SNL is a good match for Kevin Hart, whose emphatic delivery and general enthusiasm lend themselves well to variety. As with James Franco last week, Hart has already proven himself at Studio 8H a couple of times. He’s done chatty stand-up during his monologues, played an adept straight man, showed up in memorable satires (“Bushwick, Brooklyn 2015”), and gone big (as when he played Pope Quvenzhané Wallis). Two things are certain from this Hart performance: There will be lots of holiday cheer, and lots and lots of mugging.
White House Tree Trimming
At the White House, Donald Trump (Alec Baldwin) and Melania (Cecily Strong) gather in front of the tree. Rather than just trim it, however, they want to add “haters and losers” to the Trump “tree of shame.” From there, Trump staff members such as Kellyanne Conway (Kate McKinnon), Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Aidy Bryant), Mike Pence (Beck Bennett), and Ivanka Trump (Scarlett Johansson) all arrive to shame people like Mike Flynn and James Comey. Then the recently fired Omarosa Manigault Newman (Leslie Jones) shows up. As is the case with many cold opens this year, this one feels like a hodgepodge of faces and ideas that never becomes more than a series of loosely connected gags. It’s a charming but overstuffed mess.
Kevin Hart Monologue
Where some stand-up comics stretch the monologue to ten minutes or more, Hart keeps his to a tight six minutes. After touting his movie, tour, and previous SNL hosting gigs, he talks dad stuff. He feels bad for exhausted 60-year-old fathers who stop him in the park and ask for his help with their babies. And though he admires mothers for their fortitude and dedication to their kids, Hart doesn’t think they’re any fun either. Being the fun dad, then, is the hardest job. Kids get all worked up and wait for dad to come home so they can “jump on [his] neck.” All of Hart’s material here feels pretty strong, so it’s probably stuff he’s using on the road. Whether or not you agree with this ideas, the bits are fun, light, and engaging.
The gift that “every woman desires,” according to this ad parody, is a new charm for her charm bracelet. The producer, Pandora, promises to “take one fact about your wife and turn it into jewelry.” The coffee cup illustrates a lady’s commitment to caffeine, for instance. The martini glass indicates that “you like drinking,” while the dog means “this is a dog.” Guys love it; ladies have to pretend that charms are exactly what they wanted. Women are left wondering why they went out of their way to get their husbands motorcycles and offer threesomes. It’s an effective parody and more than a little indicative of the male mindset when it comes to gift-giving.
Office Phone Call
Somewhere in an office park, a boss (Strong) wants to talk to her employees about third-quarter revenues when Doug (Hart) supposedly gets an urgent call from his Nana. As he tries to excuse himself, Doug’s co-workers let him know it’s okay to use the bathroom after lunch — he doesn’t have to fake phone calls and make up excuses every day. The proud Doug doubles down, insisting that it was a family emergency, but he’ll wait. While the rest of the meeting goes on, Doug bites his fist, sweats profusely, and just might “S his Ps” before his co-workers intervene. Yes, this is one long poop joke, but Hart mugs like a maniac and sells it with his stiff-legged and awkward exit.
Captain Shadow and the Cardinal
Though the Batman-like hero Captain Shadow (Hart) and his eager Robin-like sidekick Cardinal (Chris Redd) foil a bank robbery, they get pulled over by the cops on their way back to the hideout. The white cop (Alex Moffat) has some questions: Did they know how fast they were going? Are they rappers or something? Soon enough, Captain Shadow is defending his life while bent over the hood of his Batmobile facsimile. Then the cop finds Captain Shadow’s “energy dust,” a.k.a. cocaine, and things get hairy. This sketch brings a smart perspective shift to the realm of vigilante crime-fighting, but it goes a little off the rails once the coke gets involved.
Inside the NBA
In this edition of Inside the NBA, host Ernie Johnson (Moffat) welcomes Kenny Smith (Redd), Charles Barkley (Thompson), and Shaquille O’Neal (Hart) to talk basketball. It doesn’t take long before Barkley is taking cheap shots at Shaq for his odd non sequitors. As Shaq explains why Tagalongs are the “Shaq of cookies,” Barkley keeps saying things like, “You’re the only basketball player whose brain has aged like a football player.” This sketch seems devised to highlight Hart’s Shaq impression, which is mostly mumbling, crossed eyes, and a huge pair of stilts. Though it’s flimsy, it’s funny — especially if you know about Hart’s early audition for SNL, which featured more than a couple lackluster impressions.
This week’s Update keeps it pretty straight, focusing on jokes and a few longer runs from Michael Che. The hosts talk Doug Jones (or, rather, “not Roy Moore”), Donald Trump’s muted response to Moore’s loss, and the importance of the black vote. Che says black people are not Democrats, they’re just trying to avoid persecution. “Here’s how I vote,” Che says, “I look at both candidates, I listen to them speak, and then I ask myself, If I got pulled over, which one of these candidates would I rather see approaching my car? It’s almost always not the one on a horse.” Later, Che talks about why Trump should consider resigning: “You’ve made your point already, dude. The political system is broken and probably rigged and any idiot who understands television could probably mobilize the angriest people with lies and insults, and still be more likable than Hillary Clinton. Point taken.”
Of Update’s two character appearances this week, one is little more than a walk-on. Leslie Jones returns as Omarosa, who defiantly insists that she fired herself. “I escorted myself off the premises,” she says, “And then threw myself in the bushes.” It’s a bit heightened from the actual circumstance, but not much. Then Alex Moffat returns as preppie, pun-loving Guy Who Just Bought a Boat. The subject matter is seducing women during the holidays, but the shtick is the same — Moffat says gross-out things before denigrating his own junk. (“Mistletoe leads to camel toe. And medically speaking, my missile is a toe.”) Though all of it feels a bit exhausting and exhausted at first, Moffat and the deluge of douche-y puns eventually win the live audience over.
Before the minister of Rock Harbor comes out to deliver this year’s Christmas sermon, the teen ministry presents the church’s annual nativity play — with one distinct change. Instead of a standard camel, there will be a llama “with a bean-bag hump.” And the llama’s trainer (Heidi Gardner) mentions the animal is feisty and can only be placated with one word that sounds like “Jah-eed.” Then the llama gets a boner. This sketch might be worth it to watch Hart, Day, and Kyle Mooney portray hapless wise men shouting, “Jah-eed,” at a real llama, but there’s not a lot to recommend it beyond that.
When Crystal (Jones) and Gene (Hart) arrive at a Christmas party, their relationship is clear: She says, “Jump,” and he says, “How high?” No, Gene won’t have Bailey’s from a glass, he’ll drink Diet Pepsi from a crazy straw — and he’ll like it. When Gene fails to kiss Crystal under the mistletoe in a timely fashion, Crystal forces Gene to make out with and enact his sexy fantasies on a giant, novelty teddy bear under the Christmas tree. Hart does a good nervous, henpecked husband, and there are some fun lines like, “Your booty look good in dungarees.”
During the PBS Pledge Drive, a pitchwoman (Strong) introduces the classic opening to Active Jack, a show that introduced childhood fitness to the public-broadcasting landscape. In the opening sequence, Jack (Hart) walks up and down stairs, cavorts with girls jump-roping, and does some squats and pullups. As a surprise, the pitchwoman reunites the cast of Active Jack to reprise that famous sequence some 45 years later. Unsurprisingly, it’s a lot tougher for present-day Jack (Thompson) to take the stairs, dance, or do anything else. One of the jump-rope girls is dead. Eventually, Jack just gives up while telling the kids, “Smoke, drink, I don’t care.” The physical routine feel uninspired, and as a whole it feels like an elaborate physical gag that never quite measures up to its promise.
All in all, Hart’s performance in this final episode of 2017 feels like that of an old pro. Not content to just read from the cue cards, he adds comedic flourishes and details to characters that give them more dimension. There aren’t any breakout sketches, however, and several of the scenes seem to get lost because they don’t work all the way through. While the cold open doesn’t feel particularly focused, Weekend Update delivers another strong week. The next live episode isn’t until January 13 when the host will be Sam Rockwell. See you in 2018, folks!