After a month-long drought, “Saturday Night Live” returned last night with an impossible amount of material to cover. Unfortunately, they under-delivered. It was staggering. The first half of the show poked fun at Trump, Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial, and the Cristiano Ronaldo bust that was forged in the fires of Mount Doom. The second half was stronger, and at least a little more relevant, but the entire episode was hard to watch. Racism! Rape culture! Borat accents! It was like 90 straight minutes of problematic Bingo.
Host: Louis C.K.
Okay, what was that monologue? He opened with a racist joke, defended said joke, and then moved into an extended bit of weird, anti-comedy standup about animals. With out any subtext. Just bad standup about animals. Like a moose, and a goat. Then he migrated into the standup he’s better known for, which involves complaining about subjects that alienate the majority of his audience. Up this week? Elegant hotels. Then he brought back the racism. Jesus Christ, Louis. Oh, and that courtroom sketch — were we being punished with the tight shots of C.K.’s face? Because that’s definitely how it felt.
As a white, straight, male, middle-aged comedian, C.K. was already an uninspired choice to host the first week of the “SNL” home stretch. (I know, I know — imagine what will happen when I find out who’s set to host the next episode.) Plus, the guy has hosted twice before already, and with the exception of Officer Dave from the early years of “Parks & Recreation,” C.K. is not known for disappearing into characters. So does the quality of his performance actually matter? And does the willingness to lampoon his own “type” negate his more offensive qualities? The answer to both, it would seem, is no.
Sketch Most Likely to Go Viral: Pepsi Commercial
“SNL” had to do it, right? It was only a question of how they’d approach it. This take on the infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial was pretty straightforward, but will be shared like crazy nonetheless. One wishes it could have been more incisive, or taken a harder stance — there’s some irony in watching Beck Bennett realize his commercial is “tone-deaf” during an episode that will very much meet the same complaints. It also came across as oddly sympathetic to the ad’s director. Let’s just say that if you were hoping the “SNL” take would be the best way to explain to Grandma why Pepsi pulled the ad, you might feel let down.
Best Parody: The O’Reilly Factor
So, this sketch got a lot right: Surprise Alec Baldwin! Great fake advertisements (e.g., Dog Cocaine)! That said — there are so many cast members, another comedian was hosting, and “SNL” devoted time to a split screen between Alec Baldwin and Alec Baldwin? It felt unnecessary, or like they were trying too hard to recreate the majesty of Melissa McCarthy’s surprise Sean Spicer. Watching Baldwin as O’Reilly interview Baldwin as Trump was plain unsettling, and not in the “wow, this is so true to life!” way. It’s a great parody — conceptually — but its execution missed the mark.
Best Impression: Kate McKinnon
Kate McKinnon could whip out her Cecilia Gimenez every single episode until her retirement and it would never not be funny. It’s a niche impression, and possibly one based upon nothing other than her own lunacy, but it’s a delight every time. (For those of you who may have forgotten, Cecilia Gimenez was the woman responsible for the “restored” fresco of Jesus in Borja, Spain.) This week, Gimenez returned to Weekend Update to defend the nightmarish bust of soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo. Is her argument convincing? You decide.
Best Sketch of The Night: Sectional Couches
Sectional Couches: The only sketch of the night that avoided racism, sexism, being tone-deaf, lukewarm political takes, Alec Baldwin, and produced an actual laugh. This bizarre, quasi-ad for couches was better than it had a right to be — it was unpredictable, weird, and featured a solid twist. Its production value may not have been as high as that of, say, “Thank You, Scott,” but that was for the best. Bonus points to Aidy Bryant for her turn as an enthusiastic consumer.
Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong
Last night, Cecily committed — even though the majority of her roles were far beneath her. That said, her physical comedy in “Sectional Couches” is worth watching, and it was nice to hear her sing in “Thank You, Scott.” As crappy as “Soda Shop” was – and what the hell was that messaging? – Strong’s subtle facial expressions almost saved her character. Fight for more, Cecily! You’re better than a museum docent that encourages students to keep watching racist reenactments.
Honorable Mention: Aidy Bryant
Best Male Performer: Bobby Moynihan
Remember Bobby Moynihan? Last night, he was the first person the audience saw when the show opened! He also delivered a surprisingly heartfelt, emotional performance during the Ernest’s Birthday sketch. One wonders whether he’s actually spent time as a party clown outside of sketch comedy. Anyway, it was nice to see him onscreen (and working it) for more than a few seconds. Having a male standup comic as a host often means the male cast members will have less to do, so kudos to Moynihan for making the most of his roles.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Mooney
Worst Sketch of The Night: The Lawyer
This sketch, among its many issues, had too many gimmicks. It was difficult to understand. It was also strange, not funny, and turned out to be a commercial at the end? What was going on here? It’s unfair to subject an audience to so many tight shots of Louis C.K.’s face, by the way. Also, Man Wearing Elegant Fake Eyelashes isn’t that clever a joke on its own, so allowing it to carry the first sketch of the night was a weird choice.
Honorable Mention: Tenement Museum. Is Borat a staff writer now?
A historically bad episode. Is everyone at 30 Rock OK? “Saturday Night Live” returns next week with host Jimmy Fallon and musical guest Harry Styles. Neither one of those is a joke. However, it will be live in all time zones – for the first time in history – so there’s that, at least. That’s actually pretty cool.