Given the state of the world in 2017, it’s almost unbelievable that this week marked only the seventh episode of Saturday Night Live this calendar year. Whatever momentum and ratings that it has gathered in that time, it’s still constantly playing catch-up with its schedule as is. As popular as it’s been (and ratings suggest it’s insanely popular right now), it’s still been hamstrung by the paucity of new episodes. That makes every one that it does that much more important.
Louis C.K.‘s fourth episode was in line with his first three: A wildly inconsistent one in which there were times in which he was vastly more interested in the material than the audience and vice versa. Curiously, he disappeared for some long stretches, especially during the middle of the episode in which a musical performance, “Weekend Update,” and a dual-performance by Alec Baldwin offered the host time to go out and have dinner mid-show.
Almost without fail, Trump-centric material is featured here, as it’s content that has put the show on the map this season. And yet, both the cold open and “The O’Reilly Factor” fell flat in the comedy department tonight. I don’t know if it’s a case of a bad week or the world’s reality making the buffoonery more difficult to swallow at this point. Either way, the best sketches this week looked at what it’s like to live in Trump’s America rather than about Trump himself.
Thank You, Scott
The irony of this most likely going viral will be lost on most who share it, which is probably the point. In an episode shockingly light on direct political commentary, this catchy musical short satirized those who substitute tweets for actual actions, Facebook stories for political activism, and hashtags for helping hands.
The trio of Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson, and Sasheer Zamata served as a solid core here, but what this sketch really did was highlight just how central Mike Day is to the cast in his first season. Already a solid writer for the show before joining the Not Ready For Primetime Players, Day has probably had more average screen time per episode besides anyone than Kate McKinnon or Thompson at this point in the season. It feels as if he’s been on the show for years at this point, which I mean as a compliment: He’s so integrated that it feels like he’s just always been there.
One of the most thrilling things that can happen while watching Saturday Night Live is to realize a sketch you thought might be pedestrian and dull take a sharp turn into more dangerous territory. There have been many positive qualities to this season, but I’m not sure I’d ever apply “edgy” to it. That’s not inherently a bad thing: This is populist entertainment first and foremost, and something as dark as this sketch doesn’t fall under the realm of four-quadrant entertainment. But once the switch was flipped here, things got progressively more intense, bizarre, and hilarious as it unfolded.
Having modern actions/conversations inside a historically “wholesome” setting isn’t new for the show by any means. But there’s an energy to this one that transcends any recent iteration I can remember. Part of this comes with the characterization Louis C.K. brings to his soda shop employee, of a piece with the turn-on-a-dime-danger of the bad male feminists depicted in the “Girl At A Bar” sketch in the Octavia Spencer episode last summer. But it mostly comes from the way Strong’s character gives as much as she gets, revealing she was in fact indulging the older man’s advances as a form of her own power play and practice for similar interactions later in life as a dominatrix.
That’s a LOT of plot to unfold in a short sketch, and yet the specificity and economy on display told an entire saga in a short amount of time. By the time Louis C.K.’s character was bleeding onstage after smashing his hand through the jukebox, we had witness some of the most subversive sketch comedy the show had produce since the departure of Will Forte.
For the majority of this pre-produced segment, it felt like a rejected concept from the first season of FX’s Louie, a funny-dour look into a pathetic man’s life that hewed close enough to real life to keep things grounded. And even if things turned truly sinister in the final moments, there was enough in the interplay between Louis C.K. and Bobby Moynihan until that point to turn this into a cringe classic.
For his 53rd birthday, Ernie (Louis C.K.) hires a clown to recreate any approximation of childhood joy that he can. While not explicitly stated, one gets a fairly clear sense of Ernie’s biography up until that point with just a few grunts and half-formed statements. Moynihan’s clown tries to perform under awkward circumstances, sensing more depression than danger in Ernie’s demeanor. “There’s no protocol for whatever this is!” the clown exclaims when confronted with a mid-performance tip, alarmed but mostly just empathetic to Ernie’s situation.
The clown warns other performers who arrive to save themselves from the awkwardness of the birthday party for one, but ends up saving their lives as Ernie declares his intent to murder the clown in what can only be described as a reverse It scenario. (“We all mope down here” could be its catchphrase.) In an episode in which direct political satire largely failed, sketches that depicted the general malaise felt by many rang much truer.