Back when Larry David was a writer for Saturday Night Live, you could charitably describe the relationship between the two entities as oil and water. But over the last few years, that’s turned into more of a peanut butter and jelly situation, with David’s breakout performance as Bernie Sanders producing a lot of positive buzz for both sides.
While his first time hosting in 2016 produced a solid show, the second time here unfortunately wasn’t as strong. The first half-hour was in fact almost shockingly bad, with nothing going the show’s way in terms of content or execution. Everything just seemed slightly off at all times, and it took a quite a while for the audience to warm up to what the Not Ready For Primetime Players were doing.
There’s no real reason to pinpoint why episodes sometimes go like this. In reality, it’s impressive that it’s not more often like this, given the difficulty inherent in its style of production. Luckily, not everything was a dud: Here are three segments that people will be talking about until Tiffany Haddish hosts next week.
The Price Is Right Celebrity Edition
Look: This wasn’t good. Let’s be clear about that. But it was that kind of week in which laugh-out-loud funny segments were in short demand, which means we default to “The Sketch People Will Talk About on Monday Morning Talk Shows” for the first slot. Since Bernie Sanders is back in the news due to recent information about the Democratic National Committee leading up to the 2016 primary, chances are clips from this sketch will be making heavy rounds by the time you read this review. That doesn’t make this sketch funny, but it does make it notable.
As with Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump this season, there’s something perfunctory about the way David portrays Sanders this time around. Rather than feeling fresh, it feels expected and catering to what the show thinks its audience wants rather than delivering them something new. And honestly, there are far worse comedic crimes for the show to do that milk the popularity of certain recurring characters. Those crimes include “tried-and-true game show setup” and “a transparent reason to bring back Baldwin’s Tony Bennett impression.”
When this sketch gets discussed over the next few days, no one will talk about the Miley Cyrus/Liam Hemsworth cameo or Kate McKinnon’s fiendishly good Tilda Swinton impression. The talking heads will just highlight the return of David’s Bernie Sanders. Those highlights will probably dominate the news for the next 48-72 hours. So while maybe not funny, this sketch will be a success in keeping SNL fresh in people’s minds.
On a night short on laughs, this was a simple, short, and effective sketch that basically had three jokes. But they were GREAT jokes, ones that landed each time, and delivered at a point in the show in which the audience had barely made a peep. Rather than losing the audience completely before “Weekend Update” even aired, this one saved the first half of the show from being a complete train wreck.
While honoring advertising legend Martin Hamill (David) for a Lifetime Achievement Award, the committee decides to show some of Hamill’s earlier work from the 1980’s. In each of the three commercials, the tagline features an utterly inappropriate comment as its tagline. It highlights how recently such language was considered commonplace, and inadvertently makes one wonder what is said today that will look equally terrible 30 years from now.
One semi-random question here: Why did the committee sabotage Hamill in this way? The in-sketch audience seems rightly offended, but Cecily Strong’s host seems oblivious to their awfulness right until the end. It’s probably asking too much of the sketch to give context to this public humiliation, but on the other hand, it would have made a funny sketch cut that much deeper.
Weekend Update: Eric and Donald Trump Jr. on Paul Manafort
Know what’s funny about the world right now? Almost nothing, which makes the show’s task that much more difficult. You can see it in the Alec Baldwin-led cold opens, which have lost nearly of their energy this fall. Part of that could be due to the changeover on the writing staff, but a great deal could also have to do with the frustration and fear that many currently feel. That just doesn’t lead to the type of comedy that SNL likes to do.
One exception is this, in which Alex Moffat finds his inner Buster Keaton in a largely wordless performance that nevertheless speaks volumes. Eric Trump discovering the true way to eat Fun Dip is one of those gags that has nothing to do with what’s on the cue card and everything to do with the specifics that the performer brings. Moffat’s work on the show is usually verbal in nature, with him often playing hyper-articulate characters that don’t know how dumb they are. Here, the childlike wonder he brings to each moment is truly something great, and it’s fabulous to see him find new areas to explore each time he performs this role.