Fresh off his second Oscar nomination, this time for his work in “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” Jonah Hill arrives at “Saturday Night Live” to host for the third time. For someone with such a charismatic comedic personality, his previous two appearances have been strangely muted affairs, with only the recurring Benihana-set sketch making any lasting splash. (Given Benihana”s place in “Wolf,” that either means we won”t see the sketch at all or Leonardo DiCaprio will be the chef in it tonight. Anything”s possible!) But that says more about the writing for those particular episodes than anything Hill himself has brought to the table. There”s been roughly a 50% cast turnover since Hill last hosted in March 2012, so there are plenty of new comedic combinations possible.
Along for the ride tonight is musical act Bastille. With Seth Myers definitely leaving the “Weekend Update” desk with the announcement of Colin Jost as his replacement next month, let”s see if the show pulls out some big names/old characters to say goodbye to this particular era of the show. As always, I”ll be liveblogging the program, providing grades for each segment. You won”t like the grades. But I still like you. Let”s meet here at 11:30 pm EST and kick things off.
Road To Sochi: In case of any problems with Putin”s gay rights policies, the U.S. has decided to put together a heterosexual cast of male figure skaters. Ooooh boy. I”m of two minds: On one hand, Jay Pharoah trying desperately not to fall while wide-eyed with fear is pretty funny physical comedy. But the assumption that all male figure skaters are gay is probably statistically true but still a premise that feels horribly dated. The sketch tries to have its cake and eat it to by mocking Bobby Moynihan”s skater’s homophobia, but it”s a small gesture in an otherwise tone-deaf sketch. There are plenty of ways to turn Putin’s policies into lacerating humor. This was not one of those. Yikes. [Grade: C-]
Monologue: Jonah Hill wants to talk about his career, but all anyone in the audience wants to talk about is DiCaprio. (Even Taran Killam”s Brad Pitt wants to know what he”s like.) So, on cue, out comes LEO HIMSELF ZOMG. I had the odds of him there being low before the show, but once the jokes started, that turned into an inevitability. DiCaprio”s presence “humbles” Hill, who apologizes for acting like a “big shot” when he thought Leo wasn”t there. But really, it”s all about recreating the seminal moment in “Titanic,” which will be the only thing you”ll see on Tumblr tomorrow. Still, that”s really just icing on the cake: Once DiCaprio showed up, this transformed from a monologue into A Pop Culture Moment. Nice to see “SNL” still creating those. [Grade: A-]
Benihana: Well, this is officially Hill”s version of Timberlake”s series of “-Ville” sketches. So why not lead off with it? With Hader gone, “SNL” doesn”t try to replace him but rather insert Vanessa Bayer as his stepmother. Without Adam Grossman trying to get his dad a girlfriend, his antics no longer have any purpose other than annoying everyone at the table. The flop sweat on Hill”s face as he tries to recapture the magic is palpable. Some jokes land (especially the name of his turtle “Shell Silverstein”), but most of it is white noise at this point. This sketch series has always been a monologue versus a dialogue, but there”s so little interaction tonight that the entire segment is sterile. There will be worse sketches tonight, for sure. But Hill has proven on film all the different things he can do in the past few years. With only a handful of opportunities to stretch out tonight, why go back to a well best left untouched? [Grade: C+]
The Hit: Three men pull up to a house on a snowy night to kill someone, but Kenan Thompson, Taran Killam, and eventually Jay Pharaoh lose themselves in the grandeur of the snow instead of focusing on the task at hand. It”s a one-joke sketch, which means that it all comes down to the build of that single joke. There’s variety, to be sure. From Thompson noting the night felt like being inside a snowglobe to Pharoah trying to pet a bunny, there were plenty of variants on the same thing to maintain some interest. Still, this went on too long to really stay interesting throughout the entire segment. Trim off a minute, and you might have something stronger here. [Grade: B-]
Couples Quiz!: Toilet humor! It”s funny because…it”s funny, I guess? The audience eats this up, so who am I to judge. “This is a historical building!” cries Thompson”s upset host, who can’t believe Hill’s contestant caused an overflow in the bathroom. To be fair, I actually appreciate that the sketch establishes the “game show” premise and then instantly undercuts it. On top of that, the sketch is rather vulgar but unlike “The Hit” does not overstay its welcome. So while this isn”t my cup of tea, I can still appreciate that this is a good iteration of this type of sketch. (I bet it will be a favorite for many, and that”s awesome, because again, the grades here don”t matter. I promise.) [Grade: B]
If forced to pick any member of Bastille out of a lineup before this moment, I would have been flying blind. And now that I see them perform “Pompeii” onstage, I might still have an issue two hours from now. I should take a cue from the lyrics and be an optimist about this, but like Andre 3000 in “Hey Ya!”, I”m just being honest. In a few years, we”ll look back at this Imagine Dragons-esque era of pop music and wonder why we all started going bananas for bands that featured extra drums sets all over the stage. Where “Pompeii” stands out is lyrically: The topic just isn”t covered in songs about the new age (welcome to the new age), and has a sophistication that elevates it from the pack. I”m just curious how long this pack will run on the charts. [Grade: B]
Weekend Update: Rather than having Kate McKinnon break out her Justin Bieber, Kenan Thompson plays the cop who arrested the Biebs in Miami this past week. Was this cop scared by the incident? Nah…he has seen it all, saying “It”s the only city in America where basketball players are the BEST behaved!” The thing to really note here: Strong is conducting the interview, not Meyers. She”s done a few so far, but Meyers has still carried the bulk of the interview load. That”s smart: she”ll need to carry many, many more in the months/years to come. (Also, Strong”s impression of a drunk Scottish fish needs its own animated series.) While we didn”t get Bieber, we DO get McKinnon”s Olya Povlatsky to talk about the upcoming Olympics. She”s no Stefon, but WOW SHE”S CLOSE. Everything about Povlatsky to do is pretty much comedy gold, both in terms of the Catskills-esque humor to McKinnon”s specific physical choices. Best “Update” all year? Yeah, let”s call it that. [Grade: A-]
Sweetland Ranch: Well, we”ve already had a sketch based on poop jokes. Why not have one based on a horse beating the living hell out of its trainers? Jonah Hill spends the entire sketch blatantly reading the cue cards, with the ensuing effect that not even he can look at this stupid sketch. It”s not like realism is needed to make every sketch funny, but the puppet work here is so obvious and the premise so thin that all anyone in the audience can do is awkwardly chuckle at the low-budget display. (Will Ferrell as Robert Goulet would have turned this artifice into absurdism, but no such luck here.) I like Strong”s character here, but it”s a character in search of a sketch where she”s not getting branded with an “F U” on her face. [Grade: C-]
me: It”s “her”, but for narcissists! And with Michael Cera! And thank God for Cera, because apparently it”s hard to make “wistful” laugh-out-loud funny for three minutes straight. Having seen “her” (and apparently the title IS lower-cased, which is confusing the hell out of my spellcheck), I get all the references here. But once the OS is revealed to be a reflection of Hill himself, the segment is essentially over, comedically speaking. From there, it”s just a matter of simple substitution. And since I have nothing else to say, what percentage of the show”s cast hasn”t been onstage live yet? More than half? Seems unlikely. [Grade: C+]
Work Dinner Party: Hi, Aidy Bryant! I was just talking about you and your absence. Good to see ya. Too bad it”s in a sketch where the premise is Jonah Hill yelling about “Infant Penis Syndrome” off-camera after constantly making mistakes during dinner conversation. Much like with the Benihana sketch, this is a one-man show in which everyone else exists to support his performance. Funnier than the screaming? Hill”s barely contained rage while at the table, with his eyelids doing ten times the work of his vocal chords. A sketch that ended with a single tirade rather than filled with five might have been more difficult to craft, but could have yielded superior results. [Grade: C]
Inside SoCal: Well, this isn”t good. But it”s still “D%ck In A Box” compared with “The Californians” in terms of sketches that deal with people who live in this state. 2014 hasn”t been a good start for the Kyle Mooney/Beck Bennett preproduced segments, unfortunately. The two deploy the mumblecore delivery that made “Beer Pong” a classic, but none of the energy. Was this “accurate” as to how certain “brahs” act? Sure. Was it interesting at all, save for Moynihan”s dad? Nope. The best Mooney/Bennett pieces have something to say, often about loneliness or masculinity. But this was as vacant as the people inside this small social circle on display. [Grade: C-]
Bastille returns to perform “Oblivion”. It”s mighty pretty, but at this time of the night, and with the recent dip in sketch quality, I need something more upbeat so I can rally and finish this up without writing sentences that omit verbs. I”m confident that modern dance troupes all around the world will be inspired to choreograph pieces to this atmospheric ballad, though. So that”s something! [Grade: B-]
Lamborghini: The ex-pornstars are back! Somehow, Strong”s character is even more damaged than ever before, which is saying something. Bayer”s character is more cogent, but also gets better material than in any previous iteration. Also, this might be the first time the phrase “Great Gash Mileage” has ever been shown on television, which makes this as historic as Leo”s appearance in the monologue. Last time this sketched aired, I thought it had run out of gas. But this was a major improvement, not altering the premise or the rhythms but making each joke land with shocking efficiency. (Turns out there are one or three or three thousand things about cars you can instantly make sexual.) [Grade: A-]
Best Segment: Weekend Update
Worst Segment: Sweetland Ranch, by a (fake horse”s) nose
Biggest Takeaway: There”s no reason for this many cast members, period. Even in a season in which people are fighting for screen time, tonight”s episode was ridiculous.
Other Takeaway: This week”s comedy was super, super broad in most cases, starting with the ice-skating sketch (which took broad swipes at sexual orientation) and moving onto potty humor (with the game-show sketch) before transitioning into broad physical humor (the ranch sketch) and then seguing into loud=funny territory (with the dinner party sketch). Maybe it”s always this broad and I can”t see the forest from the trees. But it was really obvious this week, and not in a good way.
Next Week: Melissa McCarthy, one of the show”s most reliable hosts in recent years, makes her return.
What did you think of Jonah Hill”s hosting performance? Did the somewhat juveline humor running throughout the show tickle your funny bone or have you sitting slackjawed in confusion? Sound off below!