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'SNL' Review: Walking Tall with Chris Hemsworth

One of the bigger frustrations for those of us following SNL's 40th season is that, despite the show's ongoing ups and downs, this current version of SNL is one we want to get behind. Kate McKinnon, Taran Killam, and Cecily Strong are as fun to watch and dominant in sketches as previous eras' stars were (regardless how rosey nostalgia has tinted alums like Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg), and the video segments are as sharply executed as they've ever been. What SNL has been lacking are an overall confidence in its assets and a consistent understanding of how to deploy them effectively.

The stronger episodes this season have featured east cast member putting his or her best foot forward. For example, [...]

'SNL' Review: Business as Usual with Dakota Johnson

Two weeks ago, SNL's 40th anniversary reminded us what we love about this show. The routine scrutiny fell silent at the images that once captured each generation: the classic setups like "Celebrity Jeopardy," "Nick the Lounge Singer," and "Wayne's World"; the tongue-in-cheek smugness of regulars like Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin; the moments when endearing nobodies became stars before our eyes. We can complain that SNL lacks originality, but our hearts long for the familiarity we used to have, for the days when we'd pray for Chris Farley to crash into a scene or the TV Funhouse dog to drag the show away or Tina Fey to do the news.

As SNL falls back into business [...]

'SNL' Review: Blake Shelton Ain't From 'Round Here

One thing that's forgotten about the early years of SNL was how much it was a show that anyone could host. While hosts from the old days were more often handpicked from Lorne Michaels' rolodex of awesome comics, like Steve Martin or Buck Henry, the show also took risks with host bookings that it never would these days. An 80-year-old German immigrant woman who won an "Anyone Can Host" contest in 1977. An 8-year-old Drew Barrymore in 1982. Ron Reagan, son of the president, in 1986. SNL even dared to allow directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Quentin Tarantino to host once, even though they led to catastrophically bad episodes (Coppola "hosted" [...]

'SNL' Review: Martin Freeman Comes Bearing Gifts

While watching this weekend's SNL hosted by first-timer Martin Freeman, I couldn't help but wonder what the show's original head writer Michael O'Donoghue might have thought of an episode that turned the recently released CIA torture report into jokes about autocorrect and Time Warner Cable, all while tens of thousands of people crowded the length of Sixth Avenue just outside the 30 Rockefeller doors in protest of police brutality and racism. Fans who abandoned SNL back in the '80s will be the quickest to point out that the show's satire hasn't had any edge since O'Donoghue left, but those of us still who still watch regularly know that [...]

'SNL' Review: A Step Back with Cameron Diaz

Well, that didn't last long.

Just one week after seemingly proclaiming its transitional era to be over, SNL reaffirmed viewers' perennial skepticism with an episode that made Woody Harrelson's excellent outing look like that much more of a fluke. Cameron Diaz's hosting gig wasn't quite the disaster the show is capable of, but it exhibited all the symptoms of a bland episode that no one will remember by the end of the season: a game-for-anything host that the writers didn't know what to do with (despite this being her fourth time), a dependence on watered-down recurring bits that the actors seem to love more than audiences do, and a general miscalculation by producers on [...]

'Fish in the Dark' is 'Seinfeld' on Stage and Vintage Larry David

There's a moment in Fish in the Dark where Larry responds to a question about how grabbing a breast was and he answers with, "Pretty good. Prettayyyyy, prettayyyyy, prettayyyyy good.” The audience erupts into applause and you’re just like what is going on? This man has no business on stage. But you simultaneously know exactly what is going on. You’re getting precisely what you want. You’re not only seeing Larry David acting on Broadway, but him totally serving it up to the audience and they couldn’t be happier with it.

Imagine if there were a Seinfeld episode set entirely in the waiting room during Susan’s diagnosis. That’s pretty much the [...]

'SNL 40' Review: The Stars Come Home

After 40 years, Saturday Night Live may be the only remaining "watercooler comedy" that everyone still has something to say about. Whether it's "The first five years were the best," or "Bring back Victoria Jackson!" (just kidding, no one says that), we all have our opinions on what is or isn't funny on the show… not just us nerdy online reviewers. SNL is, after all, one of the only shows we grew up with that's still on the air – those of us under 40 haven't lived in a world without it — and we each have a personal connection to the first incarnation of it that spoke to us. For me, it was Will Ferrell and Darrell Hammond [...]

'SNL' Review: A New Year with Kevin Hart

A month ago, Chris Rock wrote an essay for the Hollywood Reporter about race in Hollywood, specifically mentioning a sketch he appeared in with Sasheer Zamata on SNL earlier this season as an example of normalization of black actors being able to do comedy without having to always represent the black community:

Twenty years ago when I was on Saturday Night Live, anything with black people on the show had to deal with race, and that sketch we did didn't have anything to do with race. That was the beauty: The sketch is funny because it's funny, and that's the progress. And there are black guys [...]

Making Sense of Serializing 'South Park'

South Park has made a name for itself by breaking boundaries and pushing the envelope, with their incredibly streamlined production schedule allowing them near-unrivaled power on commenting on breaking and current events. So it’s a little surprising that the most unpredictable and ambitious thing South Park did this season was experiment with serialized, continuity-heavy storytelling. This season embraced the approach more than ever before, almost distilling the year into a singular storyline that they kept returning to.

While its prevalence has fluctuated throughout the season (some episodes have functioned entirely as standalone entities), it’s worth assessing why South Park has decided to make this shift this late in the game, [...]

Hannibal Buress Calls Cracker Barrel "The Tim Duncan of Chain Restaurants"

Hannibal Buress posted a brand new restaurant review over the weekend, this time on a Cracker Barrel location in Macon, Georgia. Unlike Lamb's Creek in Pennsylvania, Buress has a few nice things to say about the Cracker Barrel franchise: "I've never walked out of a Cracker Barrel thinking 'What the fuck?'" Also: "Cracker Barrel is the Tim Buncan of chain restaurants: It's a superstar, but slightly boring, but efficient." Plus, without Cracker Barrel's gift shop he couldn't have made the impulse purchase of a $20 keyboard to pursue his dreams of being the world's #1 Hannibal. Cracker Barrel: It's underrated, it's consistent, and it'll make your dreams come true.

Why You Should Be Watching the Wonderfully Bizarre 'Danger 5'

Danger 5, a 2012 Australian action-comedy that finally made its way to the States last month on Netflix, is not only a weird new comedy you should check out, but it's one of the best post-modern sendups of WWII comic books, Sean Connery-era James Bond spy flicks, badly dubbed Japanese monster movies, shoddy Saturday morning puppet shows, '60s swinger cocktail parties, and above all, lurid pulp magazine covers with naked damsels in distress menaced by Nazis and giant mythical creatures. It's a futile endeavor to contextualize Danger 5 with similar films and television shows — there are shades of Team America, Archer, Thunderbirds, The Spoils of Babylon, Austin Powers, and [...]

'SNL' Review: Finding the Rhythm with J.K. Simmons

From the very beginning, Saturday Night Live was considered "a writer's show." While other variety shows from SNL's early years, like SCTV and The Carol Burnett Show, were driven primarily by the actors (in the latter's case, the actors' intentional breaking), SNL's satirical voice was shaped largely by writers like Michael O'Donoghue, Al Franken, and Tom Davis, however famous their on-screen muses became. The show has gone through various love affairs with stock characters, but ultimately it remains controlled by its writers room, where first-years can pitch a sketch on Monday and see their scripts scrawled out on cue cards on Saturday, even if they don't showcase a cast member. In that regard, SNL stands out from the pack of sketch vehicles for character-actors like [...]

'SNL' Review: Amy Adams' Got Christmas Spirit

Like anything else this time of year, it's hard not to come away from SNL in good spirits. Traditionally, the show's holiday episode provides an easy victory just in time for SNL's weary midseason mark, with returning stars like Jimmy Fallon or Martin Short bringing in the holiday cheer with some of the finest moments of the season. SNL is another one of those NYC-based festivities viewers tune into during the holidays, like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or New Years' Eve coverage in Times Square. Whatever complaints you may have about SNL… it's not going to ruin Christmas.

Amy Adams isn't a proven SNL veteran like Fallon or Short — her only connection to [...]

'SNL' Review: James Franco Delivers in an Episode That Doesn't

Let's face it: over the 40 years SNL has been on the air, the majority of its sketches have not made us laugh. For every "Cowbell," there are a dozen forgotten flat-liners you'd never see on the "Best of Will Ferrell" DVD. At best, the show can hope for a 1:1 hit ratio. That's not meant as a knock against SNL, but as an acknowledgement of its difficulty level. By now, we've gone through enough behind-the-scenes documentaries and oral histories to appreciate the show's demanding six-day production period and the risks of live broadcasts. Regular viewers accept a mixed bag as par for the course.

This season has served as evidence of that inconsistency. SNL has produced some real [...]