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-