Chris Hemsworth didn't light the world on fire when he originally hosted Saturday Night Live back in March. But he did show an utter commitment to the show's silliness, and when coupled with his innate charm as a performer, led some of the night's best sketches. That commitment was once again on display tonight, but the material by and large felt half-formed, which stranded both host and crew for a majority of the night.
Now, it wasn't a truly bad episode of SNL. But it was one often stuck in first gear, with a lot of glimpses into what might have been a better show with an extra day or two of polish. But those are the breaks when you produce a live show each week. Sometimes things don't go your way, and the show must go on. Still, there were several segments that did work from start to finish amongst the misses.
Time To Bleed
Hemsworth rarely connected live onstage tonight, but he unsurprisingly did very well in this action-movie parody. "I don't have time to bleed!" is the type of clichéd dialogue that exists in most subpar action films, and this is a sketch that teases out that notion to its logical (albeit extreme) end.
It's never not impressive how quickly SNL can throw something together with this level of complexity and production value. (The physical continuity of Hemworth's deterioration alone is impressive.) Sasheer Zamata matches Hemsworth beat for beat as his concerned partner, serving as audience proxy for his overly-macho attitude. As someone still somewhat struggling to make herself known to SNL audience, it's great to see her in a lead sketch role like this. "Time To Bleed" all but announces its endpoint up front, but its execution makes the ride enjoyable.
George W. Bush Cold Open
SNL often has a difficult time simultaneously celebrating its past and showcasing its present. But as a standalone, off-one sketch, having Will Ferrell reprise his impression of President George W. Bush was a welcome sight. One could argue (as many within the show as well as outside of it have) that Ferrell's original performance ended up helping Bush become more electable. But this week, rather than focus on that President's foibles, it's all about Bush's contrast to the current Republican feel and just how well he favorably compares to them, even for his harshest critics.
What ensues isn't a sketch so much as a stand-up routine, and it's one based not only on current politics but the audience's relationship to this actor and his place in SNL history. It still sawed off the edges of the real-life Bush, especially with this version's discussion of the lack of leprechauns in today's world. But the overall effect was an old-school approach to political cold opens, one that felt fresh and vital and will drive a lot of discussion over the next week. That's all a cold open like this could hope to achieve.
Weekend Update: Angela Merkel on TIME Person Of The Year
Either SNL realizes that having Donald Trump as a host damaged its reputation, or the show is simply having its cake and eating it with its current criticism of him. Either way, the "Update" mockery of Trump felt overpronounced tonight. Some might view that as hypocritical or "too little, too late." I'm not going to pretend I know the mindset that drove the material tonight, especially the Michael Che/Colin Jost back-and-forth about whether or not Trump actually believes the things he says. But it was striking all the same. SNL can't undo having Trump host at this point, but it also shouldn't ignore him either heading into the 2016 election.
Outside of the string of "Update" one-liners were two excellent guests. Kate McKinnon's Angela Merkel is always a delight: Here, she gets to drop references to Krampus as well as deliver the segment's most devastating Trump joke. (Regarding news that Trump didn't think Merkel deserved to be Time's Person of the Year, Merkel suggests that Trump, "prefers our earlier stuff.") Leslie Jones rounded things out by taking her recent live-tweeting of Breaking Bad to a national audience. Jones' confusion over its lack of Golden Globes nominations highlighted one of the side effects of what many call the era of Peak TV: She only knows Breaking Bad as a show she can stream online, and has no association to its existence on AMC (or, apparently, even the existence of AMC). I'm sure many networks executives heard that joke and wept silently about the future of the medium.