Before she was Selina Meyer, before she was Elaine Benes, even before she was Jeanette the Nymph, Julia Louis-Dreyfus was a cast member on Saturday Night Live. This weekend, JLD relived her less-than-eventful three seasons on the show by hosting for the third time – a number she quickly called out for being on the low side for someone with her, to quote Veep, robust comedy career.
JLD’s strengths as a comedic performer were put to good use throughout the episode, which started out incredibly strong by having Larry David’s Bernie Sanders meet Elaine right off the bat. A solid monologue (and Tony Hale cameo) kept the momentum going until a pre-taped heroin parody missed the mark and the rest of the show felt like a plateau until Update, followed by a couple of delightfully bizarre 10-to-1 sketches at the end.
After telling the NY Times that being a woman on SNL in the early ‘80s wasn’t exactly the most supportive creative environment (shocker), this episode showcased a number of strong female characters (and one one-dimensional one) in almost all of the sketches. Despite a few lackluster concepts, it was nice to see JLD playing outside the Veep box and the boys of the cast take somewhat of a backseat this episode.
Next up: a two-week hiatus, followed by first-time host (and Best Actress Oscar winner) Brie Larson hosting on May 7.
Democratic Debate Cold Open
With Beck Bennett pulling Wolf Blitzer duty, the episode began with another Trump-free cold open that focused on Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ much-anticipated debate in Brooklyn on Thursday night, which unfortunately didn’t really devolve into a noogie/slap fight almost immediately. It was good to see Larry David back as Sanders, as well as Kate McKinnon’s Clinton doing things like answering “the black question” with the Fresh Prince theme song. Keeping with the ‘90s, we saw a quick appearance from Vanessa Bayer’s spot-on Rachel Green impression, but the spotlight was quickly stolen by JLD appearing as Elaine Benes. Of course she asks Sanders how exactly he plans to do a “big bank break up,” because that definitely sounds like something Jerry would say. We got to hear Sanders try to “yada, yada, yada” his way out of the question, plus a very meta moment wherein JLD asks Clinton, “Doesn’t it suck to be the only girl in a group of guys?” It was the closest thing to a real-life Seinfeld reunion we’ve seen since George Costanza did Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus Monologue
Running over from her appearance in the cold open, JLD got right to reminding the audience that she cut her teeth as an SNL cast member over 30 years ago. Watching the old clip of her playing a secretary straight-man to set up her male co-star’s (actually funny) characters both affirmed what she spoke of in the NY Times interview, and makes you appreciate how the disparity has lessened since then. Plus, that Troll clip was mind-blowing. These video throwbacks made way more sense in JLD’s monologue than in the previous week’s Russell Crowe introduction. Plus, we got a cameo from JLD’s Veep co-star Tony Hale, who apparently is just as much a slave to her in real life as as Gary is to Selina.
Remember the e-meth sketch back in 2013? Maybe it was because America was obsessed with Breaking Bad at the time, or that we were just getting into making fun of people who vape, but that didn’t ruffle as many as feathers as this heroin-as-Dayquil parody with a similar basic concept. I laughed out loud when JLD said the line “Get jacked on scag,” but I wasn’t surprised to learn that there was some backlash to this one online – not just because it parodied moms, soccer coaches and other people who are specifically around children – but because heroin use really is a growing problem and it’s actually scary. The hilarious visual of an anthropomorphic gummy bear enjoying being melted into a spoon was sort of negated by the frank chart showing an exponential rise in heroin use, which immediately took me out of it. The writers might have benefited from looking for a higher-status target than the users. But then again, it’s just SNL.
So far, each sketch has reminded me of something else. This live commercial for a Long Island jeweler that sounds like it would be owned by Donald Trump felt like it was going for “Bronx Beat” quality but fell flat. JLD and Kate McKinnon’s accents were great – they sound like the Long Island Medium meets Carmela Soprano – and it had a couple of choice lines like “Huge is the same as good” and “When the body goes, the jewelry grows.” The rest of the cast ladies fill in as models, and we saw the first of two appearances by musical guest Nick Jonas, this time as JLD’s “god nephew,” whatever that is. In the next sketch their relationship is a bit different.
The first pre-taped sketch of the night was sort of beautiful in its simplicity: JLD plays a perfect cougar with a conscience, while Pete Davidson fills the role of cute-but-monosyllabic pool boy with aplomb. While JLD’s character is wrestling with her emotional decision to stop banging her employee, “Chad” is impossibly focused on the task at hand. Just when you think the punchline is that there’s a dead squirrel in the pool, Nick Jonas pops up as the new mower and JLD’s character pulls a complete 180. The smile that comes over her face when she realizes she’s going after him next is pure JLD magic.
Cinema Classics with Julia Louis-Dreyfus
The funniest part of this occasionally recurring sketch is honestly when Kenan Thompson says the last name of his host character, Reese De’What. Still, if anyone can pull off a sketch that requires one person to do a lot of dramatic acting, JLD is up to the challenge. As soon as you hear that her character Marla Bartlett is an actress known for hiding her lines on set, you know where the gag is going. Taran Killam plays the straight man and canvas for some of Bartlett’s lines. Otherwise the jokes all lie in JLD pretending to read from the bottom of a glass or a seashell when she (and everyone else) is really reading SNL’s cue cards. That might be why this sketch felt off.
The second commercial parody of the night wasn’t as “problematic” as the first one, but wasn’t really a home run either. Maybe it’s because car commercial parodies can feel too much like actual car commercials (not the case with something as hilarious as Jim Carrey ripping Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln ad). While the visual of a Mercedes running on over 9,000 non-rechargeable AA batteries and having them spill out of the car like a metal waterfall was the highlight of the sketch, it didn’t really have a point. I’m not saying JLD’s real-life Old Navy commercials are funnier than this one, but I did think the Paul Ryan ad that was subsequently cut for time was.
As has been the trend this season, Weekend Update started off strong with 2016 election material, specifically how Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are cartoon opposites. As Jost said, “The only way Bernie could be more opposite is if he built a tunnel to Mexico, and then made America pay for it.” Bernie took even more jabs than Trump this week with jokes about his NYC rally, and Che offered a hard-to-argue-with counterpoint to Hillary Clinton’s “There’s no discount for being a woman” statement: “But then again, bars.”
In the second half, the jokes got a little looser and the audience’s reactions got a little weirder. A joke about John Kasich got a big groan, which got a hilarious reaction from Che. A punchline about last year’s Malaysian Airlines crash didn’t exactly kill, and Jost’s Wiz Khalifa pun was so bad, Che called it “lazy” right away. Once again, hard to argue with him there.
Famous comedy duo Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal stopped by the Update desk for a segment on Kobe Bryant’s last game that quickly turned its focus to whatever the hell is going on with Shaq. Kenan Thompson’s Barkley provides the perfect foil to Jay Pharoah’s absurd impression of O’Neal with lines like “It’s like you’re having a staring contest with yourself!” The dynamic is hilarious as Barkley keeps roasting his “life companion.” I just hope Shaq doesn’t take it too personally (for Pharoah’s sake).
Next up was a new character from Aidy Bryant: Animal Annie, a woman as serious about animal facts as she is about revealing disturbing personal truths. The octopus escape attempt in last week’s news served as a jumping-off point for her ramblings about the animal kingdom and/or her lying ex-boyfriend. The highlight, of course, was the joke about iguanas having two penises that resulted in a huge iguana named Mr. Magic making his SNL debut in a tiny fedora. Sure!
It’s been over a year since we’ve seen Heather, Cecily Strong’s One-Dimensional Female Character from a male-driven comedy, and it’s appropriate that she’d make an appearance on the dynamic JLD’s episode. We’re all tired of seeing women in movies whose sole purpose is to reinforce the male lead’s character traits, roll their eyes at his hilarious behavior, and then disappear from the movie for 45 minutes. I didn’t expect there to be dead silence when Strong ended with “I can’t say any more lines or they’ll have to pay me like a man.” I guess it’s just too damn real.
Who Works Here?
This is one of those sketches that feels like an evolved standup premise about trying find help at a CVS and realizing how scattered and unidentifiable the staff is. While sort of a one-note joke, the impressions of potential employees played by Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, and especially Bobby Moynihan carried it through. I thought the host (Julia Louis-Dreyfus)’s running joke that the contestants (Vanessa Bayer, Taran Killam, and Sasheer Zamata) were “dull” was sort of forced and didn’t add much to the sketch. But hey! Who knew Bobby Moynihan could do a cartwheel?
How did you sleep after watching this sketch? I thought Beck Bennett’s insufferable “mixer emcee” character was nightmarish enough before Kate McKinnon and Julia Louis-Dreyfus appeared with jet-black eyes and what look like ‘80s prom dresses. You really can’t unsee these two looking like X-Files characters, and the repeating of lines like “Our kind is dying!” with modulated voices ups the creepiness factor. I loved how delightfully weird this was, like it was directed by Tim & Eric. Even with the exaggerated voices and lack of real eye contact, JLD and McKinnon play so well together. And I’m glad they put fedoras on Taran Killam and Kyle Mooney so you don’t feel so bad when they get vaporized.
God Is a Boob Man
Still reeling from how ridiculous that last sketch was, it took me a minute to realize what was going on with this fourth pre-taped short about a Christian baker who just wants to refuse goods and services, specifically wedding cakes, to gay couples. The trailer pulls double duty as a parody of the recently sequeled God’s Not Dead film series and satirizes right-wing eateries who try to deny service to same-sex couples, which is unfortunately still a thing. The drama builds as Beth (Vanessa Bayer) refuses to say “God is gay,” then goes on a ridiculous quest to prove God is straight. The satire gets even more real when Bayer says to her co-worker (Sasheer Zamata), “They say we’re bigots, but Christians are the most oppressed group in this country.” OOF.
So Shoot, What Else?