Saturday Night Live Recap: The Hemsworth Charm Offensive

Photo: NBC/2015 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Don’t worry, Chris Hemsworth: You’re still a hunk. And don’t worry, SNL recap readers: You’re still covered. I’m your new SNL recapper for the foreseeable future, and I came in at just the right time, it seems. This Hemsworth helmer is a fun, goofy episode that moves fast and light and is dedicated to its particular brand of crazy. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Hemsworth clearly loves hosting the show, and brings a huge amount of commitment to his performances and duties throughout. And why wouldn’t he? He’s jumping on stage for a second time as host surrounded by pals from last summer’s Ghostbusters shoot. 

And while his grasp of comedy rhythms can sometimes feel a little wonky, there’s a lot to be said for his ability to hop into a character with ease and to match the energy of his scene partners (particularly women, as with the standout musical/carolling sketch). It’s tempting to look at someone as purely physically impressive as Hemsworth (who was aptly called “the god of thunder from down under” in a recent Vanity Fair article) and dismiss their comedic abilities, but there’s a whiff of the old-fashioned showman in him. Again, the rhythms are off, but the sentiment is there, and that’s more than a lot of A-listers bring to Studio 8H. Plus, he’s so dang charming! And hunky ... did we mention he’s hunky? 

George W. Bush Cold Open
Hello, Mr. Ferrell! It was nice to see that old Dubya impression again, even for a few minutes, in this tightly written cold open that does a nice, tidy job of summing up the current Republican race. (The show is still being too easy on Trump since his guest appearance a little over a month ago, but more on that later.) Here our old pal George announces he’s entering the race since “the field of Republicans out there is so messed up, I figured it makes you miss me — doesn’t it? And that’s saying something.” After running down the list of candidates and dispatching them one by one — Ben Carson is inaudible, Carly Fiorina reminds him of himself, and Rubio and Cruz sound like the co-partners in a Miami law firm — he tells us that he loves TexMex and takes a subtle pro-immigration/anti-Trump stance by saying, “Unless your name is Running Bear or Chief Two Rivers, we’re all anchor babies.” Oh, and the former president laughs at Trump’s hair and Oompah-Loompah face before imploring America to vote for him, GW, by comparing himself to a non-crazy bus driver who will only get into “one to two or four” accidents a year. There’s really no call to see Ferrell in this character much anymore, but bless SNL for finding a nice hook to get him back in.

Chris Hemsworth Monologue
Hemsworth’s opening gambit is high-energy, focused, and playful, as he compares hanging out at SNL again with being “back in Australia, roughhousing with my brothers and my dad.” Apparently the Hemsworths play hard (I’ll just leave that one there), because that particular brand of roughhousing includes busting people’s balls, ripping out their hair, knocking stuff out of their hands and hanging up on presidential candidates. He also nails Beck Bennett with an apple, but gets rebuffed by Leslie Jones (if he touches her, she’ll beat his ass) before pranking both Aidy and Vanessa while asserting “but you’d hit it, wouldn’t ya?” To their sheepish “Yes” replies. It’s here that you get to see Hemsworth’s weaknesses and strengths together — he’s committed to making this bro-ish bit work, but his ability to hit the phrasing and physical comedy isn't quite there. All in all, not a groundbreaking opening, but one that utilizes the classic “walk around the studio” bit to good effect.

Star Wars Toys
Thank god this movie is almost out, so we can stop seeing it milked to death for comedic effect, said the Star Wars fan, your recapper. Still, it’s an effective and simple little joke at play here, the notion that Star Wars toys — though advertised for kids — find a whole other, super eye-rolly audience in adult collectors. It’s also an opportunity to rattle off some quick jokes about the obsessive man children who collect (“six and up ... way up!” “... or leave them in the box, and never touch them”). The best moment comes at the hands of Kyle Mooney, who rightly bullies his young scene partner for mislabelling Darth Vader as Doug — a moment that feels unscripted, itself interesting — followed in a close second by the overly cautious, trophy-case-and-Bobby Moynihan bit. Taran’s long Luke-like look into the distance also doesn’t hurt anything. 

Better Get Greta
The second pseudo-foray in the Republican/Trump war tonight comes courtesy of this sketch, with Kate McKinnon’s more-than-passable Greta Van Susteren impression as she tries, and fails, to get various presidential candidates to condemn Trump for his anti-Muslim remarks. Killam’s Ted Cruz continues to be so-so, in my opinion, and its use here to flaccid effect is not helping anyone. Bobby’s Chris Christie (he’s still running?) arrives to call Trump a “fat headed gibroni,” and offer his plan to handle the Muslim “problem”: a “bridge that’s really hard to cross” that will “show that sunuvabitch from Fort Lee.” But the only real moment of life in this one is Jay Pharoah’s odd and nuanced Ben Carson impression with its folded hands and floppy, baby neck flourishes. Here’s hoping Carson stays in the race so Pharoah gets to continue honing this one. Greta says her soul hurts at the end; ours does too, mostly.

Time to Bleed
Things start to pick up steam in this short, which is the first in the “committed to a crazy premise” sketches that are the overall highlights of the show. In this one, Hemsworth plays a hero cop who gets shot in the gut but asserts he doesn’t “have time to bleed” and doesn’t seek help even after the case is wrapped, bleeding through his uniform at a commendation ceremony, at the hospital (where he’s gone for elective calf implants), all over the paperwork, and, ultimately, in bed. Bonus points to Sasheer Zamata for carrying the Rene Russo–in–Lethal Weapon part with ease and elan, and thank you to the writer who made Chris Hemsworth utter all the pickup lines directed at Zamata throughout, but particularly, “You know where else you can get blood? My penis.” 

Brother 2 Brother
In this parody of the Disney teen shows, Killam and Hemsworth play identical twins — which is not only the premise but the joke of the entire sketch, particularly as Beck Bennett (hey buddy! Hope you’re not bruised from that apple bit!) begins listing all the ways Killam’s body is less appealing than Hemsworth’s. The whole thing gets a little thin after the fourth or fifth time we hear about Hemsworth’s “pec ravine”/deep V, but Killam’s frequent, in-character insistence that “the jig is up” keeps it afloat, as does Pete Davidson pointing out that Taran’s butt has a bigger—what’s it called?—crack. 

Debra’s Time 
By the time this sketch about a house party full of carollers forced to sing a little-known Broadway show tune called “Debra’s Time” comes around, it’s clear the writers and performers are quite fond of Chris Hemsworth. He’s been topline in almost every sketch by this point, and has ably and gamely stepped in every time. Perhaps this is nowhere more clear than here, where he supports the great work done by Cecily Strong, who will sing “Debra’s Time” even if it kills her. You know the song — it’s from the show It’s Christmas After All, by Keith and Barry Williams, and that Smuckers commercial. Kenan’s reactions, Hemsworth’s passionate lower-lip biting as he plays piano, and the metered escalation of premise in this sketch are all big sellers. It’s not as flashy as McKinnon’s crotch-centric alien abduction work of last week, but it’s a hugely successful moment for Strong. Plus, the ending is gold.

Weekend Update 
Here’s where you learn that your new SNL recapper is a massive Weekend Update fan, and that she thinks the current hosts are not doing this institution justice. With that bias revealed, let me say that there were some highlights here, including the Kendrick Lamar/Grammy nods joke, and the “Rescue Jeb” commercial, but otherwise, the whole Jost/Che thing always feels off to me. If you’re going to have both Update anchors comment on Trump, do better than some apples-to-apples metaphor jokes. Update needs to start really taking on Trump in a real way, and stat. 

However, Kate McKinnon’s Angela Merkel can get it, even if her body resists celebration and her Krampus dreams don’t come true. Accusing Trump of “liking [Germany’s] earlier stuff” is the closest the show gets to real critique, and McKinnon’s withering stare punches the joke just hard enough. McKinnon’s Merkel is so good and confidently performed it makes the rest of the segment slightly more buoyant, even as Leslie Jones’ weirdly out of date and unfunny Breaking Bad piece drains some of that buoyancy away.

Mrs. Hemsfire
Brunch ladies love to talk about today’s Hollywood hunks, but their one friend Claire is overly obsessed with Chris Hemsworth ... possibly because she is Chris Hemsworth? Another successful, simple sketch committed to heightening its own crazy premise. This one allows each woman her own moment of pitch perfect comedic timing, particularly Aidy Bryant. This SNL cast has some uneven performers, but it’s encouraging that every time they can, they put as many of the women together as possible and let them play. This is one such sandbox sketch, as is the upcoming Hunk Junktion, and the show is better for these. But the bigger questions are, does Claire know Robert Downey Jr.? And does Claire exist? And why doesn’t C-Hemmy cross dress forever?

Mark Keeps Things Fun
Oh, if only he kept things fun enough, though. Bless him for trying, but newcomer John Rudnitsky isn’t hitting much of anything at all yet. Since his casting, I’ve wondered why the show felt they needed yet one more white male, but therein lies the eternal SNL rub. Rudnitsky’s Mark is essentially the funny guy in the office (if the office were a pirate ship). The best part of this thing is Hemsworth’s beard, that little parrot costume, and that it’s over quickly. 

Hunk Junktion
A textbook eleventh-hour sketch that mines a lot of comedy by playing with different ways of talking about the male anatomy while still skirting NBC’s S&P department. Kenan and his grey ponytail are having fun playing the hype man at this male strip club, where he won’t allow outside food but where he does hope the ladies are “ready to get horned up” and “see some peen.” However, the four college-age strippers (Hemsworth, Killam, Bennett, Pharoah) have other ideas with their Tisch School–derived musical number celebrating all the great parts of these United States (but mostly New York) ... that doesn't involving stripping at all. Without the table full of patrons (Bryant, Strong, Jones, McKinnon) who “paid to see naked tool,” this premise would have been iffy. It isn’t, which says a lot about the goodwill Hemsworth has generated by this point, and that the show has been fairly even overall. As Jones says in the sketch, “This show may not be perfect, but they care about it.” Meta! Still, Kenan’s right — you come to a strip club, you wanna see some stinky peanut and testeballs. Particularly if one of the strippers is Chris Hemsworth. 

Aron’s List
Annnnd ... our goodwill has run out. I’ve never gotten totally comfortable with SNL reusing old commercial parodies (even if they’re good, as this ad for a Craigslist-based service, which employs non-violent registered sex offenders, is). I always assume something went awry in the show and was dropped last minute, and that knowledge distracts me from just enjoying the sketch. It’s like how I always assume traffic cops are only doing traffic duty because they made a mistake. It might not be true, but it feels like somebody fucked up for this to happen, and now I’m focused on that and not looking at the cars coming right at me. Or whatever. Anyway, it’s a good commercial parody but I don’t feel the need to see it again.

Overall, it’s a strong episode with notable highlights, but nothing nearing the Kate McKinnon alien probe moment in last episode. What could? Still, a lot of great work here by the cast, and the writers in particular. It’s notable that SNL notoriously has trouble ending sketches, but that wasn’t a problem last night. In fact, many of the sketches’ endings were deeply satisfying. As satisfying as hearing Chris Hemsworth refer to the SNL backstage as “Big Chris’s House.” This was a nice appetizer to next week’s near-sure bet, a co-helmed Amy Poehler/Tina Fey joint. See you then!