'Saturday Night Live' Recap: Chris Rock Plays an ISIS Member

In his monologue, Rock explained why Jesus wouldn't like Christmas
Chris Rock on 'SNL'

Chris Rock returned to Saturday Night Live to host tonight for the first time since 1996, and the episode let him dance to soul music as an out-of-touch dad, play a member of ISIS and perform a lengthy stand-up set. The episode had some high moments and some definite lows, but how was it overall? Read on to find out.

The cold open kicked things off by poking fun at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for quarantining a Maine nurse. The show has definitely been getting plenty of (read: too much?) mileage out of this whole Ebola thing — heck, this sketch was mighty similar to last week's Ebola-centric cold open — but Kate McKinnon's wacky, M&M-distributing nurse managed to salvage things, as McKinnon's characters are wont to do.

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No surprise here: Rock's monologue consisted of his stand-up material. He started off by riffing on the absurdity of running a marathon, and he just got stronger from there. He made a point about how he would never enter NYC's Freedom Tower, saying: "I don't care if Scarlett Johansson is buck naked on the 89th floor in a plate of ribs." And he hilariously mocked the commercialization of Christmas by pointing out that Jesus wasn't a fan a materialism. "No bling on Jesus," he said. After a forgettable cold open, things are looking up.

Next, Rock was in uptight-dad mode as the father of a 15-year-old YouTube star who loves to dance. Rock's facial expressions while watching his daughter gyrate were excellent, as were his own fuddy-duddy moves, although the whole feel of the sketch was a bit been-there.

Far better was a sketch in which black pundits try to assess whether President Obama could ever lose their vote. One high point came when the experts tried to decide if Obama would theoretically be in the right for not disciplining his daughters for talking out of turn. "He did not [even] give them the look," the moderator, played by Kenan Thompson, reminded the pundits about the hypothetical situation. 

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Sadly, Weekend Update took a pretty solid step backward this week after having progressively improved in the past few weeks. Numerous lines fell completely flat — do we really need a joke where the punchline contains the words "destroy your bathroom"? — and Pete Davidson's second Update bit this season about penises was a case of diminishing returns. The segment's best gag, about Ronald McDonald's general freakiness, played off the recent spate of scary clowns in pop culture.

The rest of the episode continued the hit-or-miss trend. For example, the Shark Tank parody involving ISIS was a fairly spot-on sendup of that reality show's tropes. "Genocidal regimes are a very tricky business," Mark Cuban reasoned before backing out of investing in the jihadist group. And an ad warning about Taylor Swift-induced vertigo was so-so but ended with a sweet message about how impossible it is to hate on T-Swift. Truer words.

However, a sketch featuring a couple hiring an Uber driver to head to their anniversary dinner was unquestionably the worst sketch of the season thus far. The crowd's silence following numerous punchlines was deafening. And a parody of '90s women-in-the-workplace videos fizzled, despite the amusing line about putting "this diversity truck in reversity."

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One late-episode standout featured a crew of surprisingly courteous bank robbers. "He said, 'Sparkling or still?' " one robber tells a dehydrated hostage about his cohort's query. This might have been among the best pretaped noncommercial sketches of the season.

So, there you go. Lots of trouble areas and at-times tone-deaf writing. However, Rock was great when he was allowed room to be himself. And let's just hope there's something other than Ebola to write a cold open about by the time the next new episode rolls around on Nov. 15.

Three Best Sketches of the Night

1. Black pundits

2. Rock's monologue

3. Cordial bank robbers

Email: Ryan.Gajewski@pgmedia.org
Twitter: @_RyanGajewski