Back from several weeks off and manned by Louis C.K. at peak comedic power, SNL was an off-market steroid-induced home run last night. Here's everything that happened.
The Cold Open
Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump makes a special stop to field questions from concerned but loyal supporters who ask him about jobs, health care and after-school programs. While each person tries to cite their own specific experience, like needing any kind of job — not archaic ones like coal mining — Trump only offers boiler plate responses and pandering ear candy. "In Trump's America, men work in two places: coal mines and Goldman Sachs," he says. The sketch also skewers the unerring support of Trump voters, with the president suggesting he's a lot like a bowl of chili that someone orders at a restaurant; they find a finger in it but, because they love chili, they just keep eating it anyway. Finger chili. Good stuff.
Holy shit, Louis C.K. delivered an all-time great monologue, drawing from material he honed on his recent North American tour. A glorious racist chicken joke segues into the silly, half-Seinfeld/half-Far Side bit about animal thoughts; a bit about being happier struggling and staying in jizz-stained motels than five-star hotels; and the amazing lost laundry bit — all terrific, all now in proper circulation. Just genius.
A court scene descends into eerie chaos when a prosecutor, played by C.K., seduces everyone with his luscious eyelashes. Without spoiling the punch line, let's just say this was a brilliant bit of physical comedy by Louis and also smartly written and directed to maximize the gut-buster premise.
Thank You, Scott
Another sharp and very funny idea executed beautifully, this "digital short" music video satirizes the self-satisfied brand of social media activism where we feel like we've contributed just by sharing posts and slapping emojis or slogans like "RESIST" on top. Every once in a while, the show scans what's happening in culture and cuts right to the heart of what makes it so absurd. "Thank You, Scott" is a pitch-perfect example of SNL reflecting our collective idiocy back at us in a smart, charming way.
Sam and the Spring Fling
Set in the 1950s and maybe, possibly timed to sort of acknowledge Chuck Berry's passing and the grossly offensive aspects of his personal life, a gaggle of young girls at a malt shop rally around their friend Louise, played by Cecily Strong, who is sad that no one's asked her to the high school dance. Unfortunately, the kindly malt shop owner Sam, played by C.K., is also a creepy, married pervert who insists that he can be her date. It's the kind of tension that C.K. revels in so you can see the joy in his eyes and Strong plays Louise mysteriously for a reason. As an aside, it must be said again: something's up with Leslie Jones. This marked the umpteenth instance since she joined the cast where she appeared as a character mid-sketch, completely lost and unsure of her script cues and camera blocking. It's increasingly uncomfortable to see her do this, and distracts from the action of every scene she wanders into like a confused tourist. It's not even a criticism; it's honestly concerning.
The Pepsi Ad
A really clever take on this controversial ad in which resistance movements were cynically co-opted by a tone-deaf corporation. Beck Bennett plays the director of the ad, who's feeling pretty good about his concept until he starts explaining it to family and friends on the phone. We never hear their side of the calls but Bennett's expressive face and shell-shocked utterances make it clear, the news is not good. There's a great kicker at the end when Cecily Strong, as the ad's star Kendall Jenner, is seen having a different kind of call. This was good.
This seems like a bunch of bullshit. That "Summer Girls" song by that group LFO came to mind during "Paris." Its low-key, almost spoken word singing and weightless chorus just enforced the sensation that we were watching a vapid, pseudo-sensitive white guy expression rolling by on a cold assembly line. "Break Up Every Night" was more dynamic but its android sound, pre-fab arrangements, and emo electro leanings still felt like watching music get kicked in the stomach.
A very strong Update all around this week with particularly good jokes ridiculing Trump's impulsiveness, the widely ridiculed photo of Jared Kushner wearing a flak jacket in Iraq, and Bill O'Reilly's $13 million sexual harassment settlements with women who worked at Fox News. Kate McKinnon, a white woman who often plays characters from other countries, appeared as artist Cecilia Giminez, and she and Jost made a lot of golden hay out of that messed up bust of soccer star Ronaldo. After that, every topical joke — about the Pepsi ad, Michael Che eating chocolate Easter bunny ass, and manatees — was a winner. Closing Update, Che shouted out Don Rickles too: "Good night, you hockey pucks!"
The O'Reilly Factor
Unusually for this recurring Trump stint, Alec Baldwin turned up again for another role, this time to portray Bill O'Reilly so the show could, disturbingly, satirize the news that Fox News settled five lawsuits against him for sexual harassment in the workplace. There were jokes about how most women quit the network and how the only companies willing to sponsor the show now, produce things like "dog cocaine." It culminated with O'Reilly interviewing Trump (a pre-recorded Baldwin) and, even though nothing should be shocking anymore, the crowd groaned at various points of this scripted exchange between these two pieces of shit.
Dodo the Birthday Clown
Louis plays Ernest Sullivan, a 53 year-old man who hires Dodo the Birthday Clown to perform at a party at his home. While the remote piece begins normally enough with small talk between Ernest and Dodo, played by Bobby Moynihan, it quickly becomes weird when Sullivan reveals he hired Dodo to celebrate his own birthday (not some kid's) and no one else is invited. Louis plays the guy perfectly — as a totally unemotional sociopath — and the comedic tension increases every few seconds to its predictable and sad end. Very well structured and executed.
Sectional Sofa Emporium
When C.K. was head writer on The Dana Carvey Show, this is exactly the kind of surreal thing that would make it to air before the show got cancelled after seven episodes. It's too bad because this is the kind of weirdness that stays with you as a comedy fan — the kind of uncompromising daring that Mr. Show would go for, free of caring about whether or not viewers (or network execs) might get it. SNL rarely lets something so odd spring forth for so long but this was refreshingly excellent and worked largely because of Louis' commitment to the weirdo he was playing.
The Tenement Museum Tour
Man, this historical reenactment of life for poor Polish immigrants in the bygone days of New York City was a hilarious shit show. Louis and Kate McKinnon play actors offering a historical account of the aforementioned scenario for students on a tour. But the roles in question end up being problematic, as the Polish characters descend into matter-of-fact racist tirades against Italians and, later, African-Americans. The funny premise was almost derailed by a lot of corpsing. McKinnon cannot handle Louis's Polish accent, which is basically a Borat voice (he even gets in a "MY WIFE!"), and her breaking gets him breaking and they all barely make it through. But the writing was super solid too so it became this perfect storm and a uniquely powerful 12:55 sketch.