Saturday Night Live Season 42, Episode 17: Louis C.K. keeps it weird

 

How’s the Cold Open?

Baldwin is getting tired.

More and more as I watch Baldwin’s Trump, I can’t help but think this. Nothing has technically changed, but it feels more and more like having Baldwin here is a restraint rather than freedom. His impression’s technicalities are all there, but it’s going to a well of crowd-pleasing tics rather than seeking to actually push anything or drill down deep.

Which, to be fair, can be the exact same criticism ultimately leveled against something like Dana Carvey’s H.W. Bush. But I would say the argument for actually bringing an outsider in to play a character over having an actual cast member do it is that they bring something unique to the character, something that isn’t a standard recurring character. Baldwin’s Trump isn’t that.

Like I said, it’s still all there. Here, Trump is having a town hall in a Southern area where his supporters are questioning him on the things he’s cut or going to cut, completely oblivious to what they actually want or still garnering their support despite that. There’s even that great line “It’s like you found a finger in your chili, but you keep eating it because you told everyone how much you love chili” (though I’m not sure that line works for the character, Baldwin’s Trump should rarely seem that self-aware).

But there’s no oomph here. It’s the same ol’ cuts, going to that well because the writers and the performers know they can. It means the satire suffers, as they sort of flail around a few ideas (supporters working against their own interests, but Trump is a moron?) without ever really nailing one down. And the energy isn’t there. There’s nothing dangerous or daring here, especially given how long it’s been since Trump tweeted about the impression. We know it bothers him, but without the reinforcing, it’s another character that has overstayed his welcome, and an impression of a President like Trump should never feel that way.

Who’s Hosting?

Louis C.K. is probably simultaneously one of this show’s most expected and unexpected star hosts.

Unexpected because few would ever look at Louis C.K.’ s comedy and necessarily think of him as a ready team player, a goofy guy ready to put on whatever wig and talk in a funny voice and play along. There’s a chance he’s going to seem too above it all or too uncomfortable getting that silly. And the surprise and pleasure every time is that he ends up exactly that.

Expected though because few people soar at this show quite like the best stand-up comics do. It makes sense. They’re consistently capable of working and reading the room (as they do in their day jobs) and have a fearlessness live that few other performer can match. No one has that fearlessness and live skills quite like Louis C.K., his chops are absolutely perfect for hosting SNL. 

What Sketches Are Worth Watching?

“Pepsi Commercial”

I simply want to reiterate that Beck Bennett is likely (between him, Moynihan, and of course McKinnon) the best actor on this show and this sketch proves it. You’ve gotta be fascinated by the thought process that went into that Pepsi commercial and, while never underselling how bad of an idea it is, this one is so painfully relatable that you can’t help but feel a little bad. Bennett sells so well that initial joy and the dawning stomach-churning realization of what he’s doing. I love the shame that sets in as he keeps describing and the work of cutting to the pieces around him. This is just great comedy work with a well-put together bit of filming.

“Birthday Clown”

Holy shit. I LOVE this sketch. It definitely feels like a Louis C.K.-written thing with its dark undertones with sad older dudes, its skillful and slightly surreal dimensions, and that great ending. This is the sort of thing that reminds us what’s going to make us miss Moynihan if the rumors of him leaving are true. His go-for-broke silliness, the way he jumps to underplaying from overplaying just right, and some killer line readings are just all perfection in this sketch. He may win line reading of the year twice here.

“Yeah, there’s no protocol for whatever this is.”

“You don’t want this.”

“Sectionals”

Another bit of perfect weirdness, almost closer to Tim and Eric than SNL. This man and his intense love for sectionals goes so far for broke than you can’t not love it. Aidy Bryant is a stand out here, that delivery of “Bigger” is next-level wonderful. This is one of those that just packs on the weirdness until the end and C.K.’s unwillingness to wink at the audience here no matter what keeps it funny.

“Louis C.K. Stand-Up Monologue”

There’s nothing I have to say here. Louis C.K. is one of our best stand-ups and this is just as daring and dark and smart and ridiculous as he’s ever been. Well worth its watch.

“Thank You, Scott”

SNL is often accused of its bias by saying they never make jokes about Liberals. This isn’t strictly true. It’s correct to say they don’t really go after Liberal politicians, but the show loves to go after Liberals, as the show’s writers are much more observational and inward looking going after themselves. This is one such example, attacking a certain strain of back-patting slacktivism that says it’s enough to simply share information with no life or limb risk as a white dude.

*cough* Yeah, pretty good.

I Don’t If It Worked, I Don’t Know If It Didn’t Work. But Hats Off That You Did It. 

“Soda Shop”

This is a weird and very dark sketch to put early on, so I have to admire it on that much. I find myself reluctant to do too much summary as many tonight have twists I don’t want to reveal. Needless to say, this one starting off as a bit of nostalgia perfectly underlines the dark and surprisingly dirty turn this ends up taking with a rather unsettling ending. Leslie Jones blows a line so hard that it kind of kills the momentum here, but points for concept.

“The Lawyer”

There is one joke here and I have no idea if it actually works but god help me I was laughing.

“Tenement Museum”

I don’t necessarily love “This just makes the actors laugh” sketches, but this one gets its points for making McKinnon and C.K. specifically crack up as well as the slow dawning realization that C.K. has begun slipping into a Borat impression while acting against McKinnon doing an accent she can totally do.

What Didn’t Work?

“The O’Reilly Factor with Donald Trump”

There’s a part of me that absolutely really likes the idea here. Baldwin may do a better O’Reilly than he does a Trump, getting that smug smirk and head tilt and cadence all just so, and the idea of the two as mirrors of each other is a really clever one satirically.

But I think one person playing two people in the same live sketch (as Carvey did with Perot and H.W.) can lose the rhythms necessary for live performance and just generally goes more sloppy and flashy than it ever is really funny. And that’s what happened here. A few good lines, but the timing and play between Baldwin live and pre-taped Baldwin-as-Trump just felt so off that a lot of joke momentum cratered into the ground. Just never could find the laugh.

Weekend Update!

There’s a lot of material here, but it felt like Jost and Che just couldn’t make anything land tonight. Blown lines and thin jokes were mixed in with a few good ones (Over a picture of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump discussing Bannon’s firing: “This time, he probably can blame the Jews”) making for a mixed experience overall. Their groove means they won’t be a disaster, but it’s really noticeable when they’re off.

One correspondent this week, but anytime McKinnon shows up as one of the gleefully insane human beings she specializes in, it’s well worth our time. Doesn’t even matter which one.

Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?

I’ve seen The Chainsmokers live one time in college while sober and that’s all I need to get of them thank you.

MVPs!

This was a far too cast-lite night, but let me mark Bobby Moynihan for his part in the Clown sketch, which was truly phenomenal.

Season so far:

Beck Bennett – 3
Kate McKinnon – 2
Bobby Moynihan – 2
Cecily Strong – 2
Mikey Day – 2
Vanessa Bayer – 1
Jost and Che – 1
Leslie Jones – 1
Kenan Thompson – 1
Melissa Villaseñor – 1
Ensemble – 1

Final Thoughts!

Overall, this is the kind of night that I really like. A big weird night anchored by a reliably funny host. Some big hits and some swings that I really like. This is the show when it feels the most like the comedy show it should be. Sloppy, big, weird, and exciting and often funny to watch.

Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)

  1. Dave Chappelle
  2. Tom Hanks
  3. Kristen Stewart
  4. Lin-Manuel Miranda
  5. Louis C.K.
  6. Emma Stone
  7. Aziz Ansari
  8. Scarlett Johansson
  9. Alec Baldwin
  10. Kristen Wiig
  11. Margot Robbie
  12. Casey Affleck
  13. Benedict Cumberbatch
  14. John Cena
  15. Felicity Jones
  16. Octavia Spencer
  17. Emily Blunt

Next Week: Ugh, Jimmy Fallon.

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