March 2, 2013

THE SKED REVIEW: SNL with Kevin Hart


Comic crumbs were hard to come by on tonight’s mostly dreadful SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.  It’s a particular disappointment because after two episodes struggling with non-comedy hosts Adam Levine and Justin Bieber, the show had a definite uptick with the slyly funny Christoph Waltz, and this time the host was Kevin Hart, who’s proven his comic chops not just as a stand-up but with very effective stints in Think Like A Man and on Modern Family, among other places.  One skill Hart apparently hasn’t perfected is dealing with cue cards, and by repeatedly going up on his lines and/or breaking, he didn’t do himself any favors.  But the material was SNL‘s real antagonist this week.

The whole show seemed off its game, even the timing of the sketches (the first half-hour needed a rerun of the Starbucks coffee maker ad from earlier in the season as filler, and during the last 15 minutes, the commercial breaks were longer than the sketches that came between them).  Hart’s monologue was an abbreviated stand-up act, which at first was a relief after the musical monologues that have become so tiresome, but Hart’s story about a homeless man palming sandwiches never hit any big laughs, and when he segued to a supposed reminiscence about auditioning for SNL in the past–well, if you’re going to do a bit about celebrity impressions, you should be able to do some.

The sketches were no better.  Things got off to a weak start with a cold open about the sequester cuts, which as usual this season was so anxious to avoid a point of view that it settled for flat silliness, in this case ending with a lengthy, elaborate Village People joke.

After the monologue, there was the usual avalanche of franchise sketches.  A Steve Harvey Show parody featured Hart as a guy scared even of stuffed horses, which might have been a nicely surreal gag, but played out too shrilly and without any ending. A Situation Room bit was based around the idea of Quvenzhane Wallis being named Pope, another idea that could have been funny if the writers had figured out anywhere for it to go.  And who was clamoring for a return of the sketch where Bobby Moynihan and Cecily Strong throw insults at all their fellow employees when the boss announces that someone’s going to be fired?  It wasn’t hilarious when it took place in a fast-food restaurant, and it didn’t get any funnier at a Barnes & Noble (it mostly seems attractive to the producers because just about everyone in the cast gets to participate for a minute or so).

Weekend Update should have clicked better than it did.  A bit with Jay Pharoah as Dennis Rodman and Moynihan as Kim Jong-Un, being interviewed about Rodman’s recent visit to North Korea, lacked any bite, and a Really??? segment about the possible end of the Voting Rights Act was derailed by Hart’s total inability to handle the cue cards (plus Jon Stewart got there first and did it better).

The show’s last half-hour started off with what turned out to be the best sketch of the night, a Walking Dead parody where Hart, turning into a zombie, chided Rick and the gang for suspecting him only because they were racists–while they excused even his munching on people out of white guilt.  Any positive momentum, however, disappeared with a Shark Tank sketch that had no point at all, seeming to think the idea of Hart pitching a lamp wearing sunglasses was hilarity enough.  Even worse was a one-note skit that just repeated, over and over, the joke of Vanessa Bayer and Hart each doing voice-over for a Dove Chocolate ad, with Hart screaming more each time to underline how wrong he was for the gig.  There was more Hart screaming in an ad for the “Z-shirt” (he went through the whole alphabet, trying to guess the right letter) that did have one formal bit of semi-originality, when Hart’s character showed up again after a real commercial break to go on howling at his partner from the ad (who was now at his mother’s funeral).  The night ended with a brief sketch that mistakenly ran away from its own premise, a guy in a neck brace trying to deliver the news on a show that required him to be filmed from constantly changing angles.

When SNL fails as badly as it did tonight, a cry goes out throughout the land for a a savior, one who can singlehandedly restore the show to days of former glory.  And in recent seasons, only one man has reliably been able to answer that call:  next week’s host and musical guest, Justin Timberlake.

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."