SNL: Larry David, The 1975, Kate McKinnon

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in February 2016.

If you want to enjoy life, it is best to keep complaining to a minimum. But if you want to put on a good comedy show, you’re going to want to have some complaints. That is why Larry David is an ideal “SNL” host, even though he is the type of guy who hates hosting anything. That tension of constantly being bothered by the things that he is best at is the stuff that dreams, and memorable television, are made of. The fact that he also looks and sounds exactly like one of the major presidential candidates is just a bonus.

A Message from Ted Cruz – The show kicks off with “SNL” showing perhaps its strongest bite yet in this election cycle, with Taran Killam pulling no punches in his portrayal of Ted Cruz as the most odious human being ever. While this is admirably fearless, it is not the freshest angle. It kind of writes itself, honestly, what with his daughter refusing to hug him and tricking voters into believing that an opponent has dropped out of the race. Framing the greatest challenge of his campaign as overcoming the handicap of “Being Ted Cruz” is a neat enough trick, making for a cold opening that is more clever than surprising. B-

Larry David’s Monologue – Larry kvetches about preferring to be a guest instead of hosting, becoming a rich prick, his urgency to always leave, and the questionable quality of the upcoming episode. But he actually shouts praises over the fact that women only go out for him because he has money and is on TV. The thing that makes him so beloved despite his negativity is that his misanthropy is so joyous. He may be angry, but his anger is not why he is shouting. The reason he cannot control the volume of his voice is because he loves to complain. It’s kind of infectious. B+

FBI Academy – Larry David is the type of host who you think might stick to his comfort zone, but then he throws you a curveball by playing “Coolest Bitch in Town” Kevin Roberts, who appears to be a video game character from some sort of insane “Grand Theft Auto” knockoff. As ridiculous as this training exercise may be, an FBI agent who cannot keep his cool while some freak in a flashy suit yells “Can a bitch get a donut?!” is probably not fit for the most dangerous field assignments. So this sketch works as a sideways method of revealing the truth, even though it is a truth that may very well not apply to any situation in reality. B+

bern your enthusiasm (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – This particular mashup has already been tackled by like-minded enthusiasts, which partially means that “SNL” is behind the joke, but who cares when the real deal is there to appear in the definitive version. As much as Larry and Bernie resemble each other, there are some tricky decisions to be made here, considering that the senator is not as readily put off as the comedian is by everyday human interactions. Putting Larry into a campaign scenario works well enough – there are plenty of annoying features of an en election cycle, like losing the Iowa caucus by only 0.2%, to set him off. But to really take it to the next level, this sketch needs to incorporate some of Bernie’s rhetoric; his team’s exasperation over his constant refrain of his average donation amount every time he’s on TV fits the bill. A-

Sinking Ship – (The real) Bernie Sanders makes his publicized appearance in this sketch about some guy complaining about his place in line behind women and children to get off a sinking ship (that may or may not be the Titanic). It is a welcome approach for this type of cameo, as opposed to the typical “impressionist meets himself.” That Bernie would enter this scenario to decry the 1% taking advantage of their wealth at the expense of everyone is both bizarre and perfectly logical. The bonus is that this sketch can stand perfectly on its own before the cameo, with Larry vociferously exploiting intimate anatomical details about the lifeboat inhabitants who he believes may not be as young or as old as they claim to be. B

Totino’s Pizza Rolls – Here’s a rarity: a sequel to a commercial parody. It is not just a redux.  Rather, it is a new chapter and a new genre. It has the same satirical instinct, with Vanessa Bayer’s housewife feeding her “hungry guys.” The original had a bit of a horror bent, but that was only lightly disturbing. This edition goes full-bore freaky, with influences including “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and yes, “The X-Files” (the reveal that it is an ad for the latter is fair, but unnecessary). There are a lot of ways to mock the questionably idyllic style of this sort of commercial; a descent into a nightmare is especially surprising and therefore rewarding. B+

The 1975 – “The Sound” – New wave-y, alternative dance rockers The 1975 appear to consist of a shaggy-haired Michael Urie on vocals, Dominic Monaghan on guitar, and Billy Bob Thornton with a crop top on bass. As for the sound in “The Sound,” it is the sort of family-friendly counterculture-esque vibe that might freak a few folks out but gets most people moving. B+

Weekend Update – Tonight, Michael and Colin are most fired up about and informed by Black History Month, taking the piss out of overly sensitive racists who get all wound up about an observance that demands very little of anybody. Colin throws in an apparent ad-lib (“It’s his month”) after Michael bestows him with a mayonnaise namesake, loosening the pair up to demonstrate the strongest chemistry they have ever had. But first, “SNL” actually gets to break some political news, by simply playing footage of Ben Carson and Donald Trump’s non-entrances at the Republican Debate from just an hour before. The difficulty of delivering this material is pretty low, but Colin’s observations are nonetheless chuckle-inducing. Michael and Colin’s Grade: B+
Weekend Update: Sturdy Barbie – Kate McKinnon’s theoretical addition to the classic line of Mattel dolls starts out by lightly mocking the lack of significant diversity among the supposedly diverse new Barbies. But then it becomes more about the character creation, as she starts in stereotype but then molds “Barb” into a charming bud. Her feet only fitting in Crocs, her breast being mostly nipple, and her Bawlmer accent could be played for crude gags, but instead they are reasons to cheer for her. Any laughs she inspires are out of support and not derision. B-
Weekend Update: Jon Rudnitsky – A lot of comedy premises operate on the principle of “a to b to c,” i.e., this makes me think of that, which makes me think of this of other thing. Weekend Update guests tend to follow this path, but they too often skip the intermediate step, which can leave viewers a little lost. Jon Rudnitsky, however, makes sure to show his entire progression. Going from trying out for the “Dirty Dancing” live musical to miming a scene in which he lights his dance partner on fire and gets killed in a hail of bullets is a big jump, but he makes sure to show us how he gets there. B
Weekend Update: Derek Zoolander and Hansel – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson stop by for some shameless promotion of their upcoming sequel (the original’s a classic, the new one is … hopefully a lot better than its previews suggest), but at least they have an actual routine to go along with their appearance. Their breakdowns and takedowns of the presidential candidates’ fashion choices are cute, but fairly predictable. It is when they start to lose anything resembling logic (“And then Chernobyl called back, and they were like: ‘Look at that suit’”) that they find that old Zoolander magic. B-

Intro to Songwriting – “SNL” has this propensity for weird singers composing amateurish but surprisingly delightful ditties. This time, just about everyone else in the sketch recognizes the weirdo for the musical genius that he is. Larry David puts his propensity for joy to good use without having to hate anyone (though perhaps ignoring Pete Davidson’s restrictive instructions provides him with some motivation). The other students understand the game of this scene, knowing that there are simple rhymes that they are supposed to sing, but greatly preferring instead to build upon the war between the frogs and the toads, and the sketch is all the better for it. B+

A Super Bowl Greeting from Cam Newton and Peyton Manning – The highly suggestive criticism that Cam Newton faces just for showing emotion appears to be a real thing, but this two-hander sketch does not do much more than observe that problem. It is a noble motivation, but it does not lead to a lot of excitement. When the cops arrive and misconstrue a football for a “large brown gun,” there is a glance at absurdities that could be explored more, but alas. C

The 1975 – “Love Me” – During the 1975’s second performance, there is once again a weird low-angle shot of the guitar solo. During much of the song, there appears to be a woman with a high-pitched voice stuck screaming in their stereos. B

Last Call – Another 10-to-1 sketch in a bar, another round of Kate McKinnon and the host delighting in how disgusting each other is. It is impressive to see them revel in the ugliness, but we know where this is going. At least the descriptions are plenty colorful (wearing an ACE bandage instead of underwear, Kenan’s bartender calling the two barflies “Zika viruses”) along the way. C+

Notes & Quotes:
-Ted Cruz hopes that voters will ask themselves which guy will be played by Paul Giamatti.
-The impressions in “bern your enthusiasm” (Bobby as Jeff Garlin, Cecily as Susie Essman, Jay Pharoah as J.B. Smoove, Taran as Bob Einstein) are all among the best in each of those cast members’ repertoire.
-Michael Che is using Leap Day to celebrate the 29th most important black person in history: Scottie Pippen.
-“A California company has created a new marijuana-based vaginal suppository to help women suffering from menstrual pain, and ladies, if you’re lucky, it might give your boyfriend the munchies.”
-“In high school, they called me Garfield, cause I hated Mondays and I had a tail.”
-“My tongue’s not as long as Gene Simmons, but my penis is even shorter.”
-“Can a bitch get a donut?!”