For a guy who only served as a writer on Saturday Night Live for one year in the ‘80s (and famously showed up for work a few days after quitting like nothing had happened), Seinfeld creator and Curb Your Enthusiasm star Larry David’s first stint as SNL host felt just like a beloved former cast member coming home.
It helps that he’s become something of an honorary featured player this season, thanks to his Bernie Sanders impression. Naturally, the real Sanders – along with Zoolander 2 stars Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson – had to make a cameo on this episode. After watching David’s promos with Leslie Jones, I’m sure you’re patiently waiting for their rom-com to come out, as I am, but in the meantime, we got to see them play off each other in the highlight sketch of the episode, a pitch-perfect Bern Your Enthusiasm short.
Overall it was one of the season’s best episodes to date, with David’s acerbic, New York energy infusing even the Crazytown sketches with something especially watchable. New cast member Jon Rudnitsky got to come out of hiding for something special during Weekend Update, the Super Bowl was thoroughly pre-mocked, and anyone with the name Kevin Roberts may want to stay home from work on Monday.
Next week: Melissa McCarthy returns to host the show with musical guest Kanye West, both of whom are known for bringing a certain something to SNL that we tend to talk about for a long time afterward (Ranch dressing and abstract musical performances, respectively).
Ted Cruz Cold Open
Thank God this wasn’t (yet another) debate sketch. Saturday night’s GOP debate was put to much better use on Weekend Update, and instead we got a special, self-deprecating message from GOP sometimes-frontrunner Ted Cruz. Taran Killam must have been thrilled when Cruz won the Iowa Caucus last week so he could extend this impression (and have the candidate call himself “a sneaky little stinker” and “a nasty little weasel”). The ad took aim at Cruz for a number of reasons: his “spreading rumors Ben Carson had dropped out,” his daughter’s refusing his fatherly PDA, and how his profile looks just like a Far Side cartoon. As long as the real Cruz never uses the phrase “Yuk-em-ups” when trying to make a joke, I’ll resist pretending his new campaign slogan isn’t “I am not cool. Or likeable. Or even fine.”
Larry David Monologue
“Stop, stop. You’re going to be very disappointed.” That’s how Larry David kicked off his much-anticipated night of hosting SNL, quickly lowering the bar of expectations to “so-so” in a classic, Seinfeld-ian monologue. He makes a few great points (like how the host is really the guest) as he reminisces about his failed SNL audition and details his journey in life from poor schmuck to rich prick. His claims of committing “six of the seven deadly sins on a daily basis,” tales of a bulimic childhood, and admission that he can’t wait to go home (“In fact, I would say that’s one of the great pleasures of my life, leaving anywhere I am”) all gave it the feel of the early stages of a one-man show. He put a cap on it by deconstructing the traditional sign-off, refusing to say “we have a great show” and flippantly naming the band while making a masturbation joke, because of course.
Just like that testing scene from Men in Black, only even more ridiculous, the first sketch of the night eased us into having Larry David on the show by making him barely recognizable. Cecily Strong has perfected the yell-talk of an FBI trainer as Kenan Thompson’s wannabe field agent character attempts to work his way through the shooting exercise. Leslie Jones, Vanessa Bayer, and Jon Rudnitsky all make pretty hilarious “simulations” despite only being on screen for a few seconds. But the sketch is really all about Kevin Roberts, which is Larry David (with hair) in a bright orange suit, like a sportier version of the tux in Dumb & Dumber, holding a giant ‘80s cell phone and calling himself “The Coolest Bitch in Town.” And he pretty much is, although his donut-wielding friend (Bobby Moynhian) is a close second. Look, this sketch made no sense, but I liked it.
Bern Your Enthusiasm
The pièce de résistance of Larry David’s episode was undoubtedly this pre-taped sketch which interweaved classic Curb Your Enthusiasm scenarios to explain why Bernie Sanders lost the Iowa Caucus by like five people. It put David’s impression to far better use than a cold open would have, and allowed cast members Cecily Strong, Bobby Moynihan, and Jay Pharoah bust out their best impressions of Susie Essman, Jeff Garlin, and JB Smoove as well. The scene in which David refuses to pop Aidy Bryant’s shoulder back in is also funny considering the real Bernie Sanders ran to the aid of a fainting man at a rally just last week. All in all, it was a highly watchable mini-episode of Curb that just happened to star Bernie Sanders.
How do you top something as strong as Larry David’s Bernie Sanders impression? Bring out the real thing, of course. But before we get to that, this sketch felt like it was written by (or at least expertly for) Larry David, a rich passenger on a Titanic-era ship who doesn’t really agree with the whole “women and children first” thing. He slips in and out of a bad, vaguely European accent as the sketch keeps heightening with every inappropriate thing David yells (like, “Check for pubes!” and “Ask if she’s gone through menopause!”). Kenan Thompson and Taran Killam provide the “olden times” support until Sen. Sanders steals the scene when David’s character tries to pull a real asshole move and his one-percenter alarm goes off. Seeing the two of them interact was definitely something special (at least now we can certify that they aren’t the same person) even if the joke about Democratic socialism was mildly groan-worthy. As a person running for President who is also trying to be funny, Sanders (or, Sanderswitzky) did a solid job. At least he didn’t host an entire episode and take it down with him.
I’m never going to be able to hear the phrase “My hungry guys!” without a sense of horror again. Good thing no one actually says that! The second pre-recorded sketch of the night was a twisted callback to the Totinos “Activity Pack For Women” commercial from Season 40, which parodied sexist Super Bowl ads. Vanessa Bayer once again plays the perfect TV pitch mom, and the guys in the cast (plus Larry David) play the aforementioned “hungry guys.” Only this time, after a slow build, things take a sharp left turn. Starting with that slow-motion tray of Totinos falling on the carpet, the M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist is revealed at just the right pace. It was definitely the darkest Super Bowl ad of the year, but only because the Nationwide commercial was last year.
The gift that was the opening of Saturday night’s GOP debate did a lot of the heavy lifting on Update, providing Colin Jost with plenty to riff on with each impossibly funny entrance snafu. Che got in the show’s weekly obligatory Trump diss by saying he finished in Iowa “a loser surrounded by Hispanics,” but the best political punchline came from Jost on Ted Cruz loving Rent because it’s about “a young artist with ‘New York values’ who dies without access to affordable healthcare.”
The rest of Jost and Colin’s one-liners were a mixed bag of jokes about Dominos golden pizza, the lady who found a wafer-less Kit-Kat and a joke about mayonnaise that was really about Colin being white. The racial dynamic of Che and Jost continues to be the funniest part of their co-anchorship, and was put to good use for a their bit about white news anchors and Black History Month. That, plus Che making Jost shake his head at an obvious oral sex joke. Basically, anything that makes Jost uncomfortable works.
Kate McKinnon debuted a new character, Sturdy Barbie, in response to Mattell releasing slightly taller, more petite and “curvier” dolls to their lineup. Sturdy “Barb” is a down-to-earth gal who describes herself as “Trying My Best” Barbie or, “Been Through a Lot” Barbie. She’s also classic Kate McKinnon character: lowbrow yet captivating, and impeccably detailed down to her having a fully paid-off ranch style home and ‘04 Mitsubishi Galant. Sure, she may come with a sleep apnea machine instead of a Corvette, but you can count on her to help you move.
Starting off with a much-needed joke about how he is barely on the show, Jon Rudnitsky’s take on Dirty Dancing was truly something to behold. There probably weren’t that many people expecting the new kid to rip off his sleeves and simply crush the Patrick Swayze parts of the dance to “I Had The Time Of My Life,” nor expecting it to take such a dark turn. I actually saw Rudnitsky perform a full version of this routine at 2015’s New Faces showcase at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal, shortly before he was hired to be a featured player on SNL, and kept trying to describe it to people but not doing it justice. This version felt a little rushed since it wasn’t the entire song, but I loved how they made it work in front of the Update desk, with Che and Jost’s reactions adding another element. Good for him.
Finally, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) came on to talk about politics, but really to plug Zoolander 2. Update gave them the perfect game of critiquing the fashion choices of the political candidates after the Iowa “Couscous.” Comparing Hillary Clinton to Kim Jong-un is pretty harsh, but maybe not as insulting as thinking Tom Cruise is actually Ted Cruz. Che’s reaction to Zoolander calling him Lester Holt was pretty great. And of course, both Derek and Hansel are Trump supporters, although at least they acknowledged that he’s a hot mess.
This one has to be tied with Kevin Roberts for the most random sketch of the night, but once again, its silliness was only made better by Larry David. Pete Davidson plays the awkward, straight man as a songwriting teacher who insists on using childish rhyming games to inspire his pupils, Russ (Larry David with a ponytail), Kate McKinnon, Taran Killam, Vanessa Bayer, and Jay Pharoah. David steals the scene with his tales of frog-toad warfare in Froghattan. In fact, Vanessa Bayer’s character could be speaking about the sketch itself when she tells Russ, “You are legitimately talented.”
Peyton & Cam
The most pointed sketch of the night was also its most topical (unless you count the “breaking news” coverage of the GOP debate walk-ons) as it took aim at the disparity in media coverage of the Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning (Taran Killam) and the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton (Kenan Thompson). The two Super Bowl 50 quarterbacks naturally sing a rendition of “Ebony & Ivory” as the discuss how the news treats them when they do exactly the same thing. Basically, Manning gets high-fives, while Newton gets called a thug and receives angry letters from moms for dancing too much even though he does commercials for greek yogurt. They can at least agree on two things, however: they’ll never see that concussion movie, and there’s something really off about Papa John.
Capping off a solid episode was a solid, recurring sketch. We first saw Kate McKinnon’s Sheila Sovage sloppily make out at the bar with Louis C.K. in 2012, then Vince Vaughn, John Goodman, and finally Woody Harrelson in 2014. But none of those would top Larry David in terms of creepiness factor. Kenan Thompson does his job as the put-upon bartender, forced to serve “Vodka Cheddars” and witness unsavory hookups, even if behind a pair of tiny Venetian blinds. Once again, Larry David looks barely recognizable – in fact, he looks more like Will Ferrell doing Robert Goulet than himself. “Ace Chuggins” leaves us with some quotable lines such as, “You really know how to make a man confused down there,” as he and Sovage have a competition to see who can be more despicable. I’d say the ending was the most twisted one of the night if it wasn’t for that Totinos commercial. Actually, nevermind, this was weirder.
So Shoot, What Else?