. The bit about the First Children talking back to President Obama over their “Scandal” watching habits is painstakingly crafted, culminating in an explosively funny punchline. But the rest is oddly tepid, and not nearly as great as the last iteration involving Kerry Washington. This was fine, but a slightly missed opportunity. [Grade: B-]
Weekend Update: Pete Davidson makes his return to the “Update” desk to talk about sexually-transmitted diseases. What starts out as a fear of STDs turns into a story about texting his Mom inappropriate photos of his penis and then bonding with a doctor over the fact that he”s allergic to condoms. (“Are you a doctor or my best friend? What”s next: Is my Dad coming back?”) Later, Katt Williams and Suge Knight (Jay Pharoah/Kenan Thompson) discuss their recent arrest. Pharoah”s Williams is dead-on as always, but this segment was a lot of volume without a lot of content. A lackluster “Update” overall tonight, with Che stumbling over a lot of lines and Jost barely making an impact. “Update” is definitely better this season than in the second half of last year, but sometimes segments like this just happen. [Grade: C+]
Shark Tank: Ooooh boy. Know all those times I”ve moaned about “SNL” not having any teeth when it comes to its political satire? Well, I sure as hell can”t say that about this sketch, which once again crushes the audience into silent submission by bringing ISIS in to seek out funding. That doesn”t mean there aren”t potent ideas here, but the show has conditioned the audience to safer forms of humor for so long that those in-house simply aren”t prepared for something like this. Now, a truly bold sketch might have had one of the “Tank” investors actually agree to fund the terror group. Instead, the sketch takes the safer way out, which leaves the whole sketch in this weird limbo between truly transgressive and oddly nationalistic. I honestly don”t know what to make of this. I like the idea here tremendously, but the execution was kind of a mess. [Grade: C+]
Taylor Swift Vertigo: “Over the last month, realizing you love Taylor Swift has become the number one cause of vertigo in adults.” SHAKE IT OFF. SHAKE IT OFF. Am I allowed to say that song is actually terrible, and that her last album was much better? Or will the T-Swift equivalent of the Beygency come after me? Still, this is a great premise for a sketch, and Leslie Jones looking dazed in a tutu alone was worth the price of admission here. [Grade: B+]
Anniversary: I think “SNL” just found out about Uber this week, you guys. The show has mentioned it like six times so far. The idea of Chris Rock and Leslie Jones going one-on-one for five minutes sounds great on paper, but falls flat in execution. Even when ignoring the painfully awkward five-second silence in which Jones forgot it was her line, things were off more than they were on here. I almost wish they could take a mulligan on this one, since I imagine we all just watched the worst version of this sketch that occurred all week. Oh well: The beauty/curse of live TV! [Grade: C-]
Bank Robbery: Three bank robbers (Beck Bennett, Mooney, Moynihan) alternate between scaring and helping those inside a bank. That involves, among other things, helping an old man sit comfortably and also offering up a live history lesson for a scared child. This goes on too long by half, but I still laughed every time Aidy Bryant screamed in terror at something that turned out to be delightful. [Grade: B-]
Women In The Workplace In The 1990s: This is absolutely, positively a 12:55 am sketch in terms of sheer weirdness. Kate McKinnon”s voice alone makes this bizarre as hell. Throw in the Chris Rock/Vanessa Bayer unpaid actor scenes involving “diverse” conversations in the workplace and you have some solid anti-comedy to round out the evening. This wasn”t spectacular, but compared with most of the material in this subpar episode, it was welcome all the same. [Grade: B]
Best Sketch: How 2 Dance With Janelle
Worst Sketch: Anniversary
How Was Prince?: I won”t pretend to know any of the songs he played, but I was thoroughly entertained, from his initial audition for the role of “Doctor Strange” to a reminder that he has Jimi Hendrix-esque skills on the guitar. It”s possible that he made me pregnant during that performance. Only time will tell.
Overall Thoughts: This was an oddly paced episode that had some serious tonal issues and a lot of flubbed lines. Very little about this week”s episode seemed fun, with those onstage rarely seeming comfortable onstage. Sometimes this was due to the material itself, and some of this seemed to stem from a lack of preparation. When the show doesn”t flow well, the audience can sense it, and eventually the cycle perpetuates itself into a general state of unease on both sides of the camera. In an overall solid season, this was the weakest episode so far. It”s unfortunate, but also part of the game when it comes to this show. Some weeks just don't work out.
What did everyone else think? Sound off below!