November 2, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Review: “Saturday Night Live” with Chris Rock


Chris Rock’s new movie Top Five is a breakthrough for him partly because in it, he finally manages to capture his stand-up comedy persona in a fully-fledged character.  It was too much to hope that SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, where Rock had a more troubled time as a regular cast member than is generally remembered, would do the same–but tonight’s wreck of an episode didn’t seem likely either.  This was easily the worst SNL outing of the season so far, just a mess from the writing to the performances, the latter of which featured what may have been a record number of cue card failures.

Things got off to a bad start with an even more dire cold open than usual.  Bobby Moynihan trotted out his Chris Christie for a sketch about quarantining potential Ebola patients, with Kate McKinnon as the nurse who’d objected to being quarantined.  Moynihan didn’t even try to simulate Christie, apparently on the assumption that being a heavy-set guy in a suit would be enough, and the sketch’s only laugh came when McKinnon described all the dangerous acts she’d been committing since being freed from captivity.  A later political sketch, a parody of Shark Tank where the joke was that ISIS was seeking financing from the millionaire hosts, was more ambitious and promising, but it was sloppily written and unwilling to take any real risks with the subject matter, and it had the most tepid ending imaginable as the ISIS applicants were turned over to Homeland Security.

Rock’s monologue seemed to begin at the 20-minute mark of one of his stand-up performances, and leaping in with a routine about the Freedom Tower and commercializing 9/11 appeared to knock the studio audience for a loop.  It wasn’t until late in the bit, when Rock reached the safer ground of marketing Christmas, that the crowd relaxed and started laughing.  The material itself was funny, but Rock overestimated the audience’s willingness to start the evening on a subversive note.

None of the sketches really scored.  A How 2 Dance With Janelle piece with Sasheer Zamata as a 15-year old twerking for a live internet feed to the horror of her father (Rock) was just a revamp of an old Jimmy Fallon bit.  It wasted Rock, and got its biggest laugh from Kyle Mooney, as Janelle’s friend, doing the old pillow-hiding-a-hardon gag.  Since the host was black, there was a return of the How’s He Doing? sketch, in which African-Americans continue to support Barack Obama no matter what.  It did nothing but repeat the same rhythm and form of the first iteration.

Weekend Update fell apart this week, as Michael Che seemed to have only a glancing knowledge of his cue cards, and Pete Davidson, doing his third desk piece since the season began, found himself facing diminishing returns with a bit about his discovery that he was allergic to condoms.  Jay Pharoah’s Katt Williams is first-rate, but there were few laughs when he and Kenan Thompson (as Suge Knight) came on to discuss their recent arrest for stealing a camera.

There were more cue card problems in a late sketch about a feuding couple on their anniversary, featuring what should have been the hilarious pairing of Rock and Leslie Jones.  (Jones didn’t just screw up her cue cards, at one point she appeared to forget that she had a line to deliver in the first place.)  The 12:55AM piece, a satire of 1990s era anti-racism employee education videos, was strange enough for its slot (it somehow segued into Vanessa Bayer, as the white actress in the reenactments, and Aidy Bryant, as her fake-lesbian lover, engaging in parody tongue-kissing), but left Rock as the straight man and had no particular point.

Some lackluster SNL episodes are saved by their pre-taped pieces, but that wasn’t the case tonight.  A surfer-dude commercial for a hip colonoscopy camera was more clever than funny, a sketch about solicitous bank robbers was just puzzling, and a pseudo-commercial for an anti-vertigo medication for adults to take if they realized they enjoyed Taylor Swift would have been funnier if Swift’s people had allowed the show to license a single song for the piece.  (Perhaps not coincidentally, SNL is seemingly the only TV show with a high-profile musical spot that wasn’t included in Swift’s recent blitz of promotion for her new album.)

It was a sad night for Chris Rock, who continues to deserve better at SNL‘s hands.  Next week the show takes what seems to be a much-needed week off, returning in 2 weeks with host Woody Harrelson and musical guest Kendrick Lamar.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."