‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: Season 39, Episode 16 with Host Louis C.K.

By March 31, 2014
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With the return of the hit FX series “Louie” coming in May, it was great to have Louis C.K. return to Studio 8H for his second time as host of “Saturday Night Live.” Since the comedian is also the writer, director, editor, and producer of his show (not to mention the star), he knows good comedy. And when he stopped by “SNL” the first time, it made for one pretty damn good episode. But for people paying close enough attention, you can also tell when he’s making a judgment call about how well a sketch is working. By that I mean, Louis C.K. totally bailed on a sketch in his debut episode as host, and it almost happened this time too. But we’ll get to that below.

The Best

 

Black Jeopardy – For all the game show sketches that “Saturday Night Live,” they don’t seem to ever get better than their parodies of Jeopardy. Obviously, Celebrity Jeopardy back in the Will Ferrell days was one of the ultimate favorite recurring sketches, but this African-American edition of the game show is just incredible. The great thing is that this could likely recur, but it’s going to be hard to match the perfect awkwardness of the very white Louis C.K., who thinks he can pull off some of the answers. This probably wouldn’t have worked if “SNL” didn’t have Sasheer Zamata as part of the cast, but we’re glad it did.

 

Doctor Appointment – If you introduce a bomb in the first act, it better go off in the third. Applying that narrative rule to sketch comedy isn’t customary, and in fact, the opposite worked amazingly in this sketch. Louis C.K. shyly talking to his doctor about checking to see if there might be a Darth Vader action figure up his butt is funny in itself, but having three other people hoping for the same treatment, and having the doctor find no action figure in any of their butts is comedy gold. I wonder how many names they used instead of General Grievous for Aidy Bryant’s line.

 

Cop Show – With a perfect tribute to the opening credits sequences of 70s buddy cop shows, the flawless execution and production quality of this sketch is what made it work so well. It’s a long way to go for a small payoff, but Louis C.K. as a somewhat mopey police chief made it all worth it.

The Average

 

Office Boss – This character from Beck Bennett debuted back when Josh Hutcherson hosted, and it was a great physical bit of comedy. It certainly still works here, but it didn’t feel like it added anything new this time. Actually, the bit where Bennett threw up on himself was surprising and great, but it didn’t seem to work as well for the audience, maybe because they don’t have the luxury of cutting away and not seeing him prepare to do that little bit. This was still pretty funny for me, but just not as good as the first.

 

Cleaning Product – So apparently someone on the writing staff of “SNL” has bought some Joseph A. Bank suits and they’re just really terrible. They’re so terrible that they can be used as paper towels. In a way, this almost felt like an inside joke to people who have bought enough suits to truly know the difference in quality from well-known suit shops (and that’s not me), but the visuals were enough to make it amusing.

 

Mr. Big Stuff – This kind of sketch always interests me, because it feels like it’s coming from a writer who came from an old school variety show like Lawrence Welk or something like that. The attention to musical detail and the use of a real song to drive the comedy is great, but this one just didn’t land firmly in the funny zone for me. Louis C.K. certainly helped make it work decently enough, especially towards the end.

The Worst

 

Private Eyes – I don’t even know what this sketch was trying to accomplish. It takes place in in the middle of an old detective show, I guess, and Louis C.K. is really trying to get into Vanessa Bayer’s pants. There’s a couple really funny lines and deliveries, but the sketch is just so oddly paced, and it feels like Louis C.K. was just along for the ride, the biggest evidence of that coming from his reading of what seemed to be a flubbed cue card that he questioned and laughed about right before the show faded out to commercial. Just weird and not in a good way.

 

Healthcare.gov Meeting – Man, the cold open sketches are just the worst this season. Most of them have been in the worst section in my reviews, and this one certainly fits the bill. It doesn’t help that the audience wasn’t clapping at the beginning of the sketch like they’re supposed to, and that threw off Jay Pharoah and Taran Killam, but even so, the sketch just fell flat.

The Weird

 

Romantic Speech – Of the two sketches that were super weird Saturday night (Private Eyes might have also been down here if it wasn’t just so flat out terrible), this was was the worse option. This strange twists on the third act romantic comedy dialogue was just so crazy and seemingly random, it felt like someone was high while they wrote it. Just a shame that this marked Bobby Moynihan’s second all-too-brief appearance on the show. Is that a Hot Rod shirt that wasn’t used to promote the Andy Samberg movie? We hope so.

 

Chris for President – As someone who took many a TV and video production class in high school, this one hit very close to home and cracked me up. Some of the kids in high school who take those classes for an easy grade still have to make their own videos, and in the late 90s/early 2000s, this is exactly how they turned out. From watermarks on images and videos to terrible text graphics, this was just the perfect representation of teenage video production in high school. Absolutely hilarious.

Weekend Update

 

Well, if you’re looking for the worst Weekend Update of the season, this is probably it. With only one guest appearing behind the desk (we’ll get to that below), there wasn’t much going on during Weekend Update this week, and what Cecily Strong and Colin Jost did deliver just didn’t seem to be their best. Perhaps the biggest problem is that these two still feel like their own entities, where as previous co-anchors had tons of chemistry and interaction. We’re only a few episodes in, so there’s time for their relationship on-camera to blossom hopefully, but Jost has to get a little more comfortable himself too.

 

Stephen A. Smith – As someone who’s not too big into sports, I don’t really understand much of the reference to this real-life sports personality. Having said that, there are some funny moments that work even if you don’t know who Stephen A. Smith is or anything about sports. But still, for having this be the only guest on Weekend Update, it wasn’t really worth it.

The Host

 

It’s always great when you have a seasoned comedy star come on “SNL” to host, because they really know what they’re doing. The great thing about Louis C.K. is that you mostly feel like the writers really bring out some of their best material, even if it doesn’t always end up working on the night (that’s just how live sketch comedy can be). Along with that, Louis C.K.’s presence in these sketches almost lends a certain amount of credibility, because he agreed to them and found them funny. But at the same time, as we saw in the Private Eyes sketch, if it’s not working, he bails on it like one of his own stand-up bits that isn’t getting laughs. It’s smart, but also dangerous on a live show, but that’s part of the novelty. Louis C.K. can come back to “SNL” anytime.

The MVP

SNL - Louis CK

You know what, this MVP section has been really hard to pinpoint with such a large cast. Mike Ryan, formerly of the Huffington Post and newly appointed editor at ScreenCrush, wrote a great piece about the problem with the size of the cast standing at 17 right now. It doesn’t allow any of the comedians to stand out, and it doesn’t allow the audience to connect with any of them and get excited when they’re in a sketch. Taran Killam has some favorite characters, and Kate McKinnon seems to be a favorite, but otherwise, some cast members don’t get on camera at all. That’s not unusual, but the number of cast members who don’t appear in more than one sketch is worrisome and cumbersome. There’s too much spreading of small roles to cast members just for variety’s sake and it’s not working.

Therefore, this week it goes to Louis C.K., mostly for adding his own comedic sensibilities to the sketches, but also because that monologue (which is just some of his stand-up bits) was pure gold.

The Final Word

Having a host like Louis C.K. is great because of his experience and presence that elevates the writing staff and cast to match his quality of comedy. But while the host is certainly the star, it would be nice if the rest of the cast was able to stand out, which is becoming increasingly hard with all the featured players added into the mix with the already sizable cast. There’s probably going to be some drastic cuts over the summer, and while that doesn’t seem fair since some of the featured players haven’t really gotten a big chance to shine with such a large ensemble, it’s clear some of them might be better served in the writer’s room or elsewhere in the world of television comedy. We’ll see what happens, but this show is getting a little out of control right now.

Come back next week for our review of the April 5th episode with host Anna Kendrick.

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Ethan Anderton
Some of his favorite films include Ghostbusters, The Empire Strikes Back and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, while his favorite TV series include LOST, Mad Men, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, Arrested Development and Saturday Night Live.