Our host for tonight is Chris Hemsworth-- Australian beefcake, star of Marvel’s Thor, and man who proved to have a good enough knack for comedy in his first round as host last April that the crew at SNL decided to have him back less than a year later. An unlikely choice for a potential five timers club member, but if it means we get to keep looking at that beautiful face then who are we to complain, America? (That, by the way, is very similar to the argument that will lead to the making of 2046’s Thor: Norse Gods Never Die).


Cold Open: President George W. Bush announces his run in the 2016 election, figuring that with the chaos currently reigning in the Republican primaries, he’s got to be looking pretty good right about now. Years from now, during President Kanye West’s historic third term, when I’m recalling just how crazy the 2016 presidential election was, I will look back on the time I watched this episode’s opening sketch and briefly thought, “Oh my God, George W. Bush is running for President now too?! How did I miss this news?!” before realizing no, that is both illegal and insane. But in this sketch, it is the very insanity of this current election that leads President Bush to remind us that maybe his term wasn’t so bad after all. Oh, and did I mention they brought Will Ferrell back in his iconic role as W? It’s always nice to see a familiar SNL face for election season, and Ferrell was an unexpected but welcome one; he always was an energetic and game performer and tonight was no exception. The sketch was perhaps a little soft on Bush, but Ferrell’s impression was always much kinder than it could have been, so it fit. Excluding some weird racial jokes about Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (lumping the two together when every other candidate got their own segment felt a little icky), this was a strong and fun start to the episode. A-


Monologue: Hemsworth opened with some jokes about the short amount of time between his first and second hosting gigs (“Oh my God, why was I wearing that? I was such a kid back then!”), then stated that being at SNL has started to feel so homey that it’s like being back with his brothers in Australia. He then journeyed to the backstage area to prove it, roughhousing with the whole cast just like he would with his brothers-- whether the cast members liked it or not. Highlights included Hemsworth teasing Bobby Moynihan about his seasonal acting duties (“How many sketches are you playing Santa Claus in tonight?” “All of them”), stealing a phone out of Kate McKinnon’s hand and hanging up on Hillary Clinton, and, when Aidy Bryant and Vanessa Bayer complained about his pranks, responding with “Yeah, but you’d hit it, wouldn’t you?” (Both, of course, say yes). This was a charming introduction to the episode, and a good example of the infectious high energy Hemsworth continued to bring. A


Star Wars Action Figures: An ad for the new Star Wars toys and action figures features rave reviews from the young kids who enjoy playing with them, as well as the grown men who enjoy keeping them in their boxes. A simple but funny premise that never got overstretched, this made for a great fake commercial. The kid actors added a nice touch, contrasting the adults’ excitement with their own confusion over why someone would buy toys and not play with them. And they found a perfect ending with Bobby Moynihan slowly and meticulously placing his Darth Vader figure in a glass case, then turning to the camera and exclaiming “Awesome!” A-


On the Record: On a new episode of On the Record, host Greta Van Susteren tries to get Republican candidates Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Ben Carson to admit their opinions on Donald Trump’s suggested ban on Muslims immigrating to America. Moynihan’s Chris Christie was fun if a bit obvious at times (like suggesting we need to “build a bridge between Muslims and Americans, but we have to make that bridge really hard to cross”), and though Taran Killam’s Ted Cruz is a bit more lacking in precision than his Donald Trump, Cruz’s refusal to provide a solid answer to whether or not he agreed with Trump was great, as was his obsession with mentioning the Constitution (“Did you say Constitution?” “No, I said condemnation”). The real highlight was Jay Pharaoh’s still wonderfully unsettling Dr. Ben Carson, and his attempt to pronounce several countries and terrorist groups, followed by Kate McKinnon’s spot on impersonation of Greta Van Susteren (I mean, like we’re even surprised when Kate pulls out another great impersonation) correcting him swiftly at every turn (“I met with the Shiites and the He-ites.” “That’s not right”). Even in more run-of-the-mill sketches like this one, SNL is making the most of this election season in terms of impressions and jokes; all they need in order to really up their game is a little more bite, which at this point seems to be reserved more for the Weekend Update team than the sketch performers. Still, this was a fairly solid sketch with some good laughs.  B+


Time to Bleed: A tough cop continues his mission after getting shot, insisting he doesn’t have “time to bleed,” but keeps up his commitment a little too long, refusing medical attention for days after and slowly bleeding out through a medal ceremony, case paperwork, and constant flirtation with his partner. This weird as hell takedown of masculine energy gave Hemsworth a chance to shine, and he did not disappoint. His character’s descent into delirium was bizarrely hilarious, encapsulated in his increasingly slurred come-ons to Sasheer Zamata (“I know a place where you can get blood from: my penis”). Ending with him dead in a pool of his own blood next to a post-coital Zamata was a dark move, but where else was there to go, really? This sketch was funny conceptually, but a lesser host might not have been able to pull off the inherent weirdness of it. Way to go, Thor. B+


Brother to Brother: On a Disney Channel show, a pair of identical twins played by Hemsworth and Taran Killam agree to switch places because Hemsworth’s character is afraid to compete in his upcoming wrestling match. But as soon as Killam shows up in Hemsworth’s place, the wrestling coach and his entire team know he’s an imposter, and are quick to point out the physical differences between the brothers that make it so obvious. We saw this same sketch concept last time Hemsworth hosted, and though I wouldn’t put it in an all time SNL greatest hits list, it was worth repeating. The consistent takedowns of Killam (“Matty has a bigger, more muscular butt, but I want to say your butt has a bigger, like, crack?”) are punctuated perfectly by Killam’s desperate need to change the subject and Hemsworth’s cheerful lack of understanding, coming to a head when the team forces Killam to stand behind Hemsworth to prove that his entire body will be engulfed by Hemsworth’s superior frame. It’s the kind of sketch where you can tell the performers are genuinely enjoying themselves, and that feeling seems infectious. B+


Deborah’s Time: A group of friends enjoying a festive Christmas singalong around the piano are thrown off when their hosts insist on singing the holiday classic Deborah’s Time, an intricate showtune no one else in the group has heard of. AND THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMING. Guys, this episode was pretty great, and this sketch was so weird and wonderful. Chris Hemsworth really sold the role of Broadway-loving supportive husband, though admittedly that glorious wig did, like, half the work for him. Cecily Strong, though, was the real stand out here, giving her character’s dramatic performance both Anne Hathaway levels of emotion and Anne Hathaway levels of trying really hard. This could have been one of those sketches with promise that petered out too soon, but ending it with the group realizing that of course they totally do remember this song from the Smucker’s commercial! was a great closer. A


Weekend Update: And finally, the Weekend Update team both acknowledges that they have worked alongside Trump and acknowledges that he is the worst. Michael Che opened tonight with news of Trump’s declaration that the U.S. should no longer allow Muslim immigrants, followed by this monologue: “Donald Trump is as much a racist as he is a devout Christian gun fanatic. None of what he’s saying is true! You don’t just develop racism overnight on the campaign trail. Racism is embedded deep down in a person’s soul. I’ve looked into that man’s eyes-- Donald Trump doesn’t have a soul! It’s just dollar signs floating in cologne.” Admittedly, calling Donald Trump not a racist is, in many ways, letting him off the hook for some truly vile rhetoric and behavior. But calling him soulless is vindicating from a show that seemed okay with Trump’s bullying attitude for a while, even if the SNL crew criticizing him still feels hypocritical after his hosting gig. Sure, Weekend Update has been the harshest corner of SNL for Trump so far, but this felt more pointed and angry than some of their other, more entertained-seeming bits on Trump. Hopefully the trend continues.

As for guests this week, we had a welcome return of Kate McKinnon’s harsh, awkward, strangely endearing Angela Merkel, promoting her selection as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year (She’s trying to celebrate, but her “body is rejecting it”). Then came Leslie Jones, with a recap of Breaking Bad, a show that she just discovered and which has inspired her to cook meth in order to make Walter White levels of cash. It was fun to see her standup persona in a role other than the more typical dating expert, and I appreciate her commitment to the joke that she wants to sleep with Colin Jost seeing as if looks were charisma, she is truly the Christie Brinkley to his Billy Joel.


Claire: A group of girlfriends grab brunch with their friend Claire, who they slowly begin to realize is actually Chris Hemsworth in drag. When we first saw Hemsworth in this sketch, I worried it would just be a case of a male performer pretending to be a woman in a “bitches be crazy” kind of way. Blessedly, it took a much weirder route that had me genuinely laughing out loud as soon as Hemsworth excused himself to the bathroom and Cecily Strong asked, sounding truly concerned, “Hey guys, crazy question-- is our friend Claire actually Chris Hemsworth?” The girls at first insisting that this trajectory is impossible because they’ve known Claire forever, then realizing that “actually, come to think of it, I’ve never met Claire before today” was a perfect strange detail. All of the female performers were great, uniting their performances with a shared overt pronunciation and lack of outward surprise at their revelations like “Okay, I’m sure now more than ever that our friend Claire is Chris Hemsworth in a dress and wig!” and “Why would Chris Hemsworth do this? He’s a very famous actor!” And Hemsworth was totally game, committing both to his overtly feminine drag persona and his sad alter ego, taking off his wig to admit that he just wanted to know if he was still a hunk. And the sketch contained yet another actually satisfying ending, with all the girls assuring Chris that of course he was still a hunk, followed by Aidy Bryant’s incredulous, “No! This was bad, and you’re weird now!” A-


Mark the Pirate: A group of pirates introduce themselves in song to their female captor, ending with the introduction of Mark, the one who “keeps things fun” with activities like dressing up the parrot and imitating a man with two hooks for hands. NEW GUY! You finally got your own sketch! It wasn’t the best of the night but it was pretty funny and had a couple good laugh lines! We’re so proud of you, new guy! This was Jon Rudnitsky’s first significant appearance on the show, and though it was a bit abrupt and had a more promising beginning than ending, he proved himself an energetic and eager performer. “I made a little outfit for the parrot. It’s the kind of thing I do, keeping it light, keeping it fun-- expect this kind of stuff from me!” We hope to see more of this kind of stuff from you, Jon. After all, this show could really use another young white guy. B


Hunk Junktion: A group of college students working at a male strip club put on their first, and fully clothed, performance for a group of disappointed female audience members.  This was not the most memorable or interesting sketch of the evening, but it was a fun enough way to end the night. Details like Leslie Jones being the only woman not disappointed by the performance in front of her (“Listen, these men are hot. You can’t argue with that. And this show may not be perfect, but they care about it!”) and Jon Rudnitsky (Again! You go, Rudnitsky!) continually popping back up in the performance as a dramatically dancing old-school newsboy, worked to bring the sketch up a bit from its fairly basic premise. This tapered off toward the end, and was a bit of a one-note joke to begin with, but they managed to squeeze as much out of it as they could. B-


Quotes, Extras, and Final Thoughts:


  • George W. Bush complains that he can barely hear Ben Carson when he talks, which won’t help him out in “places like China and Azerbaijan, where you have to talk loudly so that they will understand.”
  • Bush also claims that we should know Trump’s plans for Muslims won’t work due to America’s past with leprechauns. “We tried tiny leprechaun internment camps . . . and as you all know it totally backfired. Leprechaun relations have never recovered since; that’s why they are so hard to find.”
  • I must admit, I was REALLY excited when I saw how Christmasy the main stage looked tonight. I love all things show biz at Christmastime.
  • Chris Christie on Trump’s racist comments: ““When Mr. Trump insults Muslims those are not the values of the Republican party-- they’re just the values of the people who vote for the Republican party.”
  • Favorite lyric from Deborah’s Time: “Why are we doing this to each other?” “Because we’re freakin falling in love.”
  • Michael Che on the Grammys: “The Grammy nominations were announced with Kendrick Lamar getting eleven nominations. It’s the first good news in a while about a black man getting something eleven times.”
  • THOUGHTS ON THE MUSICAL GUEST: Chance the Rapper was tonight’s musical guest, and I quite liked his performances! I really enjoyed the Gospel-esque sound of that second song, and I thought it was cool that he brought a big band and choir with him. Plus, he really looked like he was having fun the whole time he was performing, and I like it when performers look like they’re having fun. We all do! Why else would we all share that adorable .gif of Adele from a couple of episodes ago? THIS HAS BEEN THOUGHTS ON THE MUSICAL GUEST
  • Colin Jost: “Donald Trump didn’t agree with giving you the title. He said you’re ruining Germany.” Angela Merkel: “Oh yeah. I guess he preferred our earlier stuff.” Again with the Trump zingers!
  • Michael Che, on a woman who got pulled over for drunk driving in New Jersey, then told cops she was looking for New Jersey: “If you’re driving around drunk and lost, you don’t need to look for New Jersey-- because it’s been inside of you the whole time.”
  • Did Chris Hemsworth pronounce Will Ferrell like Will Pharell during the closing credits? Does Chris Hemsworth maybe not know who Will Ferrell is?
  • Also, where was Will Ferrell during the closing credits? Did he just show up, make a big splash, and then leave, like a superhero trying to maintain his disguise? Is Will Ferrell an Avenger?


Next week, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler announce their run for President and save Christmas for us all! Be sure to tune in!