SNL: Chance the Rapper, Chris Hemsworth, Bobby Moynihan

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in December 2015.

When Chris Hemsworth first hosted “SNL,” almost every sketch featured the theme “Let’s Ogle Chris Hemsworth’s Body.” Perhaps because of that prurience, the show could not wait even a year to have him back, and his physique is once again a major part of the material. He does not even bother to plug his current movie, except to obliquely reference it in a way that underscores how huge he looks even when having lost weight for a role. Elsewhere, this episode finds plenty of room to address Donald Trump’s call to ban all Muslims, driving the political material to tip-top shape.

Announcement from George W. Bush – Some time last decade, there was a Doonesbury cartoon recounting how terrible the George H.W. Bush presidency seemed at the time, but now, compared to his son, he looked prudent and reasonable. Somehow, everyone in the current Republican field is either ridiculous or feckless enough to grant W. a similarly favorable reevaluation. Will Ferrell is welcomed back with cheers partly because it is one of the best impressions in “SNL” history, but also because the guy he is playing really would be preferable to this notorious lineup. He certainly provides some perspective. As fodder for comedy, the 2016 candidates may be buffoons, but they are also depressing. None of them are so playfully silly that they could conceivably wonder what happened to all the leprechauns. B+

Chris Hemsworth’s Monologue – It is always a breath of fresh air when the host chooses to give viewers a backstage tour during the monologue. However, that friendly tone is at odds with Chris Hemsworth’s practical jokes and roughhousing, which is a little too real. At least it is honest, as by most accounts the Hemsworth brothers really are this aggressive. While this format allows the host to loosen up, it is even better at establishing the cast’s personalities. Thus, the crowning moment is Michael Che knocking papers out of Colin Jost’s hands right after Hemsworth does the same. B

Star Wars Toys – The joke in this commercial for the latest merchandise from a galaxy far, far away is old hat, and it toes the line between nerd shaming and nerd portrayal, but thankfully it mostly stays evenhanded. The point it is making is a fair one, after all. Not all collectors keeping their figures in mint condition are arrogant jerks with no sense of wonder, but that is a constant danger they face. B-

On the Record – “SNL” chooses multiple avenues to explore the fallout over Donald Trump’s call to ban all Muslims. A Fox News talk show parody allows for a few other candidates to flail about as they fail to condemn their primary opponent. Taran Killam, Bobby Moynihan, and Jay Pharoah are given time to show off their improved Cruz, Christie, and Carson impressions, respectively. They make their points; they are not groundbreaking, but they are worthwhile. B-

Time to Bleed – The trope of an action hero refusing to waste any time being injured is taken to its absurd logical end, with Hemsworth’s detective delaying treatment for his gunshot wound in favor of receiving an award, filing paperwork, and slurring ridiculously blunt come-ons to his partner (Sasheer Zamata). Hemsworth absolutely relishes this role, as he should, for this is a guy driven by hedonism over any practical concern. In that vein, his insatiable horniness is a fun and completely logical addition to the main premise. B

Brother 2 Brother – This Disney Channel sitcom parody about improbable identical twins is recycled from Chris Hemsworth’s first episode, understandably because it is a story that can easily be continued, but also disappointingly, as it is excessively cruel. Apparently someone at “SNL” revels in pointing out every way in which Taran Killam does not measure up to the Australian thunder god. The end credits (“Created By: Taran Killam, Written By: Not Taran Killam”) would indicate that someone might be Taran himself, which might make this sketch less despicable, but no less cruel. C

Deborah’s Time – One theme of this episode is characters agreeing about an unlikely piece of information. In this Christmas house party, that info is the existence of the musical “It’s Christmas After All.” This sketch hinges on the moment when the guests stop insisting that “Deborah’s Time” is obscure (if it even exists) and suddenly declare that they do remember it. This is kind of insane, considering that this switch is never explained. But that is not a problem, thanks to the audacity of everyone’s performances, especially the impressively committed Hemsworth and Cecily Strong. B

Chance the Rapper – “Somewhere in Paradise” – Chicago native Chance uses the holiday season to bring some church with his rhymes, with a gospel backing choir that provides an interesting counterpoint to his slow-jam beat and playful lyrics. It all makes for a fun progression, starting off with goofy, but thoughtful lines like “I know Trix are for addicts,” ultimately giving way to Jeremih joining in to take the soulful vibes to the next level. But the ending shall not be complete until Chance busts out some breakin’. B

Weekend Update – Michael and Colin are especially righteous in this edition, as they explain why they believe that Donald Trump is not racist but instead The Ultimate Panderer. In their point/counterpoint discussions thus far, they have generally been on the same side of each issue, but with different perspectives. Here, they pretty much completely agree, and they kill because of their certainty. Especially notable is the acknowledgement of Trump’s recent hosting stint, with Che revealing that he looked the Donald in the eye and concluded that he had no soul. Michael and Colin’s Grade: B+
Weekend Update: Angela Merkel – With the German chancellor receiving Time’s Person of the Year designation, it is no surprise that Kate McKinnon would break out one of her most notable impressions. The commentary has little to do with the honor itself (perhaps because Merkel’s body rejects any celebration) and more about what she has been up to lately and further jokes about German coldness. This is perfectly fine, because even though it is a little broad, Kate always brings the gusto, and “Krampus” is doing well at the box office after all. B
Weekend Update: Leslie Jones – The brash Ms. Jones is not introduced as the relationship expert this time, but she still manages to veer off-topic, just in a different way. Instead of reacting to this year’s actual Golden Globe nominations, she bemoans the absence of the no longer eligible “Breaking Bad.” Typically, a misunderstanding like this would be met by the anchor vigorously trying to rectify the guest’s confusion. But of course Leslie derails any attempt by Colin to do so. This makes for a decent vibe, but her misguided emulation of Walter White is not an especially unique reaction. B-

Claire (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – The concept of this sketch – Chris Hemsworth disguises himself as an (unconvincing) woman to make sure that women still think he’s hot – is so colossally dumb that it is actually kind of brilliant. There is a long “SNL” tradition of hosts indirectly insulting or defending themselves while in character that usually comes off as pandering. But in this context, it is so nonsensical that it just feels right. The affected speaking style that the ladies adopt while “Claire” is out of the room contributes to this sketch’s unpredictable energy, and it all makes for one brilliantly silly hoot. B+

Pirate Ship – Rookie Jon Rudnitsky gets his first showcase sketch, and it feels like something a 5-year-old would come up with, and not in a good way. As Mark, the pirate who keeps things fun, he dances, plays a “character” with hooks for hands, and performs goofy magic tricks. It feels like Cecily Strong’s captive character exists to question why the other pirates find him amusing, but she never does, and just when it looks like the perfect moment for her to do so, the sketch ends. D

Chance the Rapper – “Sunday Candy” – Chance is even more direct with his religiosity for her second song, giving the gospel side even more of a spotlight and continually reminding himself to get his butt to Church. He has a lot of feeling, which goes a long way, but he is not saying much that other artists before him have not already said. B-

Hunk Junktion – This sketch about a dance troupe that is too theatrical for the strip club they are performing at has several funny gags, but it cannot quite figure out what it wants its main joke to be. The MC (Kenan Thompson) and most of the ladies want the guys to either stop or get to the good bits, but then Leslie Jones is excited for the theatricality There is never a major conflict between the two sides, so those two opposing connotations are left to just sit there. The “straight-up racist” portion comes out of nowhere; it is funny, but in a sketch as short as this one, it registers as a distraction. B-

Aron’s List – This commercial originally from the Elizabeth Banks episode is slotted in at the last spot of the night, probably because of terrible time-management in the back half of the show. Original Grade: B-

Notes & Quotes:
-W. enjoys the slow-roasted carnitas at Chevy’s. Laura always orders the baja sampler with the blue crab enchiladas.
-“This is not a condom nation. This is a Christian nation.”
-“In a new interview, Burt Reynolds criticized Charlie Sheen, saying he deserved to get HIV, adding: for his work in ‘Major Leauge 2.’” (Che: “I like that movie.”)
-“Doug Vader?”