Look at it this way: “Saturday Night Live” has only up to go after last week’s trainwreck. And while Chris Hemsworth doesn’t exactly inspire confidence as a potentially great host, the show is due to come out of the semi-spiral it’s been in during 2015 so far. We’ll get some Marvel-inspired gags/sketches, and who knows, maybe even some of the other starts from “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” might show up tonight to support Thor. (NBC may or may not have one of that movie’s stars already on the payroll, is all I’m saying.)
Follow along tonight as I liveblog all the segments starting at 11:30 pm EST. Be sure to share your thoughts in real-time throughout the episode!
Hillary Clinton Cold Open: Kate McKinnon gets the coveted role of Hillary Clinton, which guarantees her some huge exposure as we head into the next Presidential election season. If nothing else solidifies her central place in the current iteration of the show, this is it. The email scandal reveals some less-than-scandalous missives from her private account. But it doesn’t stop there: she wants us to know she watches “House Of Cards” on a daily basis and shares pics from her private Instagram account. McKinnon needs time to develop her take on Clinton, but that’s expected: Already she has a few affectations that suggest an incredibly driven, wound-up personality under the calm surface. It's a great to start to what may be a memorable match between politician and "SNL" performer. [Grade: B+]
Monologue: Hemsworth wants to share this moment with his brothers…and also Kenan Thompson, playing the fourth, heretofore unknown brother Callum. Thompson carries the monologue, which might be a sign of things to come tonight in terms of not letting Thor do much of the talking. It’s an oddly short monologue, even with the Q&A session. Weirdly, Liam Hemsworth, who's in arguably the biggest movie franchise of the past few years in "The Hunger Games", said almost nothing. [Grade: C-]
American Express: “I bounced around Hollywood for DAYS!” laments Hemsworth. in a simple but effective commercial parody of his “hardships” landing a role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For his line reading of “Boom!” alone, this was a solid sketch. Here, the relatively short running time works in the segment’s advantage, since it’s a one-note joke. But it’s a pretty great joke. I'm curious how many pre-taped segments we'll get tonight, given how nervous he was during the monologue. [Grade: B]
Brother 2 Brother: Hemsworth and Taran Killam are twins in a Disney Channel comedy. But the central part of the sketch isn’t their interaction, but the lengthy verbal takedown their teacher (Cecily Strong) gives about just how unalike the two actually are. “His chest just goes out…it just takes up more room in the room!” But it’s not just her…other students get into the game as well. (Aidy Bryant’s breakdown of their rear ends is legendary and probably unquotable here.) As for Hemsworth…he was barely in this sketch, but was perfectly serviceable in his brief time on-camera. [Grade: B]
Empire: Yes, “Empire” definitely needs to attract the white audience, given that it only grows in terms of overall audience each week and is a straight-up cultural phenomenal the likes of which network TV hasn’t seen in years. Sigh. Weak premise aside, here’s a great example of the show’s increasingly diverse cast allowing the show to react to more things in pop culture. No way in hell “SNL” could have done this sketch last year: not just because “Empire” didn’t exist, but if it had, “SNL” wouldn’t have been able to say anything about it had it debuted in January 2014. I’m still torn about the actual premise, but I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt that it understand the show's current popularity doesn't require additional demographics. [Grade: B]
Chicken Captain: In the future, chickens evolve past humans, and start sleeping with Thor! The future is weird. Having Hemsworth trying to romantically plead with a chicken sounds ridiculous on paper, but God help me it works like gangbusters in practice. I’ve been hard on Hemsworth thus far, but he’s completely charming and able to play of the chicken’s unpredictable behavior like a champ. By the time the chicken is cooked in the microwave, I was all in on a sketch I immediately groaned at for sheer stupidity. Strong’s line “She smells so good, and she was such a bitch,” is the icing on this surprisingly tasty, poultry-based cake. [Grade: A-]
The Iggy Azalea Show: McKinnon’s back in another starring role, saying the word “feud” in the most adorable way possible. Hemsworth is her older cousin and hip hop guru, who apparently advised her to make gun sounds in lieu of actual lyrics and let booties, not mouths, do the talking. I’m guessing “SNL” wanted at least one sketch in which Hemsworth could use his native accent. Too bad there wasn’t much else going on except Sasheer Zamata enjoying Thor twerking. [Grade: C-]
Weekend Update: Relationship expert Leslie Jones is back, which means the Jones/Jost dynamic is back. “Nice transition!” says Jost to Jones after a particularly botched interaction, and it makes me cry at the possibility of these two just hanging out for eight minutes a week. My big takeaway from her segment is that I’d like to see “Leslie Jones Versus White Girls On The Subway,” which sounds like something that Comedy Central should greenlight right now. Later, “That Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With At A Party” returns with her pink dress and plenty of malapropisms. (“Everyone’s talking about HMOs…why can’t we just call them ‘gay people’?”) As for Jost/Che: Signs of life this week! Their Ben Carson run? PHENOMENAL. Yes, that’s a tried-and-true “Update” trope, but well delivered. And the 36-inch flub was absolutely perfect: Even if the rest of that bit was scripted, the interaction between the two leading into it was off-the-cuff and a lot of fun. [Grade: A-]
The Avengers: The Avengers have defeated Ultron, and Thor is at an 11 right now! Everyone is celebrating, and that includes dumping Gatorade on Nick Fury and an after-party at Dave & Busters. Not a lot of laughs here, but Hemsworth’s energy is off-the-charts here, which covers up the lack of funny material. That's a host doing things the right way. [Grade: B-]
Soap Opera: Thompson’s director instructs his actors to act as if they are on “The Jeffersons.” That means wild gesticulations and overreactions from both Hemsworth and McKinnon, the latter of which is having a NIGHT here in terms of screen time. Unfortunately, the set-up to punchline ratio is way off here, and so there’s a ton of downtime inside a relatively short sketch. [Grade: C-]
So You Think You Can Live With Brian: Another Bennett/Moody jam, this time a reality-show parody in which conflict arises between three roommates over the smallest of things. As such, the decision between getting groceries versus ordering food turns into a parody of “Survivor,” “The Bachelor,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” and more. Too bad none of those parodies are particularly funny, unlike this pair’s previous takes on TGIF ABC programming. After an initial season full of promise, this pair’s digital shorts have settled into unfortunate familiarity. [Grade: C-]
Dolce And Gabbana: “I reamed a donkey!” Hey, the ex-pornstars are back! I’ve done a double 180 on these two…I used to love them, then loathed them, and now I think I’m back on board. I’m guessing it was the prostate joke that got me back on-board. Hearing Hemsworth say “Douche And Go Bye-Bye” doesn’t hurt, either. Thank God for this sketch, which rescued an otherwise poor post-“Update” sequence for the show. [Grade: B+]
How Was Zac Brown Band? I’m not a country music fan, but I do enjoy their fusion of rock and country, and adding Chris Cornell for the second performance (“Heavy Is The Head”) just underlined the mixing of those two genres. Somewhere, Kurt Sutter is mad he could never use this song in “Sons Of Anarchy”.
Best Sketch: Chicken Captain
Worst Sketch: Soap Opera
What did everyone else think?