Saturday Night Live Review: Russell Crowe Hosts

Tonight”s host is Russell Crowe, an Oscar-winning actor known for his performances in movies such as Gladiator, L.A. Confidential, and pretty much nothing comedic ever– until next month”s The Nice Guys comes out. This is his first time hosting; let”s see how it went!

Cold Open: Hillary Clinton delivers a message encouraging New Yorkers to get out and vote for her in their upcoming primary election. It felt refreshing to see Kate McKinnon”s face up there at the start of the night rather than anything involving the Republican race, which even in comedy sketch form is mostly just depressing these days; you can only laugh at a person”s spray tan so many times before remembering he could usher our nation into its Young Adult Dystopian Novel era. Plus, the show hasn”t quite figured out what angle to take with the Republican side of this election– the musical chairs of cast members playing the large pool of candidates proves that. Meanwhile, we”ve had a couple of seasons now to settle in with McKinnon”s Clinton impersonation, so at this point it feels comfortingly familiar; and the writers and McKinnon have a really good handle on the character they”ve crafted for Clinton, so you can always count on a few solid laugh lines, like tonight”s message to New York voters: “I”m just like all of you: I never sleep, I”m in a hurry to get to work, and when I”m running I really hate it when a slow old Jew gets in my way.” B+

Monologue: Host Russell Crowe discusses his long tradition of working in comedy, citing scenes from his famous films Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind as examples. This was a pretty nice monologue– it didn”t overstay its welcome, it based itself on a funny concept that also served as a good introduction to its host, and it didn”t force an Oscar winner to poorly sing and dance (as the monologue reminded us, Crowe already did that with Les Miserables). Crowe definitely isn”t known as much of a funny guy (on screen or off), and it was a good charm offensive to have him start the night with a little self-deprecation on that front. Plus, the Beautiful Mind segment featured a “spelling boobs on a calculator” joke, and who doesn”t love a good “spelling boobs on a calculator” joke? (Middle school math teachers across America, probably). B

Preparation H Advanced Gel: A man suffering from hemorrhoids is offered Preparation H from a nice guy sitting near him at a bar. But after the man accepts the cream, the nice guy who gave it to him insists on continually popping up in front of all the man”s friends and asking how the cream worked. Between this, Hands-Free Selfie Stick, and Mitchell”s Fake Cocaine, the spoof commercial lineup at SNL has been particularly butt-centric this season, and even though my kindergarten teacher mother taught me to steer clear of “potty humor,” I have to admit the potty humor-based sketches have been pretty funny. Beck Bennett is a performer that doesn”t always get as much credit for his work on the show as he deserves; he”s like a classic comedy straight man mixed with someone suffering a psychotic break, all monotone voice and crazy eyes. So this weird bit felt tailor-made for him, with his descent from the muted questioning of “Hey man, did that stuff I gave you help your butt?” to straight screaming “You”re my best friend!” in Taran Killam”s face after he refuses to watch the bathroom door while Bennett applies his Preparation H. It”s all a little loopy and weird, but in that Beck Bennett way that just kind of works. B

Politics Nation with Al Sharpton: Reverend Al Sharpton (played by Kenan Thompson) interviews analyst Charles Richards (played by Reverend Al Sharpton) about the current Presidential candidates” standing with black voters. I enjoy Kenan Thompson as a performer as much as any 90″s kid (I”m so sorry) who was introduced to sketch comedy primarily through him and Amanda Bynes on Nickelodeon, but I wouldn”t typically list him among my top SNL performers. That being said, he was on fire tonight with this first sketch, which was overall a strong opener to the night. Sure, it”s gimmicky to have a cast member doing an impersonation meet the real person they”re impersonating, but there”s a reason SNL returns to that well so often: it tends to be pretty entertaining. “Charles Richards””s black voter rating scale for the candidates was pretty much just a set-up for a series of one-liners, but the thing is they were all pretty great one-liners (my personal favorite: “Bill Clinton could walk into the BET Awards after party, sit at Rihanna's table, and order up a plate of mac and cheese and everybody would be like, ‘That seems right””). This was breezy, political without getting too self-serious, and a strong reminder that SNL only improves the more it diversifies its staff beyond white Harvard guys. A-

Henry VIII: The Experience: A museum exhibit features a hologram of King Henry VIII with whom visitors can converse. But while King Henry is willing to answer questions the men ask him, whenever the women try to interact with him he insists on veering the conversation toward asking them to bear him a son. Just the concept of this sketch is strange enough– why have a hologram of a fake dead person and not just an actor portraying him? Or is this supposed to be the future and this is, like, the actual Henry VIII come back to life through a hologram?– and sure, sometimes ideas in comedy don”t have to make logical sense because the jokes surrounding them are funny enough to distract from logic, but this was not one of those times. Poor Russell Crowe gets his first starring sketch of the night and spends it repeating “Bear my son” over and over, like a middle school kid who just made what he thought was a funny joke, so he keeps repeating it thinking his friends just didn”t hear, until he realizes they did hear, they”re just not laughing because it wasn”t funny. D-

Match Finders: On a matchmaking game show, a woman chooses which of three contestants she would like to go on a date with. One of the contestants, an older professor from Germany, continually shifts the conversation into his specific skills with the female body. Not the best, not the worst, but overall pretty funny. Russell Crowe really committed to a very silly character, and where game show sketches are often hurt by the sense that not all of the characters on stage are fully developed (and also the fact that the SNL staff relies on them way too often), this one had the perk of having all of the cast members in sync and playing distinctively funny roles. So in addition to Russell Crowe”s German-accented vagina obsessive, we had Cecily Strong as a confused girl with a deadpan attitude, Beck Bennett as a glass-eyed Instagram model who doesn”t seem to realize the show is falling apart around him, Kenan Thompson as a host at the end of his rope, and perhaps best of all, Pete Davidson as a contestant who is positively delighted to meet his weird German competitor (“Are you, like, a doctor or something?” he asks Crowe in almost hushed tones. Crowe replies that he is just “a student of genitals.” “Okay, this guy kinda rules,” Davidson replies in awe). B

Weekend Update: Update started strong this week with rants from both Jost and Che concerning candidates” attempts to appeal to New Yorkers before their primary election. Che focused on the silliness of candidates trying to prove they”re “regular people” by taking the subway (“The last person I would ever vote for is someone I met on the subway”), while Jost warned Ted Cruz not to try to convince New Yorkers to like him (“We don”t have values in New York. That”s why we moved to New York– to get away from people with weird values like you”). I”m enjoying these rant segments they”ve been doing; it”s nice to let the anchors have some breathing room among the snappier one-liners throughout Update.

As for guests, the first was Kate McKinnon as “someone”s mom Deenie,” who was brought on to recap The People vs. O.J. Simpson (which she watched while doing a Thomas Kinkade puzzle of a lighthouse, but she thinks she got the gist). Deenie is a classic McKinnon character– loopy and a little brash as she chomps away at her leftovers (tonight”s: “brussels sprouts with imitation crab”), and even when the character doesn”t totally work, McKinnon is, as always, delightful to watch.

The second and final guest of the night was Kyle Mooney as New York standup Bruce Chandling, a character that has never completely caught on, but whose continual returns to the Update desk make sense to me; there is something almost right about the character, and I totally understand the urge to find it. Mooney”s facial expressions as Chandling– starting with an eager grin as he sets up his increasingly terrible jokes and slowly descending into dead-eyed sadness as he evaluates his real life– are ridiculous fun, and his slow and stilted delivery of “Not only do people not want to be around me cause they think I”m boring, but it probably doesn”t help that I”m also very poor” had both me and Michael Che laughing.

100 Days in the Jungle: On a Survivor-esque reality show, the three remaining contestants get visits from beloved family members. But while the other two get visits from their wife and mother, respectively, one is left with an appearance from his uncle”s friend Terry, whom he barely knows. Russell Crowe did not get all that much to do this episode– in terms of screen time, his hosting gig took the Donald Trump route. This sketch seemed like an attempt to hand him a bit more to do than he had elsewhere, giving him a character akin to the hilariously strange “Kevin Roberts” from Larry David”s episode. The concept of the sketch was funny, and Pete Davidson did a great job as the confused contestant who Terry had come to visit. And you can”t say Russell Crowe didn”t fully commit as Terry; it just didn”t totally work. Much of it had to do with the fact that, as with several sketches tonight, Crowe was a bit hard to understand, mumbling and talking through loud audience laughter. But it was fun to see him being so utterly game, and the sketch was cleverly constructed, with another solid performance from Pete Davidson. B

Pogie Pepperoni”s: Two young men go through training on their first day at a Chuck E Cheese-esque restaurant/arcade, and find themselves unable to contain their excitement with their awesome new job. Based on a near-total absence of laughter while it played, I would guess I liked this sketch a fair amount more than the live audience did. The thing I like about Bennett and Mooney”s pre-taped sketches is that not only are they reliably bizarre, but they also tap into characters that feel pulled from real life. The two new Pogie Pepperoni”s recruits they played could have easily been two kids I went to highschool with– awkwardly speaking only in sarcastic comments, unable to contain their excitement over the nerdiest of subjects, and Oh my God Mooney”s entire hair/glasses/shirt tucked in to light wash jeans combo matched that of so many weird teenagers across America. But their portrayal of these weirdos never feels mean-spirited; in fact, until the reliably strange ending in which the two characters” heads explode from too much excitement, the sketch is mostly just sweet. A-

Shanice Goodwin: Ninja: A ninja comes to the rescue of a politician”s daughter being held hostage by evil mobsters, and despite the ninja”s increasingly obvious methods of getting past the bad guys, she remains apparently stealthy enough to not get caught. This, like so many of the sketches tonight, was a very silly sketch that mostly worked though never quite perfectly. Again, poor Russell Crowe was very difficult to hear, especially through his adopted Russian (I think?) accent, and the character of Shanice Goodwin: Ninja could still use a little tweaking, but I do hope we see her again. The concept of Leslie Jones as a ninja who remains invisible to those around her even when killing them in obvious ways is very funny, and the best thing the crew can do if they bring it back is up the ante more; I found myself waiting for a more extreme moment of physical comedy that never really came, and if the character were to get just a bit more extreme it would help quite a bit. B

Oprah Winfrey: A Life of Love A trailer for a new Oprah Winfrey biopic reveals that white male actor Mike O”Brien has been cast in the role of Oprah. The ad proceeds without comment. Again, the lack of audience laughter here suggested I might be enjoying this more than the people watching it in Studio 8H, and in many ways, that makes sense; there weren”t many explicit jokes in the sketch, beyond the one that did elicit quite a bit of laughter– O”Brien as Oprah”s insistence that she will grace the cover of every issue of O Magazine. Beyond that, there was pretty much just one joke here: the concept of Mike O”Brien playing Oprah Winfrey. That being the only joke worked for me, especially with the interesting choice to have literally no one in the sketch ever comment on the weirdness of the casting. And O”Brien really pulls off a skirt suit! B+

Quotes, Extras, and Final Thoughts:

  • Hillary Clinton is ready to go against Donald Trump face to face, or “to go against Ted Cruz face to whatever it is you call that up there.”

  • Russell Crowe on his Nice Guys co star Ryan Gosling: “Gosling actually inspired me to do the show. I watched him host in December and I was like, ‘Wow– anyone can do that!”” I”m taking that as subtle shade against Gosling for breaking in almost every sketch of his episode, and though I love Ryan Gosling as much as any girl who watched The Notebook at an 8th grade sleepover, I have to admit it”s kind of deserved.

  • Kenan mispronouncing words as Reverend Al Sharpton is funnier than it has any right to be, and his turning algorithm into “Al Gore Rhythm” may have been, in spite of myself, my biggest laugh of the night

  • Bernie Sanders gets a 6.3 on the black voter scale: “Yes he was active in the Civil Rights movement, but he seems like the kind of person who still calls Muhammad Ali ‘Cassius””

  • Before announcing Donald Trump”s score, Kenan and Reverend Sharpton just repeat the phrase “come on now” to each other over and over, and it feels as right as Bill Clinton ordering mac and cheese at the BET Awards

  • Kenan”s game show host character concludes Match Finders with “And as I say at the conclusion of every show, Steve Avery did it.” Kenan as Making a Murderer truther? Color me intrigued.

  • THOUGHTS ON THE MUSICAL GUEST: Margo Price! Check out your cool 70″s maxi dresses and your killer countrified voice! You keep on singing about whiskey and heartbreak, girl! I”m in! THIS HAS BEEN THOUGHTS ON THE MUSICAL GUEST

  • Colin Jost on Hillary”s mishap with the subway turnstile this week: “It took her 5 times to swipe her Metro Card, before realizing that she was actually swiping her Goldman Sachs American Express card.” Ouch.

  • Michael Che”s reasons someone might choose to take the subway: “Maybe you want to stand in a sticky puddle and guess, ‘Is this urine or Snapple?” Or perhaps you”ve always wanted to see the world”s largest penis on the world”s poorest man.”

  • The host of 100 Days in the Jungle asks if his contestants are shocked to see their loved ones. Pete Davidson, saddled with his uncle”s friend Terry, responds, “Um, I”m probably the most shocked. Cause, like, I have seven brothers and sisters and also a girlfriend of three years.”

  • Leslie Jones is great as Shanice Goodwin: Ninja, but also shout out to Vanessa Bayer, whose excited delivery of lines like “You want to know what that was? I”ll tell you. I think there”s a ninja in here” added a nice sprinkling of humor to the moments without Jones.

  • “I”m Oprah Winfrey, and if I had my way, I”d give everyone a car, especially girls.”

We”re back next week with comedy goddess Julia Louis-Dreyfuss! See you then!