The 2015 Kevin Hart-hosted Saturday Night Live features two back-to-back sketches that I’ve repeatedly watched more than any others in the nearly three years since that episode originally aired. “Bushwick, Brooklyn” and “Get On Up” (the James Brown parody) are go-tos when I’m feeling blue, as they always have something new to reveal. Hart’s third time hosting unfortunately did not yield any classics such as those, but there were still some solid sketches to be found.
That description of this week’s episode could apply to Season 43 as a whole: It’s sat solidly in the middle spectrum in terms of quality. You can look at each episode and pull out a few great segments, and a “Best Of Season 43” episode would be a rock-solid 90 minutes of television. But there’s been almost no momentum at all this season. The show has run with fits and starts, occasionally locking into a solid groove before driving off the cliff. That’s ALWAYS been the case with SNL, but it feels particularly acute this Fall as the show’s struggled to find its identity.
Maybe the next month off will help the show find its collective footing. It’s almost certain that there will be plenty to discuss by this time next January. In the meantime, here are three sketches to keep you warm.
White House Tree Trimming Cold Open
It’s fitting that the final episode of 2017 would have a Donald Trump Cliff Notes cold open. While Alec Baldwin’s Trump probably should be retired at this point, the focus here was on the cavalcade of figures that have swirled around him all year. Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence, most of the Trump children (including Scarlett Johansson’s Ivanka), and Jeff Sessions’ Elf On The Shelf all made appearances to attempt to sum up this incident- and scandal-filled twelve months. Donald Jr. and Eric is about the most reliable comedic duo on the show now, with the actors and writers finding endless new ways to bring Eric’s cluelessness to new levels.
Leslie Jones’ appearance as Omarosa Manigault didn’t quite have the comedic heft I expected from that pairing of actor and real-life figure, but also feels like a great combination to explore in 2018. Omarosa has more or less been quiet since joining the Trump Administration, but now that she’s on the outs, she could be a good way for SNL to find yet another angle into the world of Trump and a new way for Jones to contribute outside of Weekend Update.
Captain Shadow And The Cardinal
Chris Redd has been solid all season, but hasn’t had a truly breakout moment on the show until this pre-taped sketch. As the stand-in for Robin to Kevin Hart’s not-Batman, Redd sold every overly articulated gesture, every enthusiastic quip, and every wide-eyed gaze at his less-than-perfect mentor. (That “Oh Please!” side kick might be the most .GIF’able moment the show’s pulled off in ages.)
For his part, Hart does a great job at portraying the exhaustive nature of being a black superhero. This isn’t a world in which superpowers exist, which makes the reveal of the bag of cocaine on his utility belt both a great punchline but also a logic extension of this sketch’s reality. The Shadow Mobile isn’t a sci-fi wonder but simply a souped-up car, requiring technical expertise but also grounded in reality much more than even a Christopher Nolan film would. Yes, that’s probably due to the show’s budget, but this sketch turns the mundanity of Captain Shadow’s world into a strength.
Guy Who Just Bought A Boat On Christmas
I’m tempted to just transcribe this bit and call it a day. I know this character will never attain Stefon-esque heights in terms of cultural popularity, but Alex Moffat’s verbal tight-wire act slays me like Santa each time he appears. He packs more punchlines per minute than any other SNL character while behind the Update desk, and only by rewatching it again and again can one hope to pick up on all the wordplay at play here.
What initially was a one-note character that bragged about his possessions to overcompensate for his physical shortcomings has somehow transformed into a Noel Coward-esque exercise in mannerisms, puns, and colloquialisms. The entire act is so dense that it can overwhelm the audience: By the time they’ve grasped one joke, Moffat’s onto the fourth one afterwards. (I’d have this in the top three for the “ski chalet/she shall play” combo alone.) The show almost shifts speeds each time this character appears, taking off like a rocket for the few short minutes he’s onscreen. It’s dizzying but euphoric at the same time. I already can’t wait for the (hopefully) inevitable Valentine’s Day appearance.