Some critics are raving about last night’s Louis C.K. led episode of Saturday Night Live, but we’re not seeing it. For our money, it was actually pretty disappointing. Alec Baldwin followed up a drab cold open with an uncomfortable attempt to play Bill O’Reilly later in the show, Louis C.K.’s monologue had some moments, but could not live up to his last appearance or his recent special, and the sketches had some very funny ideas, but most either fizzled out, or never got off the launch pad.
Louis C.K. came out in a suit and tie and all the confidence that he has earned from his incredible career, and a tremendous amount of energy and delivered a wild, uneven, and at some moments, bizarre set. If you search Google this morning, you’ll find that critics loved it- calling his monologue brilliant. This isn’t surprising- Louis is the top of the pyramid, but it doesn’t change the fact that it just wasn’t Louis at his best. He opened with a joke that was likely to shock (and delight) SNL audiences right off the bat. “Why did the chicken cross the road? Because there was a black guy walking behind him.” Definitely an unexpected opener particularly on network television, and it worked– it was definitely funny, but not nearly as strong as expected, seemed to succeed more for its shock than for its cleverness, and not quite at the Louis C.K. level. After a series of jokes about chickens and black people (and one really funny line about the chicken murder rate), C.K. moved on to talk about the trouble with staying in five-star hotels and white privilege. Again, it was unexpected and undoubtedly controversial among NBC viewers, and that alone made it interesting to watch, but not quite the A-game we’re used to seeing from Louis. Given the gigantic success of Louis’ shocking pedophile material in his last appearance hosting SNL, it’s no surprise that he would want to be shocking, but most of his monologue material felt too much like he was gunning for shock over satire, surprise over laughs. It’s difficult to compete with your best self- his last appearance was fire, and his recent special, 2017, is outstanding, so while our expectations may be unreasonably high, that’s what happens when you’re the best. Watch the monologue below and judge for yourself, but your time will be better spent going straight to Netflix and watching “2017.”
The show opened with the return of Alec Baldwin as Trump and it was fine, probably one of the better sketches of the evening, but had us thinking of Amma Marfo’s op-ed from a few months ago, “Is it Time to Dump the Trump Character From SNL?” Baldwin sounded like he is getting laryngitis, and the jokes –focused on Trump getting rid of everything- jobs, regulations that protect workers, healthcare– didn’t add anything new. It’s an autopilot sketch and would have been just as effective to rerun an earlier cold open.
But Trump’s not going anywhere, in fact, SNL feels so confident about Baldwin’s impression, that they gave us a double shot last night. They didn’t even stop at two Trump portrayals for Baldwin- they added a new character for him- Bill O’Reilly. Is Baldwin becoming the oldest cast member in the history of the show?
It was difficult to pay attention to the sketch the first time around- it took a few minutes to stop thinking- why is Alec Baldwin playing Bill O’Reilly (and by the way, Alec never for a moment stopped feeling like Alec Baldwin in hair and make up). But a second viewing didn’t save the bit. There was nothing there beyond the weirdness of “why is Alec Baldwin in another wig?” Props to the make-up and hair departments, they did a great job, but it just wasn’t enough to make this make any sense at all. By the time we got to the Trump/O’Reilly split screen where the two characters continually told each other how much they liked each other, it just felt like Baldwin having an ego stroke, giving himself a lot of love. Hopefully this will be the last we’ll see of Baldwin O’Reilly.
None of the sketches last night stood out as favorites. A courtroom bit putting Louis C.K. in the role of a prosecutor with gorgeous eyelashes was first out of the gate, and despite a hilarious moment where Louis looks at the camera and bats his lashes charmingly, the sketch was a bust (watch it here). “Soda Shop” had C.K. playing a creepy soda shop owner named Sam hitting on a high school girl, and that had potential, but fizzled out quickly, and had a bizarre unnecessary ending. C.K. teamed up with Kate McKinnon for Tenement Museum which is must-watch just because it was so bizarre. The jokes are mostly about Italians, and there are some laughs, but you want to watch so you can see Louis break character laughing at his own stupidly funny immigrant accent, which fluctuates between sounding like the Great Gazoo, Borat, and The Brain from Pinky and the Brain. You will laugh. You may not love the sketch, but you will laugh, and that’s worth plenty. The big dud of the night goes to “Sectionals” about the love one man has for selling sectional couches. If you rewatch it enough, you’ll actually start to laugh at the absurdity of it all, but you’ll definitely have to take our word on that because the chances you will want to rewatch it if you don’t have to, are slim.
The shorts did not all escape the slump week- “Thank You Scott” is a musical short that plays tribute to “Scott” for his social media posts. The bit makes fun of the self-importance people feel when sharing articles and opinions on social media. A worthy topic, no doubt, but everything from the writing, to the music choice, to the lighting, worked against it. (Watch it here). A “behind the scenes” look at the Pepsi commercial that shocked social media this week would normally escape our attention, but this week gets stand out recognition only because it wasn’t bad. But there was really no reason to use it other than to make use of a viral moment from earlier this week. Beck Bennett plays the writer who came up with the idea for the ad, and we witness him going from excited over his big moment, to the realization that he created something awful. (watch it here).
“Birthday Clown” starred C.K. and Bobby Moynihan, providing the one genuine highlight of the night. In the context of the rest of the show, it felt like it didn’t work, but upon second watching, it’s actually hilarious. Moynihan plays a kids’ party clown who shows up to do his act for a birthday party, but it turns out to be a party of one, and the kid isn’t Ernie, it’s a grown man named Ernest.
Plenty of laughs in Weekend Update this week with strong performances from Che and Jost, with Jost taking on Trump sending missiles to Syria, and Che explaining the current international political scene with a Three Stooges clip. They also covered Gorsuch’s confirmation, Steve Bannon’s removal from the National Security Council, Jeff Sessions and Bill O’Reilly’s scandal. Kate McKinnon appeared in the character of Cecilia Gimenez, the artist reviewing the awful Cristiano Ronaldo bust. Yes, this character looks and feels a lot like McKinnon’s other foreign Weekend Update characters, but the jokes are so strong that we didn’t care.
Saturday Night Live returns live next week with the return of Jimmy Fallon for the start of a bold new programming move- SNL will be live across the country, hitting prime time on the West Coast.