Julia Louis-Dreyfus hosted Saturday Night Live, Larry David made a cameo, and, yadda yadda yadda,the show ended.
Yes, there was more to the episode than just a mere yadda yadda yadda (including the episode’s meta, Seinfeld-referencing cold open), but, despite a clear willingness on the part of Louis-Dreyfus and the cast, the material rarely rose to meet them.
For her part, Louis-Dreyfus was clearly game from the start, even appearing in the cold open to reprise her Seinfeld character Elaine Benes (more on that in a bit). And rarely a sketch went by in which the entire cast didn’t devote themselves to whatever wacky idea was at play. It was just the execution of those ideas that failed them and, as a result, the viewers.
Some sketches seemed to rely on charm more than jokes, as did the Long Island jewelry sellers commercial where the visual gags only went so far and it was up to the New Yawk talk of Louis-Dreyfus and Kate McKinnon to keep the sketch alive. Some sketches felt too wrapped up in their conceit rather than delivering laughs, like the God’s Not Dead parody that closed the episode. And some sketches was just the unfunny mess that was the Match.com group event where a pair of aliens invade looking for mates to keep their species alive.
Louis-Dreyfus, for her part, dove into just about everything that was asked of her, including a few pre-recorded sketches in addition to her duties live in Studio 8H. Hopefully she’ll be back for a fourth time — she’s deserving of a much funnier episode, and certainly wasn’t what plagued last night’s episode. In fact, she was an absolute delight in some of the night’s most memorable sketches, including…
Predictably, the Democratic debate held in New York last week served as the Cold Open, with Larry David once again reprising his role as Bernie Sanders alongside McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton. While still too long an opening, the first sketch of the night made time for “real New Yorkers” to ask questions of the candidates, including a brief appearance of Vanessa Bayer’s Rachel Green and, more prominently, Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes. It’s a joy to see Elaine live once again (even if she didn’t have time to dance), even if the sketch petered out by the time it covered a few meta-jokes about Sanders tax plans (which would affect TV producers like David).
What’s better than an electric car? A car that runs entirely on double-A batteries, or so “Batteries Magazine” will tell viewers in this wonderfully designed car commercial parody. With Louis-Dreyfus showing off the features of the car, which is powered by just 9,648 AA batteries, the commercial nails every aspect of an overly serious car ad with all the ridiculousness of thousands of batteries pouring out of a car. The parody is more amusing than laugh-out-loud hilarious, but the attention to detail makes it a fun interlude that knows not to outstay its welcome.
Tony or Gary?
SNL’s monologue problem continued this week with a largely laughless one for Louis-Dreyfus until her Veep costar Tony Hale appeared as himself but essentially in character as Gary, holding Louis-Dreyfus’ cue cards and consequently taking her abuse when he misplaces one of them. It’s a fun bit that comes at the tail end of a monologue more concerned with explaining who Louis-Dreyfus is than giving her actual jokes to work with. The last few monologues have all felt like half-hearted bits the writers were forced to do, not creative possibilities. Monologues can help set the tone for the rest of the night, but they send the wrong message when they come off as afterthoughts (that are still given plenty of visibility) to the rest of the show.
First of all, the way Kenan Thompson delivers his character’s name, Reese De’What, is just another example of how the SNL vet finds glee in even the smallest of details. But Reese is host to a larger idea that is smart on paper though less impressive in execution despite the actors’ dedication to the material. Looking back at a classic film actress, the sketch focuses on Louis-Dreyfus’ Marla Bartlet, who hid pieces of her dialogue around film sets to discover them in the moment. Each scene requires Louis-Dreyfus to run around the set, grab an object, and find whatever scrap of dialogue is hidden in plain sight. The sketch needed some tightening up — the breaks in between her dialogue can last too long — but Louis-Dreyfus goes all in while Taran Killam’s exasperated co-star is a fun supplement.
Weekend Update had a surprising number of jokes that died in the room (though I personally thought it was a reasonably strong outing), but the appearance of Thompson as Charles Barkley and Jay Pharoah as Shaquille O’Neal was a treat. Barkley’s every dig at Shaq’s lifestyle is hilarious as O’Neal only makes things worse by sharing his love of eating Icy Hot pads.
The duo appeared in one of three guests to the Weekend Update desk for the night, which also included Aidy Bryant’s animal expert Annie. She has plenty of facts at her disposal but they’re interspersed with dark looks into her personal life. (Cows poop 16 times a day, she explains, to which Annie says “Hey cows, catch up!”)
And last but not least of the trio, Cecily Strong reprises her role as the one-dimensional female character in a male-driven comedy. The character continues to be a great idea, played with a brilliant emotionless delivery from Strong, and while much of the writing with the characters feels symptomatic of the episode (a good idea with jokes that don’t quite deliver gut-busting jokes), it’s still a biting piece of commentary and a nice reminder of how great Strong’s stable of Update characters can be.
Nick Jonas cameoed in a couple of sketches during the episode (including in a role that led to the last solid punchline in a pre-recorded bit), but he came primarily to perform — with no guitar solos in sight. While “Champagne Problems” brought a bit of funk to the stage, his performance of “Close” with Tove Lo takes the edge with a bit more of a bombastic touch that played better in Studio 8H.