I”ll be honest: I”m equally excited and terrified by the prospect of Louis C.K. hosting “Saturday Night Live” tonight. On one hand, “Louie” is one of the best, if not the flat-out best, series on television right now. But how much of that can possibly translate into the “SNL” format? Maybe if tonight”s episode is a 90-minute take on “Sad Mouse”, the short from the Bruno Mars episode, maybe “SNL” will achieve the tonality, visual flair, and emotion of a typical episode of “Louie”. Still, it”s best to treat both shows as separate beasts and see how Louis C.K. the actor/comedian, not Louis C.K. the auteur, does as host. Along for the ride is musical fun., a band designed to make my word processing Spelling And Grammar auto-correct commit suicide.
Onto the recap! As always, I”ll be grading each sketch as they air. As always, you”ll express disbelief that these grades somehow vary from your own. It”s how we roll around these parts.
A Message From Mayor Bloomberg: Why talk about the devastation of the flood when we can get some more Lydia Callis? And why have only one awesome sign-language interpreter when you can have two? Chris Christie brings in his own translator, Roxy, to update people on New Jersey”s status during the storm. (Has Bobby Moynihan done Christie yet? If not…how did this take so long?) Bloomberg then talks to his Spanish constituencies, warning them that a lack of “Homeland” may make the city”s Caucasian population more irritable than ever. Something about the NYC Marathon debacle might have given this sketch more teeth, but it”s also possible that the show has something up its sleeve later on. As it stands, this was a fine, brisk, but fairly safe opening. [Grade: B]
Monologue: Louis C.K. gets a microphone for his monologue, undoubtedly because it”s his normal way of delivering material in front of an audience. Seeing a stand-up pro onstage, delivering a monologue, feels refreshingly old-school on the “SNL” stage. (The closest we”ve had in a while to this is Zach Galifianakis.) Whereas most hosts get their monologues written for them, this feels like C.K. doing whatever material he would normally be doing tonight in any comedy club or theatre. His timing and delivery are sharp, with some particularly clever turns of phrase sprinkled in throughout. (“I thought I was helping an old lady. Now I HAVE an old lady.”) The rest of the show won”t be like this. But this was awesome. [Grade: A]
FOX and Friends: Jason Sudeikis appears as Donald Trump, which mostly just makes me miss Darrell Hammond. Trump makes an Abu Nazir joke, which makes me think the “SNL” staff is kinda sorta obsessed with “Homeland”. Louis C.K. makes his sketch debut as a FEMA agent helping people dealing with post-hurricane conditions. The star here is Moynihan, with his character getting increasingly loopy with each iteration of this sketch. (“What about piranhas with AIDS? Which I call pirAIDS!”) C.K. doesn”t make much of an impression here, but does fine as a nerdy, overwhelmed federal employee. Still, this sketch is ultimately all about the correction crawl, which features some dandies once again. (“There is no comedian named Rape Romano.”) This didn”t have the start-to-finish strength of the one that aired during the Thursday specials a few weeks ago, but it”s still one of the most consistent recurring sketches in the show”s overall arsenal right now. [Grade: B+]
Lincoln: I”m slightly torn here. Because while this was just putting a skin on “Louie”, it”s a fantastic skin to put upon “Louie”! I have to wonder how many people watching this sketch have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA about the FX half-hour program that serves as the source materials for this sketch. But I suppose if any of them seek out “Louie” on Netflix or DVD right now, that can only be a good thing. It”s hard to praise Louis C.K. for basically recreating the rhythms of the show that bear his name. After all, we”ve seen him do this before. But it”s so unbelievably hard to do what he does that calling this “easy” does him and “Lincoln” as a sketch a disservice. Lincoln”s testy encounters with his wife, some freed slaves, and the audience that”s come to watch his stand-up are all pitch-perfect. That alone would earn this a high grade. But somehow, this sketch also turns into a unique meditation on one of our country”s greatest historical figures. While it took a bit to get going, once Lincoln came out of the subway to the familiar “Louie” theme music, it was 100% gold. [Grade: A-]
Australian Screen Legends: Bill Hader and Kate McKinnon play Tess Davies and Graham Dixon, dubbed the Bogart and Bacall of Australian cinema according to host Fred Armisen. C.K. plays “Australian”s Steve Zahn,” which is about the only funny joke in this entire sketch. What a disappointment after the incredibly strong start. Having this air pre-“Update” under any circumstance seems suspect. Having this air pre-“Update” three days away from a presidential election is ridiculous. We”ve seen allusions to the political landscape, but they have focuses on Hurricane Sandy, not the state of the nation. Sandy deserves the treatment it”s received tonight thus far. But the national stage is just as important right now. [Grade: D+]
fun. arrive onscreen to perform “Some Nights”, a song that sounds a lot better on the radio than live based on this rendition. Also? The lead singer looks just like “SNL” writer John Mulaney, which is totally throwing me off right now. While the backing vocals feel thick and rich, Nate Ruess” lead vocals strain in the higher registers throughout, only really connecting in the quiet interlude mid-song. On the plus side, this song is like eight minutes long. So, that”s something. Look, this band divides listeners, and I”m on the outside looking in here. No harm, no foul. [Grade: C+]
Weekend Update: It took forty-five minutes, but Sudeikis” Mitt Romney finally appears on the final “SNL” before the election. (Still no Obama, mentioned in passing but not seen onscreen yet.) Romney”s there to remind people that he”s actually running for the highest office in the land, with Sandy having blown him off the front page of all media coverage since the storm hit. While the show has struggled when putting Romney into sketches, having him speak directly into the camera works wonders, yielding some of the strongest writing (and satire) to date for the candidate. Social media expert Kourtney Barnes arrives to predict Tuesday”s results. Aidy Bryant”s crazy eyes are fabulous in her first appearance on “Update” thus far. (Between her appearance as Lincoln”s wife and thus, Bryant”s having an excellent night.) Afterwards, Cecily Strong returns with The Girl You Wish You Hadn”t Started A Conversation With At A Party. She brings a mixture of non-sequiturs and malapropisms to the proceedings. (“Hunger! Racism! Sma” businesses! I”m like, maybe don”t!”) It goes on waaaaaay too long, but I really like this character on the whole. Paring it down will go a long way towards pushing it towards Stefon-esque levels by the end of the season. Blasphemy? Probably. But it”s a fantastic comic creation all the same, one I look forward to seeing in the near future. [Grade: A-]
Kylarian Mountain Pass: We learn one crucial thing in this sketch: Louis C.K. has a hard time pretending to play a ram horn simultaneously with pre-recorded sound effects. You can almost tell from the moment C.K. walks onstage that he”s dreading what he”s about to do. That”s never a good sign. Things are fairly dire until Bill Hader”s character shows up, and which point things go from “make it stop already” to “well, it could be much worse”. Hader”s assertions about what is and isn”t a weird name elicited a chuckle on this side of the screen. But overall, this is another awful segment in a show that is either feast or famine thus far. [Grade: C-]
Hotel Checkout: Here”s another one I thought I would dread, but grew to appreciate through smart writing, good chemistry, and above all, the patience to let the sketch reveal itself over time. The latter is the key thing here, as the hotel”s billing service slips into absurdity so subtly that even Moynihan”s character almost misses the shift. Sprinkled into normal charges are ones for illegal diamonds, a large shipment of argon, an incredibly cheap stuffed bobcat, and a viewing charge for “The Avengers” that almost costs as much as “The Avengers”. I don”t want to call this “Python-esque”, since it never quite gets to that level. But I could easily see John Cleese taking the place of Louis C.K. here and having it hold up just as well. Above all, it”s the patience I want to praise here, as the sketch knew it had something good and wasn”t afraid of withholding it for maximum comic impact. [Grade: B+]
fun. return to the stage to perform “Carry On”. While I stated earlier than .fun isn”t exactly my personal jam, I do admire their earnestness. It has to be difficult to be this unironic. I can easily see fans of this band going out and tipping buses over, filled with energy and optimism, after hearing a song like this. Maybe I”m just someone hoping those kids don”t tip over any bus on my lawn. [Grade: C]
Donnelly”s: I think I”ve figured it out. When Louis C.K. has been put into two-person scenes tonight, he”s really excelled. In larger, group-based scenes, he has somewhat suffered. I enjoyed his verbal dance with Moynihan, but he”s even better with McKinnon, as the two go for absolute broke in the most 12:55 am of all 12:55 am sketches thus far this season. What strikes me the most here is the dialogue, which is absurdist yet grounded in a recognizable codex. It”s absurdist because these two are drunk, but it”s also absurdist due to their respective character situations. What makes the bizarre interactions work are the moments in which they slip into prosaic honesty, which grounds the nonsensical statements scattered throughout. Looking back at my notes, I see this was the fifth live sketch in which C.K. participated all night. Only these last two saw him get the chance to shine, and he took advantage of both. [Grade: A-]
Best Sketch: “Lincoln”
Worst Sketch: “Australian Screen Legends”
Biggest Trend: The new ladies of “SNL” had a good night, with Bryant, Strong, and McKinnon all making their marks tonight. By contrast, Nasim Pedrad and Vanessa Bayer had little to do for most of the night. These things are cyclical from show-to-show, but it”s nice seeing Bryant and Strong getting more air time as the season progresses. If only we could say the same for Tim Robinson.
Second Biggest Trend: The overall number of segments per episode feels low lately, no? The number shouldn”t ultimately matter as much as the quality over the 90 minutes. But it does feel like each episode isn”t as packed as it once was with varied content.
Biggest Surprise: No Pharaoh as Obama in the final show before the election.
What did you think of Louis C.K.”s hosting performance? Did the show let him down with the material it gave him? How did the show handle the political scene 72 hours from Election Day? Sound off below!