This episode is hosted by Mr. Blackhat himself, and yet only musical guest Zac Brown wears a black hat the entire time. Weird. Even without his signature piece of haberdashery, however, Chris Hemsworth still exploded into the studio like a Norse creature of myth, with the exact level of commitment and fun-having you'd want for a first-time host of Saturday Night Live. (High!)
Like Dakota Johnson immediately before him, the name Chris Hemsworth doesn't exactly scream out "comedy all-star" or even "person you've heard of." While Johnson did a relatively fine job with the material she had to work with, Hemsworth has the benefit of a better episode built around him, to which he brings energy and enthusiasm to spare. In his one-on-one scene with a real clucking chicken, for instance, Hemsworth comes close to breaking but ends up just smiling a little and not only getting through his lines but playing them 90 percent straight. This is about as demanding a scene that has ever been asked of a host with no comedic background, and he handles it like a pro. Although the laughs dimmed somewhat in a less-zippy second half, overall this episode was an assured step in the right direction following last week's detour.
Hillary Clinton Cold Open
Following a week that marked the dawn of PrivateEmailGate, Hillary Clinton opens the show by assuring everyone that her still-hypothetical presidential run will not be compromised by recent findings — if indeed it does happen. (Maybe it won't, who knows?) Kate McKinnon's Clinton is nearly as eager to appear cagey about her potential candidacy as we all know her to be eager about becoming POTUS, and the performer plays her with the same wild-eyed intensity she brings to Chancellor Angela Merkel and other powerful women. McKinnon does not have sole ownership of Hillary on this show — Vanessa Bayer has also played her before — but this strong turn makes a case that she will be playing her through the 2016 election cycle. If Clinton ends up running, that is. Who can say? Really anybody's guess.
Chris Hemsworth Monologue
It's always a bit jarring to hear an Australian actor from American movies finally reveal his accent, but since Hemsworth's Thor speaks in otherworldly upper-crust elocution of indeterminate origin, the transition is smooth. Hemsworth is known for being part of a modern-day Baldwin clan of sexy successful stars, and so his brothers Liam (The Hunger Games) and Luke (???) join him onstage. So, too, does Kenan Thompson as Callum, the unheralded fourth Hemsworth brother, whom the audience notes has not quite the same accent. (Weirdly, the differences between pretend-brothers also plays a prominent theme in one of the next two sketches.) This bit doesn't exactly slay, but it coasts on familial charm, and it's gone before you can complain.
Recent ads from American Express have focused on the "journey" that got high-achievers like Mindy Kaling where they are today. This parody reveals the hardscrabble origins of our host, who apparently bounced around Hollywood for days before he was cast as Thor and given a check for $8 million. Really makes you think.
Brother 2 Brother
It's hard to tell where this sketch is going from the setup. It's a Suite Life of Zack and Cody–style Disney Channel show called Brother 2 Brother, where Hemsworth and Taran Killam play twins with feathered hair and matching outfits (though only one is, as the Amex ad put it, "a jacked Australian with a perfect face"). It's only after the classic switcheroo happens that we get to the joke. Cecily Strong's teacher begins listing off all the physical differences between Hemsworth and Killam, and these are surprisingly legion, and specific: "His jaw is more defined. Yours is softer and just sort of slopes down to your neck." This sketch continues tonight's trend of staying not one second longer than it needs to, and ends on a perfect dick joke at that. (It will be joined by another epic dick joke in Weekend Update. Dick jokes!) Also, does anyone else kind of want to see what's up with Cody Pepperoni, the show that airs after Bro 2 Bro, starring Pete Davidson as a 15-year-old who owns a pizza place?
Perhaps the only thing that could make the wildly successful Empire, Fox's hip-soap-hop-era, even more successful is adding a khaki-clad white guy into the mix. Or maybe not. In this fake promo, Hemsworth plays Chip, an office manager who's awkwardly wedged into each scene and says things like "Go Empire!" Here, SNL is making fun of the placating of white audiences that a show with the rich, diverse history of SNL would never know about. Luckily for Empire and its fans, the show has had an unprecedented ratings surge each consecutive week, making any such catering to white people as fantastical as Game of Thrones. Notably, this sketch also features a rare, non–Weekend Update appearance from Che that I hope becomes less rare in the future.
Where to even begin. Wow. So, we're onboard with the crew of the U.S.S Orion, a spaceship whose safety has been compromised by the actions of a reckless captain. Also, the captain is an actual chicken, and we're in a future where chickens have evolved into a more intelligent species than man. Additionally, Hemsworth's Lieutenant Jericho has been having a love affair with the chicken captain for years. This one goes so far off the reservation you just have to go with it or go grab something from the fridge. It's the kind of sketch Will Forte might have lobbied for but been denied, so it's nice that it not only aired, but in the first half of the show, when your parents who are watching haven't even gone to sleep yet. Finally, even for a sketch that's absurd to begin with, there's an ending so absurd it's something David Foster Wallace might describe as taking acid that itself has taken acid.
The Iggy Azalea Show
The host's Australian-ness is tacitly addressed with this tribute to the much-reviled hip-hop Aussie Iggy Azalea. Kate McKinnon's Iggy flits back and forth between her native accent and her rap one — the vocal equivalent of donning blackface. Sasheer Zamata, who along with McKinnon is having a big night, comes onto Iggy Azalea's show as eccentric rap star Azealia Banks, a prominent critic of Iggy's profound lack of authenticity. Sure enough, Iggy can't stop appropriating, somehow finding and putting on Banks's exact same Peeps-colored hat during the interview. Hemsworth makes only a brief appearance as Australia's answer to Riff Raff before the final indignity is revealed: Iggy's new song is sadly, appropriately, called "Money Ass." I guess SNL is pretty sure the onetime musical guest won't be back riding the wave of another hit album anytime soon.
Leslie Jones suffers from diminished returns with her latest appearance as a Relationship Expert, railing against the pitfalls of dating in New York City. Buoyed by jokes about rat AIDS and the appearance of Jones's "Compton Stare," though, even a relatively weak showing from her is still a win. Cecily Strong returns to the desk as well, reprising her Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party. The appearance is meant to discuss Nigerian militant group Boko Haram pledging allegiance to ISIS, but of course it's actually a showcase for the almost heroically uninformed character to mispronounce words and make points without making points, all with staggering conviction. In a solid turn, Colin Jost and Michael Che even outshone their guests tonight, going in on Dr. Ben Carson's idiotic remarks with a pile-on for the ages.
Avengers News Report
After defeating Ultron and destroying New York City, the Avengers end up on the evening news — lead by an extra-jubilant Thor. "Jubilant" doesn't even cut it; Thor is clearly turnt, if people still say that, alternately dumping a Gatorade cooler on Jay Pharoah's Nick Fury, and doing the Running Man. Hemsworth seems to be on message here, perhaps letting his excitement at getting to cut loose inform Thor's out of control glee. Notably, this sketch marked Bobby Moynihan's first and only appearance of the night, in a thankless straight-man role as the newscaster. Come back to us, Bobby! But somehow with just as much time for Sasheer and McKinnon?
The telltale sign of a better-than-average episode is when even the worst sketch isn't so bad. Kenan plays an enormous scarf-wearing filmmaker who used to be an acting coach on The Jeffersons. He uses that past experience to coax Hemsworth and McKinnon into a train wreck of a love scene. The way Kenan describes cartoonish reaction shots from The Jeffersons as though he were talking about precise artistic architecture is almost art itself, but this is the only one-joke sketch of the night that actually did overstay its welcome.
This Bennett and Mooney digital short exaggerates one of the most overused beats of standard-issue reality shows — the cutaway to a testimonial that describes exactly what we just saw. These unnecessary recaps are paired here with an equally unnecessary amount of candles, as shades of other reality shows — The Bachelor, Survivor, and American Idol — are suddenly thrown in for good measure. It's a more user-friendly sketch than these two usually go in for, and it loses something in the trade off. They would have had to make a more original point about these kinds of shows in order to elevate this sketch beyond "kinda funny."
Porn Stars: Dolce and Gabbana
Ending the show on a high note, Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong's soulless ex-porn stars are back to promote more luxury items. Their line reads are still priceless in the seventh incarnation of this sketch, whether they're declaring the product at hand "spectaculable" or recounting a time they got banged back and forth through time by a caveman, in what may have been a Geico ad ("Thanks, lizard"). We've already encountered an endless stream of nonsensical sex puns by the time we meet Hemsworth's Dong Juan de Dark Hole, a porn star whose penis was torn off by a recumbent bike. Unlike the wild swing between last week's episode and this one, the quality of these oddball closer sketches remains astonishingly consistent.