Our host for tonight is Larry David: a comedian, writer, producer and actor who is best known for his work on Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and most recently, playing Bernie Sanders on this season of Saturday Night Live. He also served as a writer on SNL for just one season in the ’80″s before becoming the force behind television”s most popular sitcom, basically making him this show”s Jennifer Hudson. Let”s see how he fares tonight!
Cold Open: Ted Cruz delivers a message to the American people. Taran Killam”s Cruz impression isn”t quite as studied as his Trump, and honestly I”m not totally sure why they don”t still have him playing Trump, or perhaps Marco Rubio, when they could easily pass Ted Cruz on to Bobby Moynihan, who portrayed him well in last season”s The Rock episode. But Killam is a good enough impressionist that he can play just about anyone if he has to, and he”s fared pretty well playing a man who, let”s be honest, is basically a parody of himself already. I”m not sure if SNL has quite the right handle on Cruz as a character yet– he”s a difficult one to figure out in more ways than one– but they”re on the right track by focusing on his undeniable creepiness factor, with choice lines like, “Take a look at your choices and ask yourselves: which one of these guys would be played by Paul Giamatti?” B+
Monologue: Larry David performs a stand up routine covering his grumpy take on hosting the show, the difference between poor schmucks and rich pricks, and his dating life. Whenever a stand-up hosts the show, even though there is no guarantee that they”ll be able to really act, one can always breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they”ll spend their monologue just hanging out and being funny, rather than trying to literally tap dance their way into our hearts (I mean, the tap dancing part is literal, the into our hearts part isn”t. You get it). David”s monologue was breezy and genuinely hilarious, as he wove his curmudgeonly personality into various anecdotes, from his inability to be a good host (“I don”t put out snacks or dips. I can”t remember the last time I had dips in my house. I have a dipless house”) to his parents” fear that he was bulimic as a child (“Who throws up a brisket? Your mother cooks you a brisket and that”s what you do?!”). Naturally, he ended by telling us he wasn”t comfortable with the typical line of “We”ve got a great show for you tonight.”
“Really,” he announced, “what I should be saying is, ‘The show”s so-so. That way, if it”s good, you”ll be surprised.”” It”s looking good so far, Larry. A
FBI Academy: A cadet at the FBI Academy practices spotting innocent civilians versus threatening individuals in a firearms training simulation, but he is continually thrown off by a particularly strange civilian character named Kevin Roberts. As the sketch concept was introduced, I assumed we were up for a politically-charged bit concerning gun rights and police violence. I have no issue with SNL doing more political sketches in such a charged and ridiculous time for political issues, but I have to admit I kind of loved the bizarre left turn this skit ended up taking. The character of Kevin Roberts was so perfectly, uniquely weird, spewing lines like, “I”m Kevin Roberts and I have a very important question: ‘Can a bitch get a donut?”” until I couldn”t help but crack up at the absurdity. Kenan”s increasingly confused and unsettled reaction (“He said he got to second base and I was like, ‘Who would do that with Kevin Roberts?”) only added to the strange charm of the whole thing. The only part that threw me a bit was the ending, in which Cecily”s instructor character tells Kenan to apologize to the dead creator of the game, who turns out to be Kevin Roberts. I”m not really sure this was a sketch that was meant to have a definitive ending, but this one in particular really didn”t work too well for me. B+
Bern Your Enthusiasm: A Curb Your Enthusiasm parody featuring Larry David as Bernie Sanders in the Larry David as Larry David role. It was an interesting and smart choice for the writers to combine the inevitable Curb parody with the inevitable Bernie impression, and overall it worked like a charm. It was pretty impressive how the writers were able to cram a full episode worth of storylines into one short sketch, with Bernie”s refusal to shake the hand of a woman who”d just coughed, to help a woman who”d dislocated her shoulder in a car accident, and to drink office coffee with 2% milk all coming together when he realizes he”s lost the primaries by .2% of the vote, aka the five people he”d angered that day by refusing to engage with them. Helped along by snappy pacing and spot-on performances by the cast members as various Curb characters (a special shout out to Cecily”s pitch-perfect Susie), this was a fun contribution to the evening. A
Bernie Sanderswitski: As life boats are carried out post-shipwreck to save women and children, a wealthy male passenger complains that he isn”t getting a chance to be saved. He is greeted by a fellow passenger named Bernie Sanderswitski, who informs him of the disparities between the 99% and 1%. Was it a top sketch of the season? No, not really. But did Bernie Sanders present himself fairly well, and were there a few laugh lines? Sure! A largely breezy and enjoyable sketch, this was mostly memorable for its Bernie cameo. The writers struck a good balance between a small focus on Bernie”s politics (“Sounds like socialism to me.” “Eh, democratic socialism”) and a larger focus on his little tics (“What”s the difference?” “YUGE difference.” “Huge with a y?”). Overall, it made for a pleasant first appearance from the senator (but possibly not last– it”s easy to forget just how far we still have to go in this election season, and just how many more political SNL cameos are likely to come. Please, Lord, no Ted Cruz). B
Totino”s Pizza Rolls: A doting wife sings the praises of Totino”s Pizza Rolls as a great snack for her “hungry guys” to eat while watching the big game. But as they continue to shout at the TV, she realizes something is wrong– they”re continually chanting the same football-related phrases to a blank screen without a game on it. Last year”s Totino”s Activity Pack was outstanding, and if they had just rehashed that this year I wouldn”t have complained. But Holy Gilda Radner, this pre-taped sketch was weird and wonderful. The increasingly dead-eyed appearances of the guys watching the game (Beck Bennett”s ability to go completely slack is somewhat terrifying) building to their eyes actually going shark black was a nice touch, and nothing made me laugh harder this episode than Vanessa Bayer”s desperate, “What”s happening to my hungry guys?!” Ending with the revelation of the whole scene being a promo for The X Files could have felt like too neat a bow, but it worked for me here. A
Weekend Update: This week”s Update started out a bit rough for me, as it began with footage of Ben Carson”s bizarre fumbled entrance at tonight”s GOP debate– which, while hilarious, makes me so uncomfortable with secondhand embarrassment that I feel I may actually vomit. (I see the humor, but I also feel like if I were running for President, I”d totally do something like that, and then not stop thinking about it until the day I died. Then again, that”s one of many reasons I”m not planning on running for President; perhaps Dr. Carson should follow in my footsteps). But it was followed by some good jabs against not just Carson, but several of the candidates (My personal favorite: “Ted Cruz”s wife revealed that when he needs to relieve stress, Ted calls her and sings Broadway show tunes. It”s something most couples refer to as ‘irreconcilable differences””), as well as appearances from a few interesting guests.
First, we had Kate McKinnon as “Sturdy Barbie,” a Barbie doll who didn”t make the cut when Mattel recently introduced more inclusive Barbie sizes like “petite” and “curvy.” It wasn”t the most streamlined character but McKinnon sold it (as she always does), making Michael Che giggle with her lines like, “I may not be ‘Malibu Barbie,” but I”m ‘Trying her Best Barbie.” I”m ‘Been Through a Lot Barbie.” I”m ‘Barbie That”ll Help You Move a Couch.””
Next, we had NEW GUY Jon Rudnitsky as himself, campaigning for the lead role in the rumored Dirty Dancing live musical event. To prove he had the chops, Rudnitsky Leonardo DiCaprioed (“desperately and passionately performed in search of a prize”) his way through an elaborate dance routine as Patrick Swayze”s Dirty Dancing character, beginning with the famous final dance number, but adding a twist in which he drops Baby, she dies, and he starts a life on the lamb– all explained through interpretive dance. It was weird and kind of wonderful and more clearly hard work than I”ve seen a cast member put forth in a long time. Rooting for you, New Guy!
Our final guests of the night were a genuine surprise to me, though maybe I should”ve seen it coming: Derek Zoolander and Hansel. I”m truly a sucker for the original Zoolander, so just seeing these two crazy kids back at it had me entertained. As they analyzed the fashion sense of the most prominent presidential candidates, their dialogue wasn”t too particularly inspired, but it had some good moments (“Chernobyl called, it wants its disaster back.” “Yeah, and then Chernobyl called back, and they were like, “Look at that suit!”). A-
Intro to Songwriting: In an Intro to Songwriting class, a teacher leads his students in an easy rhyming game to help them warm up. But one particular student cannot quite grasp the concept of the game, and winds up using his teacher”s simple rhymes to tell an elaborate story of a frog and toad war. This was one of those sketch descriptions I typed out that made me think, “Yeah, actually, this makes no sense on paper, huh?” But I enjoyed the skit quite a bit nonetheless. Larry honestly pulled off the many strange characters he was asked to play tonight better than I was expecting (After all, I”ve only seen him play himself on Curb and then Bernie on SNL— who is basically just him with a thicker accent), and this one in particular he really sold well. His scratchy voice and unexpressive face as he sang about “tiny frogs in helicopters” and “the rise of the toads” matched the silliness of the story well. It was also a near-perfect length, not extending past the point of actually being funny, and ending briskly and definitively. B+
Super Bowl Greeting: Cam Newton and Peyton Manning sing a version of Ebony and Ivory together that highlights the upcoming Super Bowl as well as the very different media portrayals they”ve faced due to their races. The night”s two Super Bowl-themed sketches couldn”t have been more different, but they both did their job well. It was a good and important idea to represent Cam Newton”s unfair media portrayal, and it was especially good how nice of a manner they did it in, with an adorable and friendly singing session between the two quarterbacks. I”m not sure there was necessarily a better way to represent this point they clearly wanted to make, but the framing of the two singing together in a “message to America” (a much used cold open concept this season) relied on a few too many SNL tropes, and could have used a bit more originality. Not the best sketch of the night certainly, but as the night was filled with mostly good sketches, it had a lot to live up to. Ultimately, I”d rank it as fine, forgettable, but good-intentioned. B
Last Call: Ace Chuggins: A pair of weirdos are the last two customers at a bar, and they use the opportunity to flirt with each other in deeply uncomfortable ways. God, I live for these weird Kate McKinnon Last Call sketches. They are so uncomfortable in the best way, and though you can always expect that she”ll really bring it for this character, she had a great match tonight in Larry David. As the two exchanged terrible come ons like, “Mind if I scoot a little closer, pal? The seat I”m on is wet and it is my fault,” one might have thought it couldn”t get any more uncomfortable, but soon enough McKinnon was smearing bright red lipstick all around her mouth, and making out with Larry David like something on the nature channel. That description is perhaps not selling this well. Please, just watch it; I don”t think you”ll regret it. Maybe you will. It”s worth the toss up. A
Quotes, Extras, and Final Thoughts:
Ted Cruz describes the difficulties he has to overcome in his campaign: “It”s like FDR and his wheelchair, but instead of a wheelchair, it”s my personality and face”
Larry on his hosting gig: “Honestly? I can”t wait to leave. In fact, I would say one of the greatest pleasures in my life is leaving anywhere I am.” Larry gets me.
If there aren”t cross stitches on Etsy that say “Can a bitch get a donut?” within the week, then honestly what is even the point?
Bernie”s ancestor discusses his Ellis Island plans with Larry David”s character: “”I”m Bernie Sanderswitsky, but we”re going to change it once we get to America so it doesn”t sound so Jewish.” “Yeah,” Larry responds, “That”ll trick ’em.”
Michael Che says that after the Iowa caucuses, Trump has wound up in his favorite position: “a loser between two Hispanics.”
Ted Cruz”s favorite musical is Rent because of “how it depicts a young artist with New York values dying without access to affordable healthcare.”
Sturdy Barbie”s accessories include a sleep apnea machine and an “outdoor cat with heart problems”
NEW GUY says a regular guy like him should get the lead in Dirty Dancing over a movie star like Channing Tatum. “Well, you”re not a regular guy,” Colin objects, “I mean, you”re on SNL.” “Literally nobody knows that, Colin,” he replies. NEW GUY has a sense of humor about himself! We believe in you, NEW GUY!
THOUGHTS ON THE MUSICAL GUEST: I kinda knew of The 1975 based on their song that uses chocolate as an extended metaphor for drugs. The songs they played tonight were catchy enough, but I couldn”t get over how their lead singer looked like the lead singer of the band that kicks Jack Black out in School of Rock by way of a Fred Armisen character. THIS HAS BEEN THOUGHTS ON THE MUSICAL GUEST
Sheila Sovage relates to Ace”s love of lasagna: “In high school they called me Garfield ’cause I hated Mondays and I had a tail.”
Nothing makes more sense to me than Larry David and Bernie Sanders both awkwardly milling about and not hugging anyone during the cast Good Nights.
Next week, Melissa McCarthy is back! Here”s hoping Amy Sherman-Palladino crashes the stage to formally ask her to reprise her role of Sookie in the Gilmore Girls revival!