This week’s Saturday Night Live couldn’t have possibly met my lofty expectations. It’s the last week before the election. New York City just got battered by a terrible hurricane. Louis C.K. was hosting—an exciting choice on any week, but particularly this one—and he sent out a stirring email just before the show began, and it’s just hard not to get excited about television when all this is happening. Before I turned on the TV, I was pretty much expecting C.K.’s performance to drain the remaining flooded subway tunnels. But, this is a sketch show, and it lives and dies by the quality of its sketches, and these sketches were… mixed. At best.
While C.K. was an inspired choice to host, he wasn’t picked because he’s an experienced sketch actor. He’s done more work of this nature than say, Bruno Mars, but the fascination came from watching a supremely talented dude working completely out of his element. He had to do silly voices, and wear dumb costumes, and time the blowing of a ram’s horn to an amusing sound cue, and make out horribly with Kate McKinnon. The only time he was in his comfort zone was during the monologue, where he did a bit that I saw him perform the week before at a live show and was obviously very funny.
With most SNL hosts, you’re just hoping they fit in and don’t do too much damage—occasionally, you know they’re good enough that you’re excited to see what’s in their bag of tricks this year. But just the idea of C.K. being in one of these dumb sketches was shocking enough to make his first appearance (as a beleaguered FEMA official on Fox & Friends) exciting. He was doing a weird high voice but otherwise he was the straight man to the ridiculous hosts and felt like a bit of an afterthought.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hurricane dominated the opening third of the show, with the cold open featuring Mayor Bloomberg (Fred Armisen) and his Internet phenomenon of a sign language interpreter Lydia Callis (Cecily Strong). The sign language stuff wasn’t worth much, but the appearance of Bobby Moynihan as Chris Christie (obvious, but fitting casting) and then Bloomberg’s advice to Spanish speakers about white people being bummed about missing Homeland brought it home nicely. Still, for the last show before an election, it was surprising that even Fox & Friends had little to do with the candidates, and Jay Pharoah’s Barack Obama didn’t make the cut at all (Mitt Romney popped up on Weekend Update just to remind us that SNL hasn’t forgotten what’s going down on Tuesday).
Things really seemed to be on a roll with the mash-up of Louie and Lincoln, which would have been a home run even if it had no dialogue. But Louie-as-Lincoln’s existential bitching onstage about his “literally historically insane” wife and his abiding fear that someone was going to murder him was brilliant; his awkward encounters trying to make an actual black friend even better. Like many a pre-taped sketch, it got to be a little quieter and take a little longer to build to the big joke, which made it all the funnier. Unfortunately the rest of the night was a lot broader, and that didn’t always connect with our host.
The Australian film spoof was a one-joke premise that probably shouldn’t have made it this far, particularly since Bill Hader and McKinnon were busting out very hacky Australian accents (C.K.’s was actually the best of the three). Maybe this would have worked as the last sketch of the night (although it was way too long) but it really blunted the momentum of the episode after a decent start.
Weekend Update suffered from having too much to do and not spending enough time on the interesting stuff. Aidy Bryant’s social media thing was competently done but not that funny, especially when an Obama appearance really felt necessary (the Romney bit was fine, and I’m sure an Obama bit would have been equally unexciting, but come on, the election’s on Tuesday). Cecily Strong’s girl you wish you hadn’t talked to at a party, introduced on a Weekend Update Thursday, immediately suffered from diminishing returns. She’s not bad, but the writers had better not drive that character into the ground too quickly.
When he was on Jimmy Fallon the other day, C.K. said that there was one sketch he really dreaded doing, because he looked silly and had to do dumb stuff in it. I can’t guarantee that it was the mountain pass scene, but he definitely seemed the most uncomfortable during that one. The problem there (apart from the timing of the horn blasts) was that it took a while to build to a… vaguely funny reveal, built on a misunderstanding, that had very low-key consequences. It was cute, and I chuckled at the self-importance of C.K.’s character being deflated, but this was another long sketch that felt like a 12:55-er.
Things wrapped up surprisingly well, however. I can see why the other sketches weren’t slotted last, because the final two, while strong, were weird and quirky in the usual end-of-the-night SNL style. The hotel checkout bit was short, it had C.K. doing a funny voice very well, and it had a bunch of nice surreal jokes (and a funny, fizzling ending that justifiably got Moynihan and C.K. to crack a little). The disgusting bar makeout session with McKinnon was probably his best-acted work of the night, and the joke of their mutual unpleasantness was simple but perfectly conveyed.
So no, the flood hasn’t receded based on C.K.’s performance alone, and there wasn’t nearly enough political material in what should have been a very, very political episode. But even with my huge expectations (which were certainly not met), this wasn’t a bad effort by SNL. I would have loved more, but I laughed a bunch, and I got to see Louis C.K. be silly on the teevee.
- “Los blancos amor Homeland.”
- Donald Trump’s charity “pays inner-city kids to throw garbage at Rosie O’Donnell.” Sudeikis’ Trump, while fine, isn’t much on Darrell Hammond’s.
- My favorite Fox & Friends correction: “There are many black people, not just one master of disguise.”
- Romney gives Seth a canned good, takes a picture with him. “I need this back, this is my picture can.”
- I’ll say this, “Can I sing a Negro spiritual real quick?” made me laugh more than “Can I say the N-word real quick?” from the party girl’s first appearance.
- “Sixteen cubic meters of Argon, $65. Argon, sir, it’s a noble gas.”