6.5

Saturday Night Live Review: "Chris Hemsworth/Zac Brown Band" (Episode 40.15)

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<i>Saturday Night Live</i> Review: "Chris Hemsworth/Zac Brown Band" (Episode 40.15)

If we can take anything from Chris Hemsworth and the Zac Brown Band’s Saturday Night Live debut it is this: Emmy-nominated Kate McKinnon is the most likely member of the current cast to become a huge success. Close watchers of SNL have known for some time that McKinnon, now in her fourth season on the show, had Kristen Wiig-like breakout potential. But in the show’s latest episode, there is no controversy. McKinnon carries the show on her shoulders—and in doing so, helps the struggling SNL deliver a strong episode.

“Hillary Cold Open” is the best political sketch and cold open of the current season. By satirizing the presumptive Democratic nominee’s grotesque desperation for elective office instead of her questionable ethics, SNL manages to indict both suspect politicians and us: the poor saps upon whose shoulders people like Hillary scratch and claw their way to the “top.” McKinnon’s Clinton is (brilliantly) less a dead-on impersonation, and more jazz hands and self-aggrandizing bluster. She’s Hillary enough, as it were. But better, she embodies why we no longer trust the people who would rule us. It is as though they truly believe that we are co-conspirators in their personal ambitions…that somehow we want it as much as they do.

No sooner has McKinnon cried “Live from New York it’s Saturday Night,” than she pops up as Chris Hemsworth’s chino-panted mother in his opening monologue. And then she’s back again. First as Aussie hip-popster Iggy Azalea (“The Iggy Azalea Show”), then as a poorly directed film actress in “Movie Set.” McKinnon delivers big laughs consistently all night. But unlike cast favorites Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant, who also perform well, McKinnon’s characters are imbued with danger and whimsy…exaggerations that are at once surprising and familiar. There is a level of craft McKinnon brings to Studio 8H that exceeds that of her talented peers. (Leslie Jones, who is slated to co-star in the Ghostbusters reboot with McKinnon and Wiig, may well be the show’s next breakout star…but for now, it is a distinction McKinnon owns outright.)

And what of first-time host Hemsworth? He’s fine—more comfortable with his sex-symbolism than many who’ve gone before him perhaps, but he jumps into the fray with both feet (even donning a Thor costume!) and seems to be having a reasonably good time on SNL, despite passing moments of wooden acting. But I mean, come on. He’s Chris Hemsworth, not Robert Downey, Jr. What did you expect?

The Zac Brown Band is solid, performing “Homegrown” and “Heavy Is the Head;” the later with guest vocals and rhythm guitar by former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. Brown is one of those artists who’s built a respectable career hovering between Americana and country genres, eschewing the more traditional pop ploys in favor of collecting a loyal audience one song, one concert, at a time. His appearance on SNL is textbook Brown—no rough edges, fun loving, good ‘ol boy rock and roll presented without a trace of irony.

That sketch about the chicken on the spaceship (“Spaceship”)...? That was awesome. If you saw it and don’t agree…what the devil is wrong with you?

Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney should have their own HBO show. They never miss. This week’s “Reality House” may not be as well executed as previous “Television of the Absurd” pre-tapes have been this season, but it just warms the heart to see so much air time given to Beck and Kyle’s post-Andy Samberg “digital shorts.” Mooney appears to be breaking out more as a cast star than Bennett, but their collaborations continue to support the opinion of those of us who see something valuable in NBC’s ongoing, weekly sketch comedy show experiment.

Did Weekend Update happen? I seem to recall a pretty solid Leslie Jones monologue about breathing rat hair dust in the subway, and the welcome return of Cecily Strong’s “Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation with at a Party,” and something about Michael Che having a larger penis than Colin Jost. I don’t know…I think I was busy watching Minecraft videos on YouTube during that part of the show.

Predictably, Saturday Night Live recovers from a down week to deliver a respectable, mid-season show. Action star Chris Hemsworth does fine as the laughing hunk, and the Zac Brown Band gives us a song to download this week. But the big news from this episode of SNL40 is that Kate McKinnon has been coronated (at least by me) as “Wiig Apparent.” No need to dither, friends. Jump on the McKinnon bandwagon. Kate’s ride to the top is going to be so much more fun to watch than Hillary’s…should the former Secretary of State and First Lady decide to run for President in 2016…

Chris White writes and directs independent feature films. His latest, a showbiz comedy about looking for Bill Murray, is called Cinema Purgatorio . Follow Chris on Twitter.

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