I'll get to the Kevin Hart stuff in the sketch-by-sketch analysis, but two things: The imitation Don Pardo we got during the introductions distracted me for probably the first 30 minutes of the show. So many questions! Is Don okay? Is he ill? Am I adequately prepared to accept the reality that one day Don Pardo won't be there to do the SNL intros anymore? Maybe Don's just on vacation? In which case my existential dread seems a bit dramatic. I guess this means that Don reads these live every week? That's weird. You'd think he'd just record one master of the season's cast, then come back in on, like, Wednesday and lay down the week's host/musical guest? I wonder what Don Pardo does with the rest of his week. These questions continued, until they gave way to a second set of questions, mostly involving whether Macklemore can actually be eight feet tall or if Kevin Hart is just that short.
Seventies Callback of the Week
The cold open with President Obama explaining budget cuts was going the way most Obama cold opens go — i.e. flashes of inspired mimicry from Jay Pharoah in service of not much of an idea — when things took a random left turn into a Village People joke that, I have to admit, I really loved.
Vote of Confidence of the Week
Kevin Hart got a LOT of time during the monologue to stretch his legs and work out his stand-up comedy. It took a bit to separate his delivery from garden variety nerves (this would repeat throughout the show, as Hart's rapid/agitated delivery style never quite meshed with the cue-card reality of SNL), but you could see why this is a comedic voice people want to be onboard with. Not everybody can lay down a solid Panera Bread bit.
Equine Humor of the Week
SUPER-weird choice for the first post-monologue sketch, as there has never been much of an idea behind the Steve Harvey Show sketches, and while Kenan's impersonation has its moments, it's not really all that funny. Hart as the horse-phobic guest was decent, but this was basically one good joke (Harvey's pronunciation of "phobias") lost in a sea of filler.
Post-Topical Sketch of the Week
I think the fact that sometimes SNL finds itself with its finger right on the pulse of the American political/cultural discourse sometimes makes them think they have a responsibility to "cover" every major story, even when there's no urgency to it. So it was with this week's Situation Room sketch. Don't get me wrong, the ridiculous pageantry surrounding the papal retirement this week was ripe for the taking, but I'm not sure if Quvenzhané Wallis's Oscars appearance had very much juice in it. I do quite love Jason Sudeikis's mumbly Wolf Blitzer, though.
Unexpected Recurrence of the Week
I suppose I should have expected Bobby Moynihan and Cecily Strong's disgruntled-employees sketch to make another appearance this season. It's basically just a chance to throw as many jokes as you can against the wall and see what sticks. It's hit-and-miss, sure, but it's kind of supposed to be. I'm just happy for a "Jolly Green Dickhead" joke when I get it.
Poignant Longing of the Week
Look, it's not like Seth Meyers isn't always silently wishing Amy Poehler were sitting there next to him. "Silently Longing for Amy Poehler" is Seth's default condition. But it was especially apparent as Kevin Hart was fumbling punchline after punchline during a special "Really??!! With Seth and Kevin" segment. Again, not to be too hard on Hart, as his style is just not built for cue cards. But you could tell Seth was dying a little as some really solid jokes got away from him.
Personal Nagging Moment of the Week
I GET IT, okay? I should start watching The Walking Dead again. Everybody's talking about it. It's popular enough to serve as the thin premise for "What if a zombie was black?" jokes. I get it. I'll see what I can do about catching up.
Missed Opportunity of the Week
First of all, congratulations to the good people at Shark Tank. You made it! Parodied on Saturday Night Live! Kate McKinnon took the time to perfect an accurate Barbara Corcoran impersonation! Can't say Bill Hader did the same with Mark Cuban, but still — you've come a long way, baby. Unfortunately, McKinnon's accuracy aside, there was NOTHING to this sketch. Just a bunch of half-formed ideas that felt like they were abandoned when a more interesting sketch came along.
Sketch of the Night, Quite Improbably
This is probably going to be one of those things that I liked and everybody else thinks I'm an idiot, but I was super into that "Z-Shirt" sketch. They nailed the early-nineties youth marketing aspect, made the best use yet of Hart's wild energy, and did that thing where you keep doing something dumb long enough that it becomes funnier than when you started. The reprise a while later at the funeral home was a welcome delight.
Samuel L. Jackson Cameo of the Night
Actual Sam wasn't there last night, but his delivery style sure was, as Hart and Vanessa Bayer played dueling voiceover auditioners for a Dove chocolate ad. Bayer's amused suburban mom delivery was subtly awesome, and a great setup for Hart's increasingly bombastic Sam Jackson impersonation.
Strong Finish of the Week
The weaknesses of the earlier sketches were even more puzzling after seeing how strong Hart was in the latter half of the show. As the neck-braced host of "360 News," he was really hitting his stride. Maybe more of these and fewer wordy landmine sketches if he comes back again?