Recap: ‘Saturday Night Live’ – Kevin Hart and Sia

It”s only been two years since Kevin Hart last hosted “Saturday Night Live,” and yet Hart will find himself interacting with plenty of new not ready for primetime players. (Nearly half the cast is new in that time.) Hopefully that leads to a better episode, as his initial hosting gig didn”t produce a particularly memorable episode. I”m mostly curious to see if the show can continue the momentum produced by its stellar Fall run, one of the best sustained runs in the past five years. Will we see another great episode, or are the Powers That Be already focused on next month”s 40th anniversary extravaganza?

Only one way to find out: via liveblogging tonight”s episode! Honestly, all I want is another “Z-Shirt” sketch. Then I”ll be happy. I”m easy to please that way. Come back at 11:30 pm EST and follow along!

Martin Luther King Jr Essay: The ghost of Martin Luther King Jr. arrives to help a student with his essay, and is shocked to hear about modern day life. He”s especially upset about the use of hashtags as a form of protest. Kenan Thompson”s increasing exasperation is fun, and having Pete Davidson in the cold open is always a good thing. But this never really gets out of first gear, except for a non-subtle slam at the lack of Oscar nominations for “Selma.” [Grade: B-]

Monologue: I”ve seen Kevin Hart do stand-up. You”ve seen Kevin Hart do stand-up. This is Kevin Hart doing stand-up. His story about the raccoon terrorizing him is pretty fantastic, as his distrust of the amount of light he needs in his driveway. His delivery is relentless, but also accumulates power as he steamrolls through his material. (“This is your journey. This is NOT about me.”) I don”t think he took more than three breaths during the entire monologue, which makes me think he might be the greatest swimmer in Olympics history if he just put his mind to it. [Updated: Apparently he was a swimmer, so I'm just really smart while also being ignorant. It's a gift, really.) [Grade: A-]

Justin Bieber For Calvin Klein: “This tattoo made me say, ‘Owwie.”” Bless you, Kate McKinnon. Too bad this was only 30 seconds long, as I could have watched Cecily Strong get increasing terrified of McKinnon”s Bieber for about half an hour. This may be a runner, but I”m fine if this was the only version tonight. [Grade: B]

Why”d You Post That?: Full disclosure: My Instagram feed is just dogs and sunsets. It”s not good. Moving on! After some initial technical difficulties, what follows is Hart”s talk show host insulting people for posting bad photos. It”s a pretty mean-spirited sketch, even if it”s absurd enough to feature a dungeon as part of the set. That would be fine if it were funny, but it”s fairly one-note and as such goes on waaaaay too long. [Grade: C-]

Bushwick, Brooklyn: Three men on a Brooklyn corner wax poetic about artsinal mayonnaise, spin class, and brunches. It”s a low-key, fantastic interaction between Thompson, Hart, and Jay Pharaoah. The biggest conflict arises from the use of the word “Evite”…and also the fact that Hart”s character actually kills someone during his dogwalking job. And yet $8 mayonnaise gets a bigger rise out of the other two than the tale of murder. Great writing and acting, coupled with a great twist (which came on the heels of the segment-as-twist) make this a season highlight. Like the best “SNL” sketches, it feels like it only could have come at this time with this cast. [Grade: A]

James Brown, 1971: I”m an absolute sucker for ensemble sketches, and James Brown”s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine,” so I was giggling from second one on this sketch. Hart-as-Brown takes perfect advantage of his energy, and nearly everyone on stage gets at least one moment to shine. (Why does Strong”s character change her FIRST name when she gets married? Why does she want chicken parm…with mustard? WHO CARES?) After a slow start, these last two segments have been absolutely fantastic. Also? Special props to Taran Killam's “flat no” at the prospect of taking it to the bridge. [Grade: A-]

Nancy: FART NOISES ARE FUNNY. FART NOISES ARE FUNNY. FART NOISES ARE FUNNY. Sorry, I was just trying to think of the logic behind putting this sketch on the air. Whatever. People in the audience liked it just fine. I”m OK with stupid humor. I'm OK with potty humor. This one just didn”t work for me. It happens. [Grade: D+]

Justin Bieber For Calvin Klein: A RUNNER! I KNEW IT. I can”t imagine how much fun this must have been to film. “Yo, all this underwear”s making me tired!” [Grade: B]

Weekend Update: Mrs. Santini (Jost”s fictional neighbor) arrives to talk about dealing with difficult neighbors. Her tactic? Passive-aggressive notes. (“Perhaps you have a ‘Jumanji” in your apartment every night!”) Kate McKinnon will someday leave “SNL,” and that will be a sad day, so let”s try and enjoy every episode involving her that we can. In Jost/Che news: Jost lands a killer joke about the NFL”s domestic abuse policy, and Che”s weekly mid-“Update” monologue is a solid addition to the segment. It”s a short “Update” segment overall (and started later than normal in the show), but the two had a lot of energy and seem refreshed after some time off. [Grade: B]

Dragon Attack: Take THAT, “Galavant”! Oh wait, “Galavant” is really entertaining and this feels like homework. I”m torn: This wasn”t really funny, but damn can Thompson, Strong, Killam, and Sasheer Zamata can SING, y”all. So points here for technical skill if not for actual comedy. Also, LESLIE JONES SIGHTING! I was getting worried. [Grade: C]

Heinz Hall: Hart (playing himself) learns about his 20-year old son (Pharoah) through an old acquaintance (Jones). It”s really just an excuse to unleash Jay Pharaoh”s Kevin Hart impression. I like Pharaoh”s impressions, and Lord knows he”s great at them. But it”s been even better to see what he brings to “SNL” aside from those impressions. In an episode that brought something as unique as “Bushwick, Brooklyn” this feels a bit lazy. The saving grace here is Jones, whose physicality and intensity throughout the segment make Hart seem timid by comparison. [Grade: B-]

Rap Crew: Hart”s rapper wants to thank his crew for their support, so he drops rhymes about their deepest secrets. I can”t believe Hart has this much energy this late in the episode. I”m tired just watching him! Just when I”m getting sick of this sketch, it drops a “Weekend At Bernie”s” reference on me, which is just delightful. This is a step up from the other post-“Update” sketches, but still nothing really memorable. [Grade: B-]

Best Sketch: Bushwick, Brooklyn

Worst Sketch: Nancy

How Was Sia?: Totes arty! She brought out a mime for a muted rendition of “Chandelier,” and “Elastic Heart” featured two modern dancers in song-long comflict with one another. I like the idea of Sia”s music as backdrop for theatrical productions, in that for once having a visual accompaniment helps rather than hurts the overall aural experience.

Overall Thoughts: The one-two punch of “Bushwick” and “James Brown, 1971” was the show at its best, and “Update” was solid if short. The rest felt semi-unformed, with Hart's energy making a lot work in practice that probably didn't work on paper. But only two sketches were true clunkers, so that means this was just an average episode in an above-average season.

Next Week: Blake Shelton. CORPORATE SYNERGY, BABY.