Sometimes it’s hard to tell why SNL is worth watching, but then one sees Chris Hemsworth romance a chicken, and is completely reassured that all the late night hours have been worth it.
The Host: Chris Hemsworth has played Thor in “four movies: Thor 1, Thor 2, The Avengers, and Gone Girl.” And seeing as how America pretty clearly rejected hacker Hemsworth in Blackhat, the public is going to associate his chiseled looks with the norse deity for the foreseeable future. While this certainly isn’t a bad thing, because Hemsworth was more or less tailor made to play Thor, he has a perfect level of movie star charm on display tonight that he hopefully can one day transfer into a post Marvel career. That charm is the integral cog to all of Hemsworth’s appearances in the episode, but it’s more than just coasting. Hemsworth is able to adjust his charisma to play everything from a Disney channel star to a starship commander to a working actor having to deal with a former acting coach from The Jeffersons. An actor of lesser talent and Hemsworth’s charisma would appear out of place in all of those premises, but Hemsworth is aware enough to know how low-key or how broad to make his performances.
Musical Guest: Zac Brown Band is much more southern rock than they are straight country. The titular Zac Brown is much more interested in exploring the different sonic areas he can make with a guitar than hits like “Chicken Fried” would suggest; just watch the Nashville episode of Sonic Highways. The band uses its two performances to make this point. The first performance is a serviceable country number about how great life is, which is saved from its clichés by great orchestration. The second number is a purple rocker with crunchy guitars and a Chris Cornell-sung chorus that is too messy and a minute too long. Their SNL stand shows that Zac Brown Band has the ambition to want to be the best rock band in the country, but are still trying to figure out how to get there.
Best Sketch: “S.S. Orion” is built around the idea that Chris Hemsworth is sleeping with a chicken. The idea is patently ridiculous, but Hemsworth has already saved scores of Starfleet personal, including his wife as she is giving birth to their child, from a Romulan mining ship from the future, so bonking a chicken is just another day at the office for him. Hemsworth is pure class in the sketch as he tries to defend to the other characters the crazed decisions of their chicken-captain. He is also the rock that grounds the sketch in its cheesy set and a radioactively cooked chicken, and elevates the material from good to great.
Worst Sketch: The former porn stars are barely edging out Jebidiah Atkinson for smart character quickly run into the ground. Part of the FPS appeal is novelty: Nothing is particularly wrong with Cecily Strong and Vanessa Bayer’s performances—if anything, they’ve along gotten stronger as they’ve had more chances to play the characters—but the fact that they have appeared nearly half-a-dozen times in so little time makes the patterns of the sketch transparent enough to rob it of its power. This is a problem SNL has always had, but it’s always a shame to watch good comedy be gutted of its energy.
Weekend Update: The march of Update as the MVP segment of season 40 continues tonight. The return of panelists Leslie Jones: Relationship Expert and The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation with at a Party are great, and could theoretically succeed with any anchor behind the desk, because of the strength of Jones’ and Strong’s performances. But Update as a segment only works with anchors that know what they’re doing. Jost and Che have fallen into such great rhythm with each other that they’re able to make an insufferable premise like swapping jokes one of the funniest moments of the night, and pull out the classic Update bit of piling onto one story—Dr. Ben Carson saying homosexuality is a choice—with such great precision and aplomb.
Other Notes: The cold open is really good only because it is just Kate McKinnon giving a monologue into a camera as Hilary Clinton. The Good Neighbors strike gold again by putting the normal squabbles of roommate living into the framework of a reality competition show. And for more SNL reading, check out this article from Splitsider about the show’s contentious relationship with Twitter and the internet.