Saturday Night Live Season 43, Episode 4: Larry David leads a show that feels lost

How’s the Cold Open?

We’ll hit up top with the standard points I make at pretty much every Cold Open now:

  • Baldwin’s Trump is just every other Presidential impression now, reciting the news.
  • If Baldwin’s Trump is just reciting the news, there’s no reason for Alec Baldwin to be playing him.
  • A new Trump could inject some new blood.
  • Baldwin’s Trump is getting tired.
  • Trump impressions should not feel tired on a show of this prominence.

Okay, great.

Instead, I want to point out a good, which is Bennett’s Mike Pence, which shows maybe how SNL needs to start handling Trump (and not just by having Bennett play him). Pence here is an actual clear character at this point, one pushed slightly past the point of absurdity to become recognizable.

Let’s take Pence wearing a suit in the shower. It’s based in some real thing about Pence, his…monastic sexual ethics. It’s then ratcheted up (“I’m not married to the water”) and delivered in a way that feels like part impression, part character work. It turns Pence into someone creepy and repressed and Bennett sells that exact idea.

In other words, it’s interesting to watch. It makes something substantive out of the material far more than just “Pence did a thing.” Maybe it helps that Pence seems to be keeping his head down and there isn’t stuff from the news to pull about him, but that’s the approach that feels more incisive.

Who’s Hosting?

Larry David is a comedy legend and he doesn’t need to be here. If anyone had done one of the things he’d done, they’d be in the comedy canon. With David’s career, he’s hanging out over on SNL (a show he started out writing for before never getting anything on air) mostly for old-age kicks.

Which means that while his above-it-all-ness really can be fun, it also means he’s not essentially leading the show, more a curmudgeonly ensemble player. The last episode had such great material that his approach was moving along with a fun episode. Here, the material is much weaker and while he’s having fun, he’s not guiding the show.

What Sketches Are Worth Watching?

“Beers”

While Good Neighbor (Bennett and Mooney) have a nasty tendency of getting cut, it’s always a delight when their sketches actually show up in the show. Their weird deconstructive parody of 90s Sitcoms always feels like a way to introduce a direct mainline of surrealism and this one sure enough does. That ending is maybe one of the best laugh-out-loud shocks SNL has done since “Goodbye Mr. Bunting.”

“Career Retrospective”

This is one of those that took me a couple watches, but I’ve ended up coming around on it. The quickly changing virtues in language is fairly ripe for parody and this one is just ridiculous enough to be funny. It also works due to the reactions of the people around him at the Gala. Aidy Bryant is probably running the best reactions here.

I’m Not Touching This One

“Larry David Monologue”

Look, I know this one is controversial. I know I’m not equipped to say things about that controversy. So I’m leaving it here.

What Didn’t Work?

“The Baby Step”

The joke here is solid (Larry David doesn’t want to participate in a frankly humiliating sketch) and it’s so close to working that I feel weird having it here. But I think it partially comes down to having just no joke outside of Larry David’s refusal to participate. It never falls apart because of that, it never builds on that, it just feels like a cut-in to something that’s dumb that they’re taking dead serious. Look at “Jack Sparrow” for a similar premise (guest derailing something taken seriously) and how that one works.

“The Price Is Right Celebrity Edition”

The never-ending search for something that can be the new Celebrity Jeopardy (without ever really getting why that worked) continues with The Price is Right. They at least come close here, but none of the impressions really end up sailing here. The best is Chris Redd doing a surprisingly able Lil’ Wayne and actually getting to play the joke against Kenan’s straight man.

“Fresh Takes”

Honestly, I get the premise here, but the structure is just so limp and listless that I feel like it never ended up really working. It feels like too much of this is playing to dead air both between the performers and to the audience. It’s a sketch that just kind of piles up in a crash.

“New Wife”

While there is pleasure in a sketch that makes someone like Larry David break (this is still one of my favorite SNL videos), I just wish it was around for a better sketch. They’re just not sure what the actual idea here is, what the joke is that ended up making him break was. McKinnon does a great job underplaying here, but the main thrust of the sketch never feels like it comes into focus to make it work.

“Press Conference”

This just reminds me of Melaninade last year. I get that Sarah Sanders isn’t as much of a character as Spicer was, but you could try. Aidy is having fun here, but this just feels limp and confusing, a Variety show thing rather than a sketch or a joke.

Weekend Update!

As the Trump administration material chugs along, it’s become increasingly clear that Michael Che is the better equipped to take it all on. There’s an exasperated directness to his handling of the horrors of Trump that just feels more direct that Jost’s square thing.  His rant about how tired he is of all this really works, his looseness feels raw rather out of a lack of practice.

Three correspondents, this was a real correspondent-heavy week. We’ll start off the top with Leslie Jones’ segment with the World Series-winning Houston Astros. It’s not much at all, not even as much fun as last year’s World Series segments. It’s just a thing. The other two are way better.

First, let’s talk the return of Moffatt and Day’s Eric and Don Jr. The two Trump sons are definitely not the most accurate characterizations (Don Jr. seeming to be a real-life total moron where Day plays him as Patrick Bateman) but the characters really work here (reference my earlier talk on Mike Pence). Day and Moffatt’s comedic chemistry is so good and that’s half of what sells this. The other half is Moffatt’s physical work, that moment with Fun Dip is next level good facial expression.

Then, let’s talk maybe the winner of the whole night. Heidi Gardner’s “Every Boxer’s Girlfriend From Every Movie About Boxing Ever.” They’ve done this kind of character before (One-Dimensional Female Character from a Male-Driven Comedy comes to mind), but holy shit Gardner may be better at it than basically everyone. Not only is the writing great (the catchphrases and the way she twists in) but Gardner’s performance is so so dead-on. She’s so funny, she’s so committed, and she takes control of the whole situation the second she comes in. It’s the good shit, Gardner may have had her break out moment tonight (as the show looks for someone to inevitably become the next big star once McKinnon leaves in the next couple years)

Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?

Nah. Though Miley Cyrus showed up in a few extra sketches tonight.

MVPs!

On a show without a lot of real winners, Gardner’s Weekend Update correspondent was the most unabashed success. It was the kind of home run a young performer needs and getting it in her 4th week is particularly impressive.

Kate McKinnon – 1
Aidy Bryant – 1
Cecily Strong – 1
Heidi Gardner –
1

Final Thoughts!

It’s a pretty middling week, nothing absolutely awful but even the successes (outside of Weekend Update) felt like they were barely pulling themselves over the top. This episode felt like a lot of muddled and confused writing not helping an increasingly strong cast of performers. This show needs something to help kick its writer’s room in the ass soon.

Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)

  1. Kumail Nanjiani
  2. Gal Gadot
  3. Ryan Gosling
  4. Larry David

Next Week: Tiffany Haddish!

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