Chris Hemsworth returned to “Saturday Night Live” for his second turn as host in one calendar year, something that feels like an anomaly in the modern era of the show. I mean, the first few seasons were pretty much exclusively hosted by Steve Martin, Buck Henry, Candice Bergen, or Paul Simon, but that kind of stopped by the ’80s. Maybe the show took pity on the Aussie actor because he was recently dethroned by David Beckham as People’s Sexiest Man Alive. But no pity was needed for the mighty Thor, as Hemsworth owned the second half of the show.
The cold open began with a Will Ferrell cameo, playing George W. Bush and announcing that he was running for President again. “The field of Republicans out there is so messed up, it makes you miss me, doesn’t it?” he said. Ferrell ran through a few malapropisms that characterized his Dubbaya impersonation during his tenure on the show and rattled off what was wrong with the Republican frontrunners. The laughs were light, but once again “SNL” shined the cameo light so brightly in our faces that it felt funnier than it was when he laughed at Trump and called him a knucklehead and an Oompa Loompa. That said, there were a few winning quotes, including “We tried tiny leprechaun internment camps in the 1920s.”
Hemsworth’s monologue included some good old fashioned physical comedy as he terrorized the cast; punching Pete Davidson in the nuts, tickling Bobby Moynihan, whipping apples at Beck Bennett, and not daring to mess with Leslie Jones. The recurring joke that you don’t want to mess with Jones is a good one.
Next up was a commercial parody for “Star Wars” toys. “Ages six and up,” exclaimed the advertising voiceover actor, as Moynihan and Taran Killam, chimed in, “way up!” The spot aptly mocked the 30- to 40-somethings who will inevitably buy out the toys from the movie franchise before any kids who care about the reawakened force get a chance to take the toys out of the box. Kyle Mooney‘s mulletted vest-wearing nerd who rags on a kid for calling the character “Doug Vader” was spot-on.
Next up in the spot-on performances was Kate McKinnon playing Greta Van Susteren in the second political sketch of the show. The jokes skewering the Republican candidates were funny (Taran Killam‘s Ted Cruz not having the guts to offer an actual opinion on Trump’s plan to keep Muslims out of the States; Jay Pharoah‘s Ben Carson operating at a glacial pace and bragging about having chugged a Red Bull) but it felt too easy. At 20 minutes in, the show had already had two political sketches and Hemsworth had only appeared in his monologue. Not the strongest start.
That soon changed with a pre-filmed cop drama called “Time to Bleed,” which was easily the high point of the show. Hemsworth played a stubborn cop who wouldn’t seek medical attention despite insistence from his partner, played hilariously flirty by Sasheer Zamata. The game of the sketch was that as Hemsworth’s character needs to see a doctor more, his sexual innuendo gets dumber and dumber. As Zamata points out to him that he’s bleeding all over the place, he comes back with, “I know another place where we can get blood from, is my penis.”
Hemsworth and Killam brought back their Disney Channel parody of a fake show called “Brother 2 Brother,” where they played twins in high school who switch places and realize they’re not as identical as they think they are. Bennett was good in this sketch as the wrestling coach who can’t stop pointing out how much more attractive Hemsworth’s character is than Killam’s.
A Christmas caroling party sketch brought the weird in a good way. Cecily Strong‘s character wouldn’t let her friends sing the regular holiday fare, and insisted on singing a song called “Deborah’s Time,” that hilariously comes across as agro musical theater. The sketch moved in unexpected ways and wrapped up nicely with a fatalistic dose of irreverence.
Chance the Rapper made funk fun with a gospel-inflected version of “Somewhere in Paradise,” featuring Jeremih. It was great, but it could have been better if R. Kelly joined him, the way he does on the single. It also would have been better if it didn’t look like Chance was wearing Bugle Boy jeans.
“Weekend Update” featured the strongest writing of the season so far. The jokes were hard-hitting and prompted more “oh snap” oooooohs than any other “Update” in recent memory. The segment began with more jokes about Republicans, but it did it better than the other two sketches. The best moment of this segment was a quick bit about Jeb Bush’s sagging campaign, highlighted by a Sarah McLachlan song, in the tradition of her SPCA commercials.
McKinnon appearing as German Chancellor Angela Merkel was also stunning. When Colin Jost pointed out that Donald Trump was not fond of her country, she quipped, “He prefers our earlier stuff.” BAM! A surprising highlight on this “Update” was Leslie Jones. Her performances usually feel too much like she’s just trying to cram her standup routine into a conversation with one of the anchors, but her editorial on being pissed that “Breaking Bad” was not nominated for the Golden Globes was fun and it worked.
The next sketch dealt expertly with Hemsworth no longer being the Sexiest Man Alive. The sketch opened with a group of women sitting around a table, talking about hot guys in movies. Hemsworth, playing a woman named Claire, repeatedly calls the other women at the table bitches and asks what the other ladies thought of “Chris Hemsworth in ‘Thor’.” Finally, Strong gets wise and asks the group, “Hey guys, crazy question: Is our friend Claire actually Chris Hemsworth?” This sketch was also fun and it featured Hemsworth referring to himself as “little ol’ C-Hemmy,” which is how everyone in the world should refer to him from now on.
Featured player Jon Rudnitsky got his first real taste of the spotlight as a jokester on a pirate ship full of otherwise serious badasses. The sketch was light and super silly and fit perfectly into the “after 12:30 anything goes” ethic that has been a hallmark of “SNL” since the beginning.
Chance the Rapper’s performance of “Sunday Candy” was uplifting and will hopefully introduce him to the new audience he deserves.
Things wound down with a pair of male-skewering sketches that deserved to be closer to the top of the show. In the penultimate sketch, a group of male college students performed at a strip club and disappointed all of the ladies in attendance … except Jones! The students gave a theatrical performance that did not deliver on Kenan Thompson‘s promise of “you wanna see some peen?” but did include the gents wearing Asian conical hats and ripping off their breakaway pants to reveal long pants underneath that. The silliness factor was high here, and it was a welcome tone.
The show closed with a quick commercial parody that definitely should have been at the top of the show, and will likely be passed around a lot in the next few days. The name of the service is Aron’s List and the men who work for the service are well worth not spoiling the punchline for.