It may not have the buzz or attention as last year, but Saturday Night Live is quietly having another great season. That's an incredibly unhip thing to say, as bashing the show seems like a national pastime for many, especially those that don't actually watch it. It's been a great 16+ months for the show, full of renewed energy and surprises. In that respect, Larry David fits right into the show's current renaissance: His impression of Bernie Sanders last fall was surprising yet, in retrospect, almost inevitable. It wasn't surprising that he was really great in the role. What was surprising was that David, who has had a rocky relationship with the show over the years, would even pop up to do it.
So how did he do acting not simply as a drop-in guest but as actual host? He was really game, with most sketches asking him to do little beyond his comfort zone. But that zone is so different from what the other repertory players or other recent hosts work with that it still felt fresh after the eighth sketch in which he played basically the same character. Those looking for a chameleon probably felt shortchanged. Those looking for Larry being Larry were entertained. Here are the three highlights from this week's episode.
Some sketches emerge from a unique character. Some emerge from a catchphrase. And others simply emerge through the bizarre sight of Larry David looking like an extra from Miami Vice. Comedy comes from many places, ladies and gentlemen.
"Human puzzle" Kevin Roberts (David) supplies the through line for an ever escalating series of shenanigans inside an FBI training facility, inside which Kenan Thompson's trainee is thrown off his game by Roberts' perpetual presence. It's the kind of sketch that probably worked just fine on paper but really took off during the mid-week read through. The combination of actor, wardrobe, and dialogue is simply the perfect mix for hilarity to ensue, especially with Kenan Thompson as the confused foil. "Kevin Roberts got in my head!" feels like something you could potentially see on a t-shirt at an SNL-centric convention. If nothing else, a lot of donut-shop employees are going to receive a lot of inappropriate orders in the near-future.
Bern Your Enthusiasm
In all honesty, last season's mash-up of The Office and J.R.R. Tolkien was probably better than this parody. But how could SNL pass up the opportunity to have David marry his iconic show with his iconic impression of Bernie Sanders?
Luckily, this wasn't a lazy, check-off-the-box type of parody, but one that actually tried to explain the close results in last week's Iowa caucus through Sanders' tactless behavior in the run-up to the vote. By not shaking the hand of a woman who just coughed in it, and not popping the shoulder of another woman who got into a car accident on the way to the polls, Sanders ends up losing the primary by five votes. Throw in some classic David-isms ("I'm not a popper!") and a fantastic performance by Cecily Strong as the Susie Greene stand-in, and you had a well-constructed sketch that will only make Curb Your Enthusiasm fans crave more episodes of the real deal.
Here's a prediction: In about ten years, you're going to see quite of few pieces about SNL in which Vanessa Bayer will be noted as someone that didn't get enough recognition in her actual time on the show. Well, let the record show that I think she's great now, and she's having one of her best years on the program to date this season.
At first, this seems like a continuation of the continuity started in last season's J.K. Simmons' episode, in which Bayer played a housewife consigned to spend time in the kitchen rather than with her husband and his friends. This time around, there was a more sinister bent, as the men watching the Super Bowl soon turned into seemingly mindless zombies. Bayer's character transforms from bland spokesman into terrified human in the space of ninety seconds, and it's a master class that demonstrates just how well she does with darker material. Sure, the tie-in to The X-Files makes this sketch timely, but it's Bayer that makes it timeless.