SNL: Chris Hemsworth March 2015 Monologue (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in March 2015.

It might just be pointlessly quixotic to ascribe a thesis statement to an episode of “SNL.”  Any detectable patterns may have just been accidental.  When the host and musical guest do not bring in a whole lot of baggage, that truth becomes emphasized.  Chris Hemsworth was host two months before the release of the next “Avengers” movie.  Zac Brown Band have new music, but they are not dominating the mainstream conversation.  This was certainly an episode that happened.  There were highlights, there were lowlights, and it will lead to a multiplicity of opinions.  Here’s one: it was cray-cray.

A Message From Hillary Clinton – Kate McKinnon made it clear that should Hillary Clinton run for president, she will not back down from the challenge of taking on this legendary impression.  This sketch was essentially a character piece, when it could have focused on sharper satire about whether or not Clinton’s e-mail correspondence is a legitimate controversy.  But as a character piece, it was encouraging, managing to imbue the tired “old person e-mail gag” with specific personality. B

Chris Hemsworth’s Monologue – Chris Hemsworth is a charming actor with a solid range.  His most famous role allows him to demonstrate some comedy chops in highfalutin situations.  In other words, he has some solid tools for hosting “SNL.”  So why he was immediately upstaged, first by his brothers (who did nothing) and then by two cast members as Australian stereotypes, is a mystery.  It would have been fine if this upstaging revealed something about Hemsworth as a performer, but all this premise required was any Australian actor. C-

American Express – The American Express ad campaign in which famous people narrate their stories of how they succeeded despite humble beginnings was taken to task here with Hemsworth.  His struggles were essentially nonexistent, by virtue of his natural looks and charisma.  This was a deeply pessimistic take on these commercials, implying that common people just do not have what it takes.  Pessimism can produce comedy, and this dark vision certainly had its laughs, but it did not make much of a point beyond its pessimism.  Perhaps this piece was also touching on the idea that anything corporate corrupts an inspirational message, though that was not strongly conveyed. C+

Brother 2 Brother – “SNL” continued its recent trend of surprisingly low-key choices for the first post-commercial break sketch, with this quickie of a Disney Channel sitcom parody.  The litany of ways in which Marky did not measure up to Matty mostly served to demonstrate how everyone at Studio 8H was in thrall to Chris Hemsworth’s Adonis-like physique throughout the entire episode. C+

Empire – “SNL” has been fairly successful recently with its racially flipped concepts, though this example suffered from lack of necessity.  “Empire” is a big hit, and to get the ratings it has been getting, it surely must have a multiracial audience.  Also, its histrionic drama is very much of a piece with lily-white shows like “Dynasty” and “Dallas.”  That pointlessness would not have mattered if Chip were an interesting character, but instead he was just kind of there (which might have been the joke, but that is a difficult joke to build a whole sketch around).  At least Kenan’s take on Terrence Howard was better than most of his impressions. C+

S.S. Orion – Casting a live chicken as the captain of a spaceship is plenty goofy, but it is also an incredibly thin premise to build an entire sketch around.  The explanation that by the year 3041 chickens have evolved to the intelligence level of humans alleviated that thinness somewhat, but ultimately the success of this sketch rested upon how amusing audiences find it to see Chris Hemsworth acting his heart out opposite an animal that does not care what he is saying. C+

The Iggy Azalea Show – This sketch approached the Iggy Azalea-Azealia Banks feud (which has featured very real tension) by suggesting that the former is essentially harmless.  There might be a kernel of truth to that characterization, or it might be completely inaccurate.  Regardless, it was a decent enough approach to achieve funny results.  Kate McKinnon’s Iggy impression was a much more measured and nuanced Australian voice than her broad Mrs. Hemsworth in the monologue.  The sketch around her could have used a little more work, though. C+

Zac Brown Band – “Homegrown” – Zac Brown Band have an eclectic enough feel to their sound such that people who generally eschew country music should not have too much trouble giving them a chance.  Plus, they are just solid with their instruments.  Just check out the intensity of that fiddling!  Also, the message of this song (“I got everything I need and nothing that I don’t”) is powerful for those who agree with it but also palatable enough for those who might question it. B+

Weekend Update – Che and Jost tried desperately to actually make something out of the fact that they are a duo, and the results were … surprisingly memorable.  Jost complaining that Che gets all the fun jokes was a promising setup, but it was leading into a fairly standard small dick gag.  Then Jost made an epic misread, and his robotic delivery actually helped, as he stone-facedly insisted that the average length of a flaccid penis is 36 inches.  The interplay about Dr. Ben Carson was also decent.  And overall, the material was about as good as usual. Michael and Colin’s Grade: B
Weekend Update: Leslie Jones – Colin Jost’s sarcastic remark of “good transition” just about sums up how it goes with Leslie Jones on Weekend Update.  Each point of her ostensibly relationship-centric commentary is disconnected from the next.  Granted, that does seem to be part of the point, but if she is going for a stream-of-consciousness effect, she would do well to make her observations weirder than “subways are nasty.”  The difference between white girls in New York and L.A. was unique enough, at least. C+
Weekend Update: The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party – Considering how rare The Girl’s appearances have been lately, her routines should not feel as tossed-off as this one did.  Cecily Strong still throws so much out there with this character that her lesser appearances are better than the best of most Update guests, but this just did not have the urgency it could have had.  This may all sound nitpicky (and there was plenty to laugh at here, as usual), but for such a great character, standards are high. B

Action News 7 Special Report – Apparently “SNL” feels an obligation to have an “Avengers” sketch every time there is a host from that cast.  Hopefully this instance will lead to the realization that that is not necessary, or at least convince the writers to try harder.  The premise here, such as it was, was that Thor got uncontrollably rowdy while celebrating the latest victory for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.  This was not exactly something that could not already happen in the movies themselves.  For one positive point, Taran Killam’s cocksure Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron man was right on the money. C-

Love Ain’t Fair – Kenan Thompson relished his role here of a director giving horrible acting tips.  While his energy was spot-on, the rest of the sketch was not built to match that.  It was inelegantly paced, with the ridiculous moments necessarily spread out by too much seriousness.  But at least this sketch featured this episode’s other great apparent misread, with Kenan stuttering through “Jeffersons,” Kate McKinnon responding in kind, and Kenan incorporating it into his next line. C+

So you think you can Live with Brian? (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – The Good Neighbor crew continued their habit of stretching the limits of a genre’s conventions to the point of absurdity.  Here, reality show tropes of over-explanatory confessions, instant replay of scenes that just happened, dramatic music and slow-motion on mild moments were applied to a real-life, low-stakes situations.  But a lot of reality show moments are actually just as low-stakes, so the surrealism of this sketch was exacerbated in that it was surreal that it actually was not that surreal. A-

Zac Brown Band ft. Chris Cornell – “Heavy is the Head” – When the crunchy rock riff started playing and Chris Cornell started singing, it was worth asking, “Did someone forget to tell Chris Hemsworth that a different band is playing the second song?”  But no, it appears that the Zac Brown Band are savvy enough to team themselves up with someone a little harder than how they usually go, but still a good fit.  Kudos to open-minded musical decision-making! B+

Dolce & Gabbana – Apparently, it was Revive Cecily Strong’s Classic Characters Night (certainly not a bad thing.  With eight appearances in three seasons, the ex-porn stars obviously do not have the element of surprise anymore.  This is a tightly formulaic sketch, but it is a formula with such a high gag-per-minute ratio that something is bound to hit the spot.  “Obsession by Kevin Kline,” “I’m supposed to be dead,” and “Kate Middletit” all got it up.  Chris Hemsworth was perhaps most memorable for showing off his abs, but his “bilingual” porn star was a decent concept, especially insofar as it birthed the title “Y Tu Mama Y Tu Papa Y Tu Circus Clown Amigo Tambien.” B

Notes & Quotes:
-Kate McKinnon nailed Hillary’s standard cell phone usage pose in the rollercoaster and beach photos.
-“What a relatable laugh.”
-Jay Pharoah’s T.I. impression, like his Katt Williams impression, is prone to use of the word “pimpin.’”  Does anyone have any idea what that is supposed to mean?
-“This week, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to address Congress about the threat from Iran.  And he left as the frontrunner the 2016 Republican nomination.”
-“It’s a Kardastrophe.”
-“Sometimes, I’m like, Salami Hussein was right.”
-“I’m bringing democracy to Syria, via Instagram.”
-“I’m Brookie.” “And I’m supposed to be dead.”
-“What’s that thing where you press it and it sprays out?” “Prostate.”