A month ago, ScarJo elbowed her way into the SNL host Five Timers’ Club, and this week we got another veteran, Louis C.K., in his fourth* hosting stint. Maybe it’s the fact that he unsuccessfully auditioned long ago, or that SNL allows him to scratch an itch to be goofy, but the show energizes C.K.: He seems happy to look ridiculous — rather than, say, sad and world-weary.
Trump in Kentucky cold open
Surprise! Trump (Alec Baldwin) makes an unannounced stop in Union, Kentucky, to tell supporters about how well he’s doing and find out exactly how much they liked the missile strike in Syria. His fans are fine with whatever he wants to do internationally, but they’re very concerned about their jobs, health care, and addiction treatment. Trump wants them to know he’s taking care of them, even if his plans sound a little off. (“In Trump’s America, men work in two places: coal mines and Goldman Sachs.”) In fact, help will only arrive when Trump junks everything — every program, every regulation, even their homes. Even so, the white faces cry, “You’re my president.” Baldwin’s performance remains sound and steady, even if the writers seem to be grinding their axes here.
Louis C.K. monologue
Using material from his most recent tour — which was cut from the Netflix special that premiered last week — C.K. starts with an innocuous premise (“Why did the chicken cross the road?”) as he prepares to push the audience’s buttons (“Because there was a black guy walking behind him.”) After making sure everybody knows the chicken is racist, he moves on to talking about other animals. The bit ranges from C.K. asking hack questions such as, “Are giraffes up there going, ‘Whoooa! It’s too high!’” to him claiming he wants to buy a goat because he wants “a trash can [he] can make love to.” Afterward, he moves on to the annoyances of staying in five-star hotels — which is relatable for, eh, somebody. None of it is A+ material, but it’s funny and intriguing and better than most host monologues by far.
Sometimes, a lawyer wins a court case with sound logic and well-reasoned arguments; other times, it’s his long, luscious lashes. While trying a case, Mr. Douglas (C.K.) draws the attention of the judge, bailiff, witnesses, and even the opposing lawyer (Vanessa Bayer) with his gorgeous, fluttering eyelashes. “What a pickle to be you, walking around, bringing spring wherever you go,” the judge gushes.
When the defense objects, the judge calls her lashes “clumpy and unremarkable.” C.K. plays this one well, with just a hint of beguiling femininity, and the camerawork brings an extra dimension to it all. (Whoever decided on those lingering close-ups wins a directorial medal.) If this one is indeed a Maybelline advertorial, it’s well done.
Thank You, Scott
In this music video, a trio of singers (Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson, and Sasheer Zamata) pay tribute to their hero: the schlubby, couch-bound Scott (C.K.), a man who saw the injustice in the world and took action: He “shared an article on Facebook, and everything changed.” Turns out, that’s all it takes to solve racism and climate change. Cue the dancers, the doves, and some flag waving. This ironic celebration of slacktivism — white slacktivism, in particular — doesn’t feel particularly fresh, and by the time an unskilled rapper (Mikey Day) hops in, it’s not hard to miss the Lonely Island crew.
A pack of high-school girls pours into this ’50s soda fountain, and Louise (Cecily Strong) complains that she doesn’t have a date for the Spring Fling Be-Bop and Sock Hop. Thankfully, the aging soda jerk Sam (C.K.) is there to provide root-beer floats and emotional support. Also, he makes a genuine offer to go to the dance with Louise and then forces her to act out the potential date in one of the soda-fountain booths. Anyone who has seen a slightly creepy dad say something strangely suggestive to his daughter’s friends will get it. The twist at the end, a revelation about Louise, is an excellent piece of writing, and one to which most sketches can only aspire. It changes the dimensions of the sketch without shattering its internal world, and writes through a joke rather than just to it.
This sketch serves as a postmortem for Pepsi’s ill-considered attempt to cash in on the Black Lives Matter movement. A plucky young director (Beck Bennett) sits on the set while prepping for his first big break: a spot with Kendall Jenner, in which she hands a cop a Pepsi and solves racism. He excitedly gives his sister the details over the phone, but it’s clear from the director’s face that she’s not as excited about it. (“Uh, tone deaf?”) Everyone else he tries to break it down for over the phone, including his sister’s black neighbor, isn’t buying it. (“What would you do if you were in my situation? Just run to my car?”) Ah, what a little outreach can do. But it’s as Pepsi’s new slogan informs us, “Live and Learn.”
At the top of Update, Colin Jost and Michael Che try their best to make sense of Trump’s attack on the Syrian air base. Che likens the rapid escalation to his own mom’s involvement in family drama: “At first, she’s like, ‘This ain’t none of my business … ’ Three days later, she’s outside my girlfriend’s job in a track suit with a brick in one hand and her wig in the other.” Jost then breaks down what he calls the Trump administration’s “complete lack of self-awareness,” which includes Jared Kushner touring Iraq in a preppy suit; there are smart observations here, even if the final Vampire Weekend punchline doesn’t bring it all home.
Kate McKinnon kills as Cecilia Gimenez, the famed Spanish painter whose disastrous restoration of a Jesus fresco makes her the SNL expert on all botched artistic likenesses. While thinking about the awful bust of Cristiano Ronaldo, she asks the questions every sculptor must ask, “What would my subject look like if he had a stroke? But he had the stroke while saying, ‘Cheese!’” The last series of jokes about rhino abortion and Kendall Jenner earns a few groans, but there are a couple of nice ones, including: “It was reported that Yahoo! and AOL will combine to form a new company, because no one wants to die alone.”
The O’Reilly Factor With Donald Trump
As long as Alec Baldwin’s around, why not have him take on another conservative political figure deserving of a jab? For this edition of The O’Reilly Factor, the embattled pundit (Baldwin) tiptoes around the sexual-harassment allegations, payouts, and Fox’s lost ad revenue — all of which garnered attention in other media outlets this week. O’Reilly tells us that people don’t think he’ll address the scandal: namely, the idea that the Obama administration abused its power. The sole female reporter he can find, Malia Zimmerman (Cecily Strong), is clearly embarrassed to be near her boss; while she reports on Susan Rice, O’Reilly wants to know whether her refusal to be interviewed was a hard no, or if her eyes said ‘Yes.’ Meanwhile, his dwindling sponsors include Dog Cocaine and Eliquis, which is Cialis for horses. Eventually, Trump appears and it’s Baldwin on Baldwin. Baldwin has a nice sense of O’Reilly — his voice remains the same, but he’s got the smirk, the jerking of the head, the sing-song cadence.
This filmed piece brings us into the life of birthday boy Ernest Sullivan (C.K.), who is lucky enough to have Dodo the Clown (Bobby Moynihan) show up at his house to celebrate. Just one thing Ernie failed to disclose: He will be enjoying the show alone on this, his 53rd birthday. While Dodo tries to do the act, riding in on his tiny tricycle and asking the birthday boy about his favorite color, it quickly becomes clear that “there’s not a protocol for whatever this is.” For his part, Ernie sits politely, muttering “that’s funny,” and trying to hand Dodo a tip. As Dodo gets more distraught, an Elsa and a Transformer show up at the front door and he pushes them away. (“You don’t want this.”) It’s an odd scenario that C.K. and Moynihan milk pretty well; their straightforward, awkward exchanges make for nice moments.
A flamboyant salesman with a suit, black turtleneck, and frizzy hair (C.K.) espouses the glories of giant, sectional couches. “Where most people’s couches end,” the pitchman enthuses, “yours can bend and keep going.”
No, there isn’t much more going on here, but the pitchman’s obsessive ruminations sell it. Between the opining and the surreal cutaways to opera singers, it feels like a bizarro Shakespearean soliloquy (about couches) delivered on the set of a David Lynch movie. At the end, the salesman comes clean: “I used to have a family,” he says. Now, he just sits at home with the couches; turns out, none of the specimens we’ve seen are for sale.
Tenement Museum tour
During this tour of the Lower East Side’s famous Tenement Museum, a teacher and her students get to witness a reenactment of life back in 1913 with the Lewandowski family (C.K. and McKinnon). While laundry machines and factory work are all well and good, these reenactors are primarily concerned about those “filthy, greasy Italians.”
Their talk about “greasy, meatball-eating, crotch-grabbers” doesn’t seem to be standard patter, but tour guide (Cecily Strong) doesn’t seem to mind — she’s even unmoved when the Poles begin telling awful Italian jokes and call a black student (Kenan Thompson) “chocolate face.” The duo’s light racism, however, takes a backseat to C.K.’s absurd, ever-morphing immigrant accent. Veering toward Swedish here and Borat-style Kazakh there, it breaks McKinnon early and kills C.K. himself the rest of the time.
While the evening isn’t as funny, surprising, or risky as some of C.K.’s previous hosting jobs, it’s a solid show that has its share of interesting choices. Trump’s attack on Syria pops up here and there, and race is the inescapable subject tonight. Surprisingly, C.K.’s monologue doesn’t stand out, but there are plenty of weirdos for C.K. to inhabit. As far as Baldwin goes, it’s hard to say why Michaels decided on him (rather than one of his other cast members) to play O’Reilly … maybe it’s the smugness that helps him tap into Trump, too? Hard to fault a decision that works, however, and this does work. Next week: Inveterate giggler Jimmy Fallon returns.
*This article originally misstated the number of times Louis C.K. has hosted SNL. We regret the error.