When comedian Kevin Hart first hosted Saturday Night Live back in 2013, the shrieky-voiced funny man was just beginning to embark on his ambitious takeover of Hollywood and the local multiplex. What a difference two years makes. Hart’s first SNL hosting gig was ostensibly in support of the soon-to-be-released Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, the comedian’s first theatrically released comedic special, which went on to make a very respectable $32 million at the box office, setting the stage for Hart’s future successes. People might not have known exactly who Hart was back in 2013, but they sure know him now.
Hart’s high energy and big-time chemistry with seemingly everyone on the show – if this whole multi-million dollar movie career doesn’t work out, Hart could probably just show up at Studio 8H and slip right into the cast without anyone fussing too much – helped drive the episode, which was an otherwise shaggy post-holiday return for the venerable sketch series. Peppered by technical difficulties and flubbed lines, the show itself proved to be mostly middling, but Hart’s contributions kept it afloat (and, yes, kind of screaming).
“Calvin Klein Ads”
Consider this the logical evolution of Kate McKinnon’s terrifyingly good Justin Bieber impersonation. McKinnon consistently excels at celebrity impressions, seamlessly embodying a wide range of characters – from Angela Merkel to Jane Lynch – but her take on the Canadian pop sensation and tabloid whipping boy is easily her best.
Taking a cue from Bieber’s recently launched Calvin Klein Jeans campaign (shades of Mark Wahlberg), McKinnon and a visibly skeeved out Cecily Strong effectively ape the look and feel of the awkward underwear ads, while poking fun at Bieber at every possible turn. A pair of the high-concept fake ads ran during the course of the show, and while both were excellent (and a bonus online-only version scores points for literally stuffing McKinnon into a baby carriage), the only thing any Bieber-centric sketch needs is McKinnon mugging for the camera in a frighteningly authentic approximation of the singer’s Blue Steel face. Chilling.
“Bushwick, Brooklyn 2015”
Two words: “artisanal mayonnaise.” The changing face of Brooklyn – it’s gentrified now, you guys! – is low-hanging fruit for most comedians, but Hart, Jay Pharaoh, and Kenan Thompson inject some fresh (and probably artisanal) blood into the old let’s-make-fun-of-hipsters category of comedy. Cast as three dudes who look as if they should be diametrically opposed to whatever it is that their new neighbors like (brunch, spin class, bikes built for two, something involving both wine and painting), the trio have instead embraced the lifestyle, with somewhat limited results.
Although their careers are on the upswing – and the image of prolific dog-walker Hart walking a large, mostly well-behaved group of canine clients is one of the best single shots of the show – subverting expectations isn’t always easy. Clever, unexpected, and punctuated by Pharaoh being gloriously upbraided for using an Evite (“You sound stupid, yo!”) and one heck of a twist (made even better by one deeply confused Cavalier King Charles Spaniel), Bushwick has never looked hipper.
“Get On Up”
Last year’s James Brown biopic of the same name isn’t even six months old yet, but if Hollywood is interested in remaking it already (and we wouldn’t put it past them), Hart appears to be primed for the gig. The comedian may not have Brown’s signature dance moves down pat and he may not be able to sing like the soul legend, but he spends this entire sketch gamely shuffling around and screaming in what can best be described as a “highly musical yelp.”
The sketch is built on a relatively simple premise – during Brown’s 1971 performance at the Apollo Theater, the Godfather of Soul takes a brief musical interlude to chat it up with his band and demand that they get still more funky than their previous funk levels – but the sketch’s low-simmering weirdness and giant ensemble keeps it dancing right along. It may be hard to look past Hart’s perfectly coiffed James Brown wig for too long, but keep an eye out for Beck Bennett, who appears to be both overjoyed and totally freaked out as a member of the backing band.