The final Saturday Night Live episode of 2017 included, among other things, a sketch about a guy shitting his pants, a sketch about a horny llama with a big dick, a monologue joke about how Kevin Hart hits his kids, a monologue joke about how he respects women for their child-rearing skills but they just aren’t fun, a sketch about a guy whose nagging wife compels him to undress and presumably hump an enormous stuffed bear, two rockin’ songs by Foo Fighters and a delightful photoshopped image of Colin Jost with cornrows. In other words, it was one of stronger episodes of the season.
Dave Becky client Kevin Hart is a natural host, all boyish energy, physicality and a peerless competence with cue cards. His monologue started as a funny, honest exploration of his anxieties over the imminent birth of his third child. It got weird, though, in a bit about how raising kids forces you to make up new words, such as a wordless urgent exclamation one uses to say, basically, “don’t do that.” The sound, he said, becomes so ingrained in us that if you go up behind a stranger and make it, they’ll flinch, “‘cause it always follows with a hit.” The implication, I suppose, is that he strikes his children? Does that track? I think that tracks. And this was a punchline! Then he went off on a stemwinder about how he respects women because they’re so good at taking care of kids, but what they’re not good at is being fun. Dads are the fun ones, you see, and being fun is the harder job. This from a guy who last week admitted to cheating on his pregnant wife. Cool!
Most of Hart’s characters were good old-fashioned oddballs in normal worlds: an incomprehensible Shaquille O’Neal (on stilts!) on Inside the NBA a guy in a business meeting who clumsily fakes a family emergency when he needs to go to the bathroom, a superhero pulled over by cops and busted for drug possession, a fitness personality named “Active Jack.” That second sketch, “Office Phone Call,” was probably one of the episode’s highlights, despite certain, er, played-out elements of the premise. It was a classically structured three-beat sketch whose action escalated to an obvious, but still surprising climax; its third beat inverted the premise in what was, I daresay, a moving turn. Pete Davidson, always a pleasure, featured prominently.
Still, that sketch reeked of a distinctly masculine energy that permeated the episode. “Nativity Play,” in which a community Christmas pageant featured a live llama (playing a live camel) in rut, began innocuously enough. In the play-within-a-sketch, the three wise men (Hart, Alex Moffat and Kyle Mooney), tread anxiously around the animal, terrified it will try to mate with them. In the second beat, they’re holding a blanket in front of the llama to hide its erection. The camera turns to Leslie Jones, in the audience, as they drop the blanket; she is openly titillated. The llama’s handler declares that the llama will be available for photographs, and the sketch ends on Jones saying, “Oh, Imma be there.” To recap: The whole sketch amounts to a joke about a woman getting turned on by a horny llama’s massive penis. Kinda weird!
Even weirder was “Christmas Party,” wherein Hart played a put-upon husband to Jones’s nagging wife. As their friends protest from the sidelines, she insists he drink Diet Pepsi instead of booze, then demands he come kiss her under the mistletoe. When he doesn’t, she demands that he kiss the host’s giant stuffed bear. Then that he undresses it. When he finally says no—and he has a funny line about how she’s humiliating him in front of all his employees—there’s a shocking twist: The sight of him standing up for himself, would you believe it, arouses her. “How about we go home and you get on top?” she says, and he says okay, grabbing the bear as he leaves, “so we can finish what we started.” There were… very few laughs? During this sketch about how women don’t let men have any fun? And in which someone was forced to perform dergading sexual acts in front of his peers? Gosh, I wonder why.
I haven’t yet commented on Weekend Update, which was exactly fine, or the cold open, another interminable slog through a marathon of impressions that I swear get sloppier each week. What I’ll say, to each in turn, is this: It’s so very grating when Jost tells a joke, the audience laughs, and Che repeats some element of the punchline as though he was surprised to hear it. (Last night’s was “flippity flop.”) Man, you were there for the writing and rehearsal of all these jokes! And secondly: What I would like for Christmas is for SNL’s political impressions to never again become self-aware, intelligent and liberal when it suits the joke. For instance: Alec Baldwin’s Trump remarking that this is likely Jeff Sessions’ last Christmas in office. Or Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway saying she wants out of the White House. Or Scarlett Johannson’s Ivanka Trump saying that she and everyone else in the administration are in hell. I’m thrilled it gets good ratings, but it’s not satire: It’s wishcasting. It’s making little puppets of the people you hate and having them tell each other, “you suck!” Is it gratifying? For a little while, sure. But we’ve been at this since 2015 and we’ve got three years left, at least, knock on wood. Maybe it’s time to grow up.
Anyway. My congratulations to Michael Che and Colin Jost on their first show as co-head writers, and let’s all raise our glasses to third-time host Kevin Hart, whose manager helped silence the victims of Louis C.K. Happy New Year!
Seth Simons is Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Follow him on Twitter.