'Saturday Night Live' recap: Louis C.K. is best when he's just being Louis

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Image Credit: NBC

I really can’t wait to see whether Louis C.K. makes an episode of Louie about hosting Saturday Night Live. The sketch show itself was fine if uneven this week, careening between dizzying highs (the cold open; that “Lincoln as Louis” short), terrifying lows (basically everything post-Update), and creamy middles (Weekend Update’s guests, with one possible exception). Behind the scenes, though, things must have been a lot more interesting — how did the cast and writers manage to compose and rehearse 90 minutes of new material despite Monday’s devastating hurricane? For that matter, how did the crew manage to build the sets we saw last night? And just as pressingly, what was it like for cerebral Louis to enter a world that counts liberal use of the word “boner” as a totally acceptable punchline?

Sadly, we won’t know until Louie‘s fourth season, which doesn’t hit FX until early 2014. In the meantime, let’s discuss what we did see: an SNL that started off with a bang, thanks to a cold open that poked fun at New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, his overly expressive sign language interpreter Lydia Callis, and New Jersey’s lovably blunt Governor Chris Christie.

If you didn’t spend all of Monday watching Bloomberg discuss storm preparations while Callis gesticulated wildly at his side, you missed out — it’s not for nothing that she became an Internet phenomenon. SNL newcomer Cecily Strong imitated Callis’s elastic face beautifully, and Nasim Pedrad was almost as good as Roxy, Christie’s fictional guidette signer. The segment also nailed Bloomberg’s heavily accented Spanish, which became a meme of its own during last year’s big hurricane. Sure, the sketch was a little insider-y — residents of New York and Jersey must have been much more amused by it than anyone else. But after what the tri-state area endured this week, it seems fitting to give its citizens some extra attention — even if many of them can’t watch Saturday Night Live until their power is restored.

Louis C.K. had to cancel a standup performance in New York City last Sunday on account of Hurricane Sandy. Luckily, he made up for the cancellation — partially, at least — by performing seven minutes of straight-up standup as his monologue. I can’t remember the last time SNL featured a monologue like this one, and after week after week (after week) of goofy songs, C.K.’s opener stands out both for shaking up the show’s format and for its quality. The monologue also allowed Louis to shine by doing what he does best: standing alone on a stage and relaying his life’s petty frustrations and humiliations.

Only one other sketch really showcased the comedian’s prodigious talent: Lincoln, a parody of C.K.’s groundbreaking FX series that cast our 16th president as a sad sack standup. Lincoln’s awkward interactions with Kenan Thompson’s freed slave and an exasperated Mary Todd (new featured player Aidy Bryant, winningly naturalistic) were worthy of Louie itself, as were those standup bits about his imminent assassination. The most surprising thing about the sketch: According to former SNL writer Mike Shoemaker, it was written by Seth Meyers rather than Louis himself.

The show’s latest Fox & Friends spoof was funny if unimaginative, hitting all the same notes it’s hit several times already — Fox News sure is conservative! These hosts sure are dumb! As before, the sketch’s best joke was the scroll of fact-checker “corrections” that ran right before it ended. (Here’s the full list, which includes gems like “There are many black people, not just one who is a master of disguise.”) Then again, Fox & Friends was leagues ahead of that “Australian screen legends” sketch. Hearing Kate McKinnon, Bill Hader, and C.K. speak in exaggerated Aussie accents is amusing, but not amusing enough to carry an entire sketch. The segment’s central joke — Australians are really laid back, or something? — also seemed half-formed… and its Brokeback Mountain parody came about seven years too late.

After a sketch that halted the show’s momentum cold, fun. injected some much-needed energy with their first performance. The band sounded great live, although I was a little surprised that it chose not to play every loud, drunken reveler’s current favorite song (“We Are Young”). I was also shocked to see how closely guitarist (and Lena Dunham-dater) Jack Antonoff resembles Spring Awakening-era Skylar Astin. Seriously, it’s uncanny.

This is the last episode of SNL that will air before Tuesday’s presidential election — so it was a bit of a shock not to see Jay Pharoah trot out his Barack Obama impression. At least Jason Sudeikis’s Mitt Romney got one more chance to plead for the nation’s votes, courtesy of a quick appearance on Weekend Update. Hammering Romney this close to the election while neglecting to do the same for Obama won’t win SNL any points with conservatives — but hey, has there ever been any question about this show’s political leanings?

Sudeikis was followed by appearances from two of SNL‘s newest recruits: Bryant, who had her first showcase role as social media expert Kourtney Barnes, and Strong, who brought back The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party for the first time since SNL‘s last Weekend Update Thursday special. Though both inspired a few laughs, Strong fared better than Bryant — mostly because she was playing a real character, rather than simply reading ignorant fake tweets and Facebook statuses. (Also, is it me, or was this the most body humor-focused SNL since the last time Kristen Wiig played gross Shanna?) I’m not sure whether there’s enough to The Girl… to make her a frequently recurring Update guest, but as of now, her deadpan Instagramming and casual racism in the name of fighting racism (“Can I sing a negro spiritual real quick?” is still hitting.

As for everything that followed Update, excluding fun.’s second performance: Woof. During that painful Zog/Zord “Mountain Pass” sketch, all I could think was that this must be what C.K. was talking about when he told Jimmy Fallon, “There’s one sketch that I’m in that I really hate, because what I’m doing in it is really embarrassing, and I’m wearing stuff, and it’s awful… When I think about this one sketch, I go, ‘Oh God, It’s going to be awful.’” Congratulations, Louis — you were spot on. The subsequent segment — hotel guest Bobby Moynihan is trying to check out of a hotel, but desk clerk C.K. won’t let him leave before he signs off on a long list of ridiculous charges — wasn’t much better, although I did like its shout out to argon. (“Argon, sir. It’s a noble gas.”)

The episode’s last third sort of redeemed itself with the night’s final sketch, an absurd trifle about singles C.K. and McKinnon  connecting in the grossest way possible. The “two weirdos converse in a bar” 12:55 a.m. sketch has been done to death, and to much greater effect with Jon Hamm and Will Forte — but none of this skit’s predecessors have featured anything quite as disgusting as Louis and Kate’s epic, much too long face-licking kiss. If nothing else, you’ve got to admire their commitment. Hint, ladies: Always say no to someone who asks, “May I kiss my mouth on your particular mouth part of your face?”

Next week, veteran guests Anne Hathaway and Rihanna return, presumably to perform nothing but musical sketches for SNL‘s entirety. As we wait to see how they do, let’s discuss Louis C.K.’s debut: How did you like last night’s episode?

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Read more:
‘SNL': All the ‘Fox & Friends’ ‘corrections’ from tonight’s show
Louis C.K. emails fans before his first ‘SNL’ hosting gig: ‘I’m a pretty lucky guy’
‘Saturday Night Live’ recap: Bruno Mars, we like you just the way you are


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