Saturday Night Live Review: Julia Louis-Dreyfus Hosts

Our host for tonight is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, best known for her work on Seinfeld and Veep and for being something of an all-around comedy goddess. She held her own tonight in an episode that was a bit hit-or-miss, with pre-taped segments outshining weaker live sketches, but overall containing several memorably funny moments. Let”s dig in!

Cold Open: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton go toe to toe in the latest democratic debate, in which they are faced with audience questions from New Yorkers Elaine Benes and Rachel Green. I”m ready for the primaries to be over not just because they”ve been so exhausting, but also because I want SNL to have some new material to play with in their cold opens. Right now, it”s pretty much Donald Trump isracist and repulsive, Ted Cruz is evil and repulsive, Bernie Sanders is poor and kooky, Hillary Clinton wants it real bad, rinse, repeat. So the cold open was funny in the way that Larry David and Kate McKinnon are always funny, but it was nothing particularly new or exciting. Louis-Dreyfus”s whole bit as Elaine was a little hit or miss (Hit: she pushes Bernie to describe how exactly he plans to break up the big banks and he answers that after his preliminary White House shvitz, he”ll sit down with the bankers, “and yada yada yada, they”ll be broken up!” Miss: The pretty lazy joke where Elaine urges Bernie to reconsider his plan to raise taxes for the 1% because it will affect “the person who created a very successful sitcom”). And I”d like to request that Vanessa Bayer”s Rachel Green impression makes at least one appearance per episode, no matter how brief or shoehorned in. B-

Monologue: Julia Louis-Dreyfus discusses her less memorable roles both as an SNL cast member and as bit characters in Troll and Soul Man, then has a discussion with her Veep co-star Tony Hale, who enthusiastically cheers her on but annoys her with his incompetence. This monologue continued the monologue tradition of the last few episodes: just okay, but also mercifully both short and lacking in singing and dancing. It opened with the required joke where JLD acknowledges that she was on SNL for three years but was never a particularly memorable cast member, then launched into a look into her least memorable early film roles, including a part in Soul Man, which prominently featured a character in blackface, a decision Louis-Dreyfus acknowledges as terribly offensive (“Please understand, it was the ’80″s, and blackface had only been considered offensive for about 40 years”). I guess it”s good for her to acknowledge past mistakes, but it felt a little jarring and uncomfortable for her to bring this up mid-monologue. Wrapping the monologue up with Tony Hale as Gary was a fun and charming move, but maybe it could have taken a more prominent position, in place of the strange Troll and Soul Man flashbacks. C+

Heroin AM: A commercial for a new form of heroin explains that this particular strain of the drug is mixed with cocaine and caffeine so that its users can continue with their busy lives after taking it. This was the first of two commercial parodies tonight, and one of the better ones we”ve seen this season. Though it didn”t move much past its original concept, that original concept was funny enough to last its short running time. All of the cast members involved were in fine form, but Julia Louis-Dreyfus gets a special shout-out for her perfect delivery of, “So I can get jacked on scag, and then get to work.” Also, I don”t think we appreciate Cecily Strong”s fake commercial voiceover work enough. It”s so soothing! That girl deserves a long career in comedy, but if she ever has to she can definitely make bank just doing voiceover on lady razor commercials for the rest of her life. A-

Huge Jewelry: A pair of Long Island sisters advertise their jewelry store which sells “huge jewelry,” which is modeled by their extended family members. This was a perfectly decent sketch, but to make it the first one out the gate after the monologue/fake commercial was not the best choice. I suppose the crew can”t air too many pre-taped sketches in a row without losing the right to the “Live” part of their title, but it would have made some sense to switch this bit to the 5-to-1:00 slot and move up the pretty great God is a Boob Man. This one worked okay, mostly due to the reliable Kate McKinnon, and Cecily Strong”s great brief performance as a bored daughter (“My dream is to be a dancer or get paid to stand next to cars, am I dooone?”), but a few of the performers, particularly JLD, seemed a bit shaky here, and the concept as a whole was a little one-note to stretch on as long as it did. C+

The Pool Boy: A suburban housewife dramatically breaks up with the young pool boy with whom she has been carrying on an affair, and he responds with a much more casual attitude than hers. Pete Davidson should remind me of every dumb bro I went to highschool with. He has the look of someone who wears basketball shorts with calf-high socks in winter. You know he has used the phrase “420 friendly” at least once in his lifetime. But darn it all if that kid isn”t just so charmingly funny. In a night with several great pre-taped sketches, this might have been my favorite one. Davidson and Louis-Dreyfus”s respective performances matched each other”s tones perfectly, with Louis-Dreyfus”s dramatic desperation and Davidson”s goofy lack of awareness. The whole thing was very silly in a way that totally workedl. A

Cinema Classics: Marla Bartlett: On an episode of Cinema Classics, Reese De”What looks back on the career of actress Marla Bartlett, who insisted on hiding her lines around the set to create a more spontaneous performance, but often wound up bringing down the scene around her by doing so. Every time I see a Cinema Classics sketch start, I think, “Oh, yeah, Cinema Classics! The sketches where they make up Old Hollywood movie stars who have some kind of crazy quirk! Great!” And then I actually watch the sketch and don”t really laugh very much, and I remember that I can”t actually name a single example of a Cinema Classics sketch off the top of my head. The concept is always funny, but the execution never quite works for me (with the exception of Kenan Thompson announcing that his name is “Reese De”What” which genuinely gets me every time). This sketch did give Louis-Dreyfus a chance to show off her physical comedy chops as she rolled around the floor in search of various hidden cue cards; overall it was fun enough, with a Carol Burnett-esque goofiness to it, minus all the breaking (which might have livened it up a bit). This isn”t a recurring sketch I take much issue with; it”s just one I”m ver unlikely to remember come Sunday morning. B-

Mercedes AA Class Luxury Sedan: Julia Louis-Dreyfus advertises a new Mercedes which runs on the power of 9,658 AA batteries. Not every SNL sketch has to be political or topical, and often the best ones aren”t. But there was something unshakeably random about this one that just didn”t quite work; it felt like it was supposed to be making some sort of statement, but whatever that statement was was either nonexistent or just very unclear. There was some good visual comedy here though, from the pile of batteries JLD had to walk over at the end to the manic screen announcing the multiple batteries that needed changing. It wasn”t perfect, but it worked alright, and had a few good laugh lines to keep it running (running better than the battery-operated car, at least). B-

Weekend Update: Tonight”s Weekend Update didn”t feature the typical Jost/Che back-and-forth rant, and in general both anchors took a bit of a back seat this week in order to accommodate a larger-than-usual list of three guests. First up were Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharaoh as Charles Barkley and Shaquille O”Neal, who is just not that cross-eyed, Jay, but fine– creative license. The pair, who have made several appearances as these characters, were lively and silly, if a bit hard to hear at times with their commitment to mumbling (again, looking at you, Jay). Next we had Aidy Bryant as Animal Fact Expert Animal Annie, whose shtick of following up fun facts about animals with very sad facts about her own life (“When a koala is born it”s just the size of a jelly bean! And when I was born, I was the size of an Easter ham and then my dad left!”) could have failed in another performer”s hands but worked perfectly with Bryant”s consistently sunny delivery. Also, it gave us the image of an iguana in a tiny little top hat, and no one should ever complain about that. We ended with Cecily Strong”s “One-Dimensional Female Character From a Male-Driven Comedy,” a character whose first appearance came last season, but returned tonight with much more specificity and bitterness, and was all the better for it. “If I get too angry, then I”m not sexy anymore,” she announces, “I”m just a nag, and I”m not old enough to play the nag. You have to be 28 for that. I”m somewhere between 18 and 27, but I date 40 and up– the fatter the better.” Her appearance last season got quite a bit of positive attention, but Strong really seemed to find the character”s voice tonight; I hope we get to see more of her.

Who Works Here?: A game show invites contestants to observe people standing around a CVS and determine whether they actually work there. Another week, another game show sketch, but a fairly winning one this time. The enthusiastic audience laughter seemed to imply that this particular CVS-based problem is rampant in New York, but the concept was general enough to still land elsewhere. Highlights included a dead-eyed Aidy Bryant destroying the toilet paper display, Kate McKinnon as the ghost of a woman who died in the CVS years before, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus”s refusal to introduce the guests because they were too dull (“You know, I saw a show about ghosts once.” “Wow. Great story, Jessica”). A-

Meet and Match: A mingling event is crashed by two strange aliens who are desparate to find men to mate with before their species dies out. Somewhere in America, some poor kid got high in his parents” basement and turned on SNL only to find a black-eyed Kate McKinnon in an off-brand Disney princess wig and 1986 prom dress mind-melting Vanessa Bryant. That kid won”t be sleeping tonight, and honestly, I might not either. There is a reason I stay away from horror movies. I think this was at least sporadically funny, but I honestly can”t say for sure because blonde and dead-eyed JLD is still haunting my brain, and possibly will be forever. Pairing those wigs with those dresses with those spooky colored contacts with those terrifying low voices is a testament to creative collaboration, but also a testament to nightmares. I cannot grade this. I don”t know how. Watch at your discretion. May God bless and keep you.

God is a Boob Man: A trailer for a new movie tells the story of a small-town baker who, after refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple”s wedding, is asked by their lawyer to claim that God is gay. When she refuses, they take her to court, where she fights for what she believes in. Gay God, was this good. A simultaneous takedown of the utterly ridiculous modern Christian film industry and the even more utterly ridiculous nationwide fight over whether bakers should have to make cakes for gay weddings, there wasn”t a missed opportunity or false note to be found in this fake trailer. From Taran Killam”s threat of “You”ll be hearing from our Jewish lawyer!” to Aidy Bryant”s teacher pointing to a chalkboard that reads “Things God loves: Gaga, brunch, drama” to the perfect use of Rachel Platten”s “Fight Song,” basically every beat here landed. A really solid closer to the night. A

Quotes, Extras, and Final Thoughts:

  • Larry as Bernie: “When people hear my message it resonates loud and clear– because I always talk like I”m on the other side of a river.”

  • A good reminder of what a weird time the ’80″s were for style is that immediately upon seeing JLD”s Elaine costuming I thought, “She looks kinda like Gretchen from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt when she”s in the bunker!”

  • Kate McKinnon”s Huge Jewelry pitch: “Do you want people to notice you, but you don”t care if it”s good or bad?”

  • Jost tells us that Donald Trump got an endorsement from the newspaper his son-in-law works at, while Ted Cruz “failed to get the endorsement of his family”s Christmas newsletter.”

  • Shaq tells a joke: “A horse walks into a bar.” “Then what?” Barkley inquires. “It”s funny,” Shaq explains. “A horse shouldn”t be in a bar. It doesn”t have ID.”

  • Animal Annie on iguanas: “Iguanas have two penises, but I wouldn”t know what to do with either one of them, RIGHT, DANIEL?”

  • Also, I really enjoyed Animal Annie”s insistence that Che in particular would enjoy that penis-based fact, and Che”s reluctant admittance that yeah, she was totally right.

  • Heather, the One-Dimensional Female Character: “I feel like I can really be myself around you. Like, go to a baseball game with you, and know the nickname of a player. Then I”ll go get hot dogs without any help, and on the way back, I”ll accidentally stick my butt in your friend”s face, then he”ll get a boner, and you”ll accidentally touch it. Then you two will be on the kiss cam, and I”ll be out of the movie for the next forty-five minutes.” BLESS YOU, CECILY STRONG.

  • THOUGHTS ON THE MUSICAL GUEST: I wish one of Nick Jonas”s songs had been Jealous because that was truly a summertime jam for me, but I got to see what Tove Lo looks like so I guess that”s a win. I felt kinda bad that Nick got pulled into two sketches tonight just to play an objectified muscular dude, but I guess there are worse things that could happen. Nick Jonas is winning so hard at being a Jonas brother right now that I feel kind of bummed out for Joe and Kevin, whose greatest recent contributions to society are their open letters in which they reveal Miley Cyrus pressured them into smoking weed and the conspiracy theory surrounding their wife”s potential fake pregnancy, respectively (if you don”t know about either of those things, do yourself a favor and google them. You won”t regret it). THIS HAS BEEN THOUGHTS ON THE MUSICAL GUEST

  • The first guest on Who Works Here? refuses to interact with the contestant asking her questions. The contestant is wrong when she guesses that the woman doesn”t work there though. “She”s actually the assistant manager, but she”s on break. And she chooses to spend her break standing motionless in the center of CVS.”

  • Cecily Strong, an advisor to Bobby Moynihan”s southern governor in God is a Boob Man, warns her boss: “Governor, we are the poorest state in the country, second in obesity, third in teen pregnancy; we have to do something.” But then Vanessa Bayer announces that she “wants to deny basic goods and services to gay people.” “Everybody out,” Moynihan announces. “This is the priority now.”

The show”s on hiatus for the next two weeks, but returns May 7 with 2016 Oscar winner and 2005 Finally Out of P.E. singer Brie Larson!