SNL: Nick Jonas, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Aidy Bryant

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in April 2016.

This episode marks Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ third time returning to “SNL” as host, but in a way it feels like her first. She never hosted while “Seinfeld” was on the air, and this is the first to coincide with her run on “Veep.” Her last two times were during the age of the decidedly less heralded “New Adventures of Old Christine.” This is all to say, she has never more been one of the undisputed reigning queens of comedy. The writing had better not fail her.

Democratic Presidential Debate – The time in between Democratic primary debates is long enough such that Larry David’s cameo appearances can be spaced out enough to not feel like overkill. By multiple accounts, this round was more contentious than most, which this parody makes sure to confirm. But overall, there is not really an overriding theme to this sketch. The most prominent moment is JLD’s appearance as Elaine Benes, which allows Larry’s Bernie to go full George Costanza (“you break em up!”). This bit becomes increasingly untethered from reality, but “Seinfeld”-inspired bits still hold up so well. Vanessa’s Rachel Green, meanwhile, while clever, is so irrelevant to everything else. B-

Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Monologue – JLD gives the sort of monologue that you would expect out of a first-time host. It is a classic bit: an actor known for some major hit movie or TV show says, “you obviously know me from (insert obscure movie from early in career here).” It is fun to see her and (husband Brad Hall) in the original 1986 “Troll,” but the comedy is not particularly inventive. When she says that she is now known as “the weird lady in the Old Navy commercials,” the expected response is of course, “There is nobody who does not know you for either Seinfeld or Veep.” But it prompts an interesting thought experiment: maybe there are some people who know her more for butting in on preteen conversations to discover the latest fashion trends. B-

Heroin AM – “SNL” has a storied history of commercial parodies advertising products with hard drugs. Alas, this entry does not do much to stand out in that crowd. It is oddly low-energy. Showing a bunch of hallucinations or extreme behavior is the obvious way to go with this setup; the relative lack of those features is perhaps a way of avoiding obviousness. But they are not replaced by much of anything else. The juxtaposition of smack in ostensibly pristine suburbia needs to go to another level to be something. C+

Long Island Huge Jewelry – Here is a sketch based on a really obvious sight gag that is spelled out in the title. So it is clear where this is all going, and it is hard to fathom why. Apparently someone thinks that huge jewelry is just inherently funny, but that case is not made convincingly. A store specializing in gaudy accessories could be an opportunity to spoof stereotypes, and that appears to be the intention here, but the execution is so timid and non-specific. C-

The Pool Boy – Now here is a piece in which nonchalance makes perfect sense, as Pete Davidson’s preternaturally easygoing pool boy provides the counterpoint to the overwrought housewife he is having an affair with. From a different perspective, all the drama that people fuss over can seem so insignificant, or at least possible to get over with. Less successful comedically is Nick Jonas’ second consecutive sketch appearance, which is more about the beefcake than the laughs. B-

Cinema Classics – Is that some Long Island Huge Jewelry that Julia is sporting as Marla Bartlet? Here is an example of a sketch that gives away its premise completely in the beginning but still manages to have some surprises. Marla’s desire to have a genuinely spontaneous reaction becomes more and more suspect as the dialogue hidden in the set becomes simpler and simpler. Then just as it seems that a limit has been reached (the single word “yes”) that same limit is pounced on once more, rake-joke style. JLD’s flailing is highly purposeful and highly delightful. B

Mercedes AA Class – Now a tricky proposition: a fake commercial that is not really a parody of anything. Sure, there are plenty of clean energy automobiles, but none of them run off an obscene amount of batteries. Besides, the joke is not about pretentiousness or anything else typically associated with alternative energy. Rather, it is all about the insanity and impracticality of its own unique idea. It follows through on that concept, and the result is a winner. B

Nick Jonas ft. Tove Lo – “Close” – Nick Jonas’ solo work is much sultrier than the power pop he zipped out with his brothers, but make no mistake: he owns this sound. His current single about the game of courtship continues his knack for getting the vibes pumping, though he has been more powerful in the past. His chemistry with Tove Lo has pizzazz, but it could use a few more killer moves. B-

Weekend Update – Though this week’s Democratic debate provided plenty of fodder to keep the political Update jokes running, Michael and Colin’s best material this week actually comes from elsewhere. (Perhaps that has to do with the kooky Republicans firing them up more readily than the Dems.) Specifically, they show off their skills with unexpected punchlines, like Ted Cruz missing out on the endorsement of his family Christmas letter and a bit about Malaysia turning on the fact that they still have not found that plane. Michael and Colin’s Grade: B
Weekend Update: Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal – Once again, it must be said that Shaq is not cross-eyed, so the fact that Jay Pharaoh bases so much of his impression around that inaccuracy is profoundly distracting. He does funny things with it, but they are hard to fully accept when they are based on neither the logic of reality nor the logic of comedy. A more successful make-it-up is Sir Charles’ “twive,” which is fine when first mentioned and then brings the satisfaction of an earned callback in its second usage. Kenan’s Charles is just as silly as Jay’s Shaq, but the former’s foibles more clearly derive from actual qualities of the person being spoofed. B-
Weekend Update: Animal Annie – The relationship drama of Aidy Bryant’s animal expert overshadows her zoological know-how, but at least her expertise is as legitimate as advertised. It is mostly fodder for segues into her personal problems, which are legion. Her stories are colorful, but not quite singular. But she does pull off the neat trick of a potentially racist joke that turns out to not be offensive at all (i.e., assuring Che that he will love to learn that iguanas have two penises). B-
Weekend Update: One-Dimensional Female Character from a Male-Driven Comedy (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – Cecily Strong returns with her walking cinematic stereotype, who is always timely. At first it seems like she is doing that annoying thing that Update guests do, i.e., wander off from the ostensible premise. But then she locks into focus regarding how female characters have a small percentage of the dialogue in movies, which is true, and it is a problem, but just pointing it out does not make comedy. Thankfully, she goes beyond the setup, conjuring truly memorable images in which a cartoon fish compliments her pubic hair and then she sneezes into a tissue full of semen. B+

Who Works Here? – The difficulty of getting the attention of convenience store employees is brought into stark relief in this CVS-set game show. The audience’s intense laugh of recognition at the beginning is gratifying, but it is also a sign that work needs to be done to take this concept to the next level. And indeed that effort shines through, with the denizens of the place all coming with their layered backstories: the security guard who takes 40-minute bathroom breaks, the ghost manager, the security guard from another convenience store who also uses the bathroom, etc. B

Nick Jonas – “Champagne Problems” – Mr. Jonas gets things a little more turnt up for his second song, which is kind of funny, because while it is arranged like a club banger, it is thoughtful about the repercussions of that sort of partying. That juxtaposition appears to be the point, though. Sneakily successful placement of an important message, or sloppy presentation of said message? You decide! B Meet ‘N’ Match – The end of the episode is where an oddity like this tale of two desperate aliens prowling an Earth bar for mates can thrive, but that timeslot means a short duration, and a high-concept sketch like this one could really use some room to breathe. The makeup and sound designs for Kate McKinnon’s and JLD’s creatures are so imaginative, and their backstory is so detailed that it takes a while just to take it all in. To be clear, there is plenty of delightful diction (“our world will invert into its mantle”) and the technical aspects are roundly impressive, but by the time the lady aliens start putting their breeding plan into action, the sketch is basically over. B

God Is a Boob Man – Questionable “religious freedom” laws are perfect fodder for Christian movies in the vein of “God’s Not Dead,” and this clip has plenty of satirical bite, but it squanders its accomplishments a bit with the reveal of its sophomoric title. This is not to say that blunt and silly blue humor has no place, but that it just clashes with the more thorough approach that precedes it. In a piece as short as this one, the sting of the title affects the overall quality quite a bit. B-

Notes & Quotes:
-Hillary offered up a date for the New York debate right away: Maypril 33rd at Blublorg o’ clock.
-Who are the two black people in Hillary’s phone? Barack and Bill.
-“I mean, what is this?” “Your kitchen.”
-“Trump spends two hours on his hair, Bernie’s barber is the wind.”
-Why did Charles Barkley bet someone that he could eat ten hamburgers? Because just a few minutes ago, he ate ten hamburgers.