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Saturday Night Live Review: "Dwayne Johnson/George Ezra" (Episode 40.16)

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<i>Saturday Night Live</i> Review: "Dwayne Johnson/George Ezra" (Episode 40.16)

Dwayne Johnson (née “The Rock”) returns to Saturday Night Live fast and furiously, delivering a sequel performance that stumbles early but bounces back, surviving a late-episode threat, to stand victorious at the end.

Keep in mind that Johnson was a pro wrestling star long before he was a movie star. His talent for improvisation, characterization and live television was honed over many years in the ring. “The Rock” was one of the best wrestlers ever, and his influence in that world (and in the world of tribal tattoos) is felt to this day. But Johnson is also a seasoned SNL host. He understands how to do it far better than most, and that skill and confidence comes through.

Seeing Dwayne Johnson reprise his role as “The Rock Obama” was not a surprise, though the parody falls a little flat now. The first time we saw The Rock Obama it was in the afterglow of Barack Obama’s first election, and there was the sense (hope?) that underneath the President’s professorial demeanor was a kick-ass action hero. Six years into his presidency, there is the growing restlessness of who’s next, of political battle fatigue. We all know that The Rock Obama isn’t coming to kick Washington’s ass, and we wouldn’t approve if he did. As a result, this Cold Open is left with forgettable, quasi-political riffing, Leslie Jones yelling for laughs as “She Rock Obama,” and the lingering hope that the rest of us are still laughing at the pun. Could it be that Obama sketches on SNL are lame ducks, too?

Four pre-tape sketches are particularly strong for this episode, with the Starbucks #racetogether campaign-inspired “Pep Boys” best in class. The sketch suggests that to express its own progressive social conscience, auto parts dealer Pep Boys is launching an initiative to engage customers in discussions about gender and sexual identity: #Genderflect. This is timely and spot-on social satire that is really one of the best pieces of the season.

“New Disney Movie” is strong, too. The premise: Dwayne Johnson stars as Bambi in a live-action remake of Disney’s animated classic. SNL film trailer send-ups have been excellent this season, but this one may be the best. ADDED BONUS: Taran Killam’s Vin Diesel as Thumper. Watch it here.

“Brogaine,” the hair growth formula for your fraternity’s bald guy and “Circus,” the latest Kyle Mooney “man-on-the-street” prank interview, were both strong offerings that added quick punch ups when the episode felt like it might be losing momentum. SNL40 has grown comfortable trusting Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett with their own strange excursions into short-form alternative comedy, and the show is better for it.

Cecily Strong’s British girlfriend in “Dinner Date” is yet another example of her outstanding creative character work. The sketch is, essentially, a return to the classic Saturday Night Live “couples from hell” trope (The A-Holes, Love-Ahs, Boston Teens, The Nerds), and with her performance, Cecily makes a case here for inclusion in the “Best Character Actresses of SNL” club alongside Jan Hooks, Cheri Oteri, Molly Shannon and Kristen Wiig.

And speaking SNL Hall of Famers…in “Improv Show,” Kate McKinnon’s Robert Durst…geez. This would require it’s own article to properly appreciate. You really do have to see it to believe it.

Make what you will of “The Jungle,” a skit straight out of your junior high locker room, inexplicably set in the world of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. How strange that the writers went to such lengths to create a scenario where an Asian boy (Pete Davidson’s not-so-veiled nod to Indy’s Doom sidekick) fellates a man while a lusty woman looks on wantonly. Paired with “Cooking With Paul,” a TV cooking show where the chef is a convicted pedophile, these tone-deaf forays into push-button outrageousness flop. Because child sexual abuse is really bad and sad, right? (Incidentally, it was just as hard to watch Alec Baldwin’s scout leader molest Adam Sandler’s Canteen Boy in the 90’s.)

George Ezra’s SNL debut came off without a hitch. Both performances (“Budapest,” “Blame It on Me”) were genial introductions to the latest big label artist to fill the “earnest song-boy” space. Reading up on Ezra, one sees a lot of wistful references to Bob Dylan and mentions of his recent opening stint for Hozier. Promising details, both. Only…listening to him calls to mind early John Mayer or Jack Johnson. Or perhaps Jewel? It is always fascinating to see whom the big labels pick to be next. Maybe the clue is no rough edges, good-naturedness, a broad, baritone voice and musings in the press about Dylan. Still, George Ezra did fine.

This was a solid, mostly funny episode of Saturday Night Live… with Dwayne Johnson proving to us that host experience can give the show a lift. So…maybe Johnson’s opening monologue boast is correct: he is franchise Viagra.

SNL NEXT WEEK: Michael Keaton with Carly Rae Jepsen

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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