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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: Yet Again, Larry David Makes For a Pretty, Pretty Good Host

The "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star brought a bit of controversy to Studio 8H, but many sketches delivered.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1729 -- Pictured: Larry David during "Beers" on Saturday, November 4, 2017 -- (Photo by: Kailey Fellows/NBC)

Kailey Fellows/NBC

Saturday Night Live” and actual comedians often go together like chocolate and peanut butter (two things which the candy industry often says go together). This was, of course, a talking point for the last new episode of this season, the Kumail Nanjiani episode, and now it’s the case for L-Vid himself, Larry David.

Host: Larry David

“You tolerate me. You really, really tolerate me.”

Those are Larry David’s opening remarks in his monologue, and it’s almost all surprisingly uphill (with a major bump, in the form of a Holocaust joke) from there. “Surprisingly,” because this season’s start has boasted relatively solid monologues so far, only for the main show to end up uneven, unfortunately not always playing to the strengths of its hosts.

At the same time, a sense of confidence and boldness comes with professional maturity. For someone like Larry David, there’s a sense that his own place in comedy (and the fact that he’s not considered a sex symbol, which has notably hindered some hosting duties despite decent performances) ensures that a hosting gig on “Saturday Night Live” avoids those pitfalls.

What Larry David might lack in character versatility — comparatively, the same can be said for Louis CK in that regard — he more than makes up in enthusiasm and, of course, comedic talent. The enthusiasm part is strange, because Larry David is very much the type of talented performer who also feels too cool for school to even host “Saturday Night Live.” But part of his charm in his episodes and guest spots is that he never pretends to be too cool for school. Similar performers might bring with them a sense of ego, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with David.

The key to this is the “Baby Step” pre-tape sketch, which plays into that “too cool for school” attitude perfectly. (A discussion about most “Saturday Night Live” rap videos being stuck in the early 2000s with Flipmode and Diddy influences is a conversation for another time.) From the repeated cuts to him making clear he’s not part of it to him eventually coming to chastise it, this sketch is the one where Larry David fully commits to the character of himself and nails it.

Plus, Miley Cyrus truly sells being embarrassed by the fact that a respected figure is disappointed in her. The icing on top is the sketch conclusion, which confirms that this is a Pete Davidson original sketch, going right back to the Gal Gadot episode argument from Pete that he wishes his sketches got more time. This is what happens when you get more sketch time, Pete.

The “Beers” sketch also does allow David to get in on the fun, as he gets sucked into the weird — but oddly on point — world of one of Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney’s old school sitcom sketches. With a twist, of course.

Honorable Mention: Miley Cyrus

The most fascinating aspect of this episode, however, is how Miley Cyrus was only chosen to be a musical guest (and a fine one she is) instead of a host. While we’re not claiming to be aware of the inner machinations of “Saturday Night Live” and its host selections, this and the next couple of upcoming host/musical collections are interesting choices. Besides this, where Miley could easily be a host— as she appears in multiple sketches — you have Taylor Swift (who has acting and hosting experience, however you may feel about either) as a musical guest and Eminem as the musical guest to Chance The Rapper’s host. Every so often, the host/musical guest dynamics are out of whack in one way or another, but with Miley Cyrus’ very ubiquitous nature in this episode, in a way this is essentially two episodes’ worth of material, cut and molded into one.

Who do we have to talk to for Miley Cyrus as host with Larry David (still rocking all of his sketch wigs) as musical guest?

Best Sketch of The Night: “Career Retrospective”

Way to use the “it was a different time” argument for good “Saturday Night Live.” (This episode is pretty even in terms of sketch quality, but for that reason alone, this one takes the crown.)

Worst Sketch of The Night: (99 Percent Of) “Paul Manafort’s House Cold Open”

Let’s just say the “worst” is everything but the Melania parts of that cold open and call it a night. Because, really, it is.

Is it okay to say the Alec Baldwin/Donald Trump stuff has worn way too thin? Because it really is. Apparently, there’s only so much mileage you can get out of doing a less-than-good impression with a caricature (barely) of a real person who himself is stranger than fiction. Luckily, the cold open does not and has yet to affect the actual quality of the episode, so it can’t be held to much against it. Instead, the rest of the episode is a solid one, which might not exactly endure for years and seasons to come but certainly gets the job done. And that’s a pretty, pretty good sign for this season.

Best Female Performer: Cecily Strong

“Saturday Night Live’s” cold opens have reached a very high point of diminishing returns, but the one bright spot of this week’s is Cecily Strong’s Melania Trump. It’s not on the bizarre Ivana Trump level in terms of impressions, but the combination of the Donald Trump double (instead of a Melania double, subverting the current dialogue) with a Melania who finally feels like a human being is a surprisingly poignant and great start to the episode.

The unfortunate part is that the cold open does not focus on this particular part of the sketch. But Cecily is still the highlight, especially with Kate McKinnon someone on the sidelines this episode. For the past few seasons, “Saturday Night Live” has had one of those good problems of its female cast all being so individually strong that they can all have their own starring episodes. (see also: the Aidy Bryant “Press Conference” sketch) This one is Cecily’s.

Cecily’s role as best female performer also bleeds into Best Impression territory (though it’s this week’s honorable mention) with her Sofia Vergara impression in the “The Price Is Right Sketch,” AKA one of those “Let’s get everyone’s impressions out on display” sketches. “I’m just laughing at the image I created with my own words.” Exactly.

Best Male Performer: Chris Redd

Chris Redd was worth pointing out in this year’s season premiere (and just as a new cast member in general) just based on his work in “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” but this episode also serves as a great sign that “Saturday Night Live” didn’t just hire him for petty or non-reasons. In fact, this is one of the more deliberate, “we know a star when we see one” castings for the show. Redd is everywhere this episode, even when he’s just a quiet, glorified extra as a Security Service agent in the cold open or his “shame on you” storm off during the Ad Council sketch. The point is very much that he’s ever-present, and it’s rarely ever a wasted presence. That’s big for a newbie.

Most “It Can Be Two Things” Sketch: New Wife

“Oh my god. Look at you lawyers just serving “Ally McBeal’ realness. I’m gagging.”

Some people might say Cecily Strong’s “gay famous” Candice is channeling the still living soul of Erika Jayne with this impression. But some people who pay more attention to vocal patterns and appreciate the relatively insensitive lack of caring about the difference between Japanese and Mandarin can also say there’s a strong Gwen Stefani influence in this Candice character. (Those are the “two things”: Erika Jayne and Gwen Stefani.) One can only assume Larry David felt the same way, as he spent the latter half of this sketch surprisingly breaking through his lines. And one can also only also assume that it takes a lot to get L-Vid to break. Whatever your thoughts, “Saturday Night Live” need to find a way to get Candice and Gemma in a sketch (a pre-tape, most likely) together, ASAP.

Best Impression: Heidi Gardner as Angel (Weekend Update)

This is a good episode for two out of the three new cast members of the season — sorry Luke Null, you’re still kind of hard to tell from an extra in sketches — and in this case, one of said new cast members gets a Best Impression award this time around. While Chris Redd has a lot to do with more sketches (and pulls off a good impression of Lil’ Wayne in the process), Heidi steals the show with her Weekend Update appearance as “Angel, Every Boxer’s Girlfriend From Every Movie About Boxing Ever.”
Naturally, Angel always sounds like she’s on the verge of tears — as this archetype also works for just about any love interest in a movie about the working class, by the way — and when things get rough, the only thing she can do is head to “her sister’s place.” (It’s really not the same if she had just said “my mother’s.”) And of course (OF COURSE) her boxer love is named “Tommy.” This could have easily been a fake movie trailer sketch for “Saturday Night Live,” but it’s a character that works in the Weekend Update format as well. Especially since it allows for the pestering of Colin Jost, which is always a plus.

It’s hard to say this particular character has a short shelf life, considering how much “Saturday Night Live” can stretch out so much, but for her debut, “Angel” is perfect and hits all the proper beats. Four episodes in, and it looks like Heidi Gardner is definitely someone to keep an eye on.

Final Thoughts

The big topic of conversation around this episode is the Holocaust/dating joke from Larry David. While it fits right into his own self-deprecating humor when it comes to how he is “obsessed with women” — this is the same monologue where he compares himself to Quasimodo, in terms of how undeservedly shallow he is — there has also been blowback and criticism about this particular aspect of the monologue. The “Saturday Night Live” audience audibly doesn’t know quite how to react to it, as their laughs are more strained than usual. This joke isn’t indicative of the entire episode or its quality, but it’s sure to be the most talked about aspect of the episode, for better or worse.

By the way, the post-new “Saturday Night Live” rerun spot was dedicated to the Cameron Diaz-hosted episode, which is a reminder that “Back Home Ballers” is still an example of both peak comedy AND music. As are the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson performances. Just a reminder.

Grade: B

“Saturday Night Live” returns next week with Tiffany Haddish and Taylor Swift. 

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