The big news of this episode was obviously Bernie Sanders’ cameo, and it was surprising that it didn’t happen at the very top of the episode. I’ve said it a million times before, but the cold open has become the dumping ground for the token political sketch, for better or worse, and ever since it was announced that Larry David would host, we knew there would be some real Bernie-on-fake Bernie action. But it didn’t happen right away.
The cold open was indeed political in nature, but instead of twin Bernies, it was a commercial parody of a Ted Cruz campaign ad. As always, Taran Killam played a dead-on Cruz. “I’m not young and hip, I’m not off-the-chain,” he said, before admitting, “From the side, I look like a Far Side cartoon.” He said he faces obstacles not unlike FDR, but “instead of a wheelchair, it’s my personality and face.” The writers were wise to write in Kate McKinnon as Cruz’s daughter, reluctant to express any affection.
Larry David‘s monologue was appropriately Larry David. He went for self-effacing and autobiographical, saying he “went from a poor schmuck to a rich prick, without hardly any transition.” He’s a good stand-up comedian, but what was obvious throughout the episode was his strong hand in the writing. In the mid 1980s, he was a writer on season 10 of “SNL.” The best sketches of this episode started as something and then became something completely different once viewers thought they knew what was going on.
The first proper sketch was hilarious and irreverent and so far removed from the topical political humor that viewers would expect at the top of the show. Cecily Strong set up the scene as an FBI trainer, instructing trainees at a shooting range to shoot perps and avoid people who were not a threat. Kenan Thompson played a character called O’Healy (surely a nod to yours truly, right?) who takes the first shots. He shoots an obvious bad guy, he doesn’t shoot a kind old lady, but then when Larry David shows up as a character in the shooting gallery named Kevin Roberts, wearing a neon suit and brandishing a huge cell phone, O’Healy just doesn’t know what to do. “Why does Kevin Roberts have friends and a storyline?” he wonders, and it gets more absurd with each joke. Also, the quotable line from this episode will be “can a bitch get a donut?” Trust me on that one.
Then it was time for “Bern Your Enthusiasm,” the brilliant pre-taped segment that teased the real Bernie cameo. Larry David basically parodied his own show’s formula, but put the presidential candidate in the center of the show. The execution was flawless, from the loud arguing to the mistaken expression of racism to the jaunty classical music. This will definitely be the sketch you’ll see the most on your social media feed this week.
The next sketch started off as being as far removed from anything topical as the “can a bitch get a donut?” sketch: A ship was in danger of sinking, and Larry David‘s character had issues with the “women and children first” protocol. And then out of nowhere came the cameo from the real Bernie Sanders. Read our analysis of the cameo here.
Next up was a pre-taped commercial parody for Totinos Pizza Rolls, which began with all of the throwaway innocuousness of a spot for a Super Bowl snack, but then took on a surprising Stepford Husbands slant.
“Weekend Update” began with actual news from the Republican Debate, showing a clip of Ben Carson in New Hampshire forgetting to walk on the stage when he was announced, and creating a melee backstage where Carson and Trump were waiting in the wings and Jeb Bush walked past. Inspired commentary from Colin Jost: “and that is something you will never see again; Jeb Bush passing Donald Trump.” He and Michael Che fell into the pattern of seeming like they were just doing what they do for each other. But they weren’t the stars of this segment, so it didn’t really matter. On this “Update,” it was all about the guests. Kate McKinnon kicked things off as Sturdy Barbie, offering a realistic socioeconomic commentary on Mattel’s recent introduction of dolls with varying body types. She sold the bit well, but it could have been written better. As far as “Update” cameos go, it was featured player Jon Rudnitsky who stole the show. Making an appeal to producers to cast him in the live broadcast of “Dirty Dancing,” he wore a Swayze wig and pantomimed one side of the film’s most important dance scene, but with the big jump gone horribly awry. Sure, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson made cameos as their “Zoolander 2” characters, but their bit about fashion and politics fell a little flat.
Pete Davidson began the next sketch as a teacher of an intro to songwriting class. David played a burnout who just doesn’t understand how to rhyme and develops a conspiracy against frogs. The setup was just so obvious and easy, but the writing was so absurd that it felt like what was good during the era of Martin Short, Billy Crystal, and Christopher Guest, when David originally wrote for the show.
Thompson and Killam played Cam Newton and Peyton Manning, respectively in the next sketch, sitting together at a piano and singing “Ebony and Ivory,” and talking about the different ways the media covers them because of their race. It was smart and pointed, but there were no LOL moments.
Both of the songs the 1975 performed were energetic and also felt very much from the era when Larry David originally wrote for “SNL.” Really, the 1985 would have been a more appropriate name.
Or maybe it would have made more sense for the 1975 to have called themselves the 1988. That’s when The Escape Club had a hit, right?
To close the show, Kate McKinnon played her sad sack at closing time character, delivering nauseating pickup lines. Sheila Sovage is her name, and if you mix up the letters it almost sounds like Vagisil, at least that was one of her lines. David played an admirable sleaze, ready to hook up. Quotable line: “My tongue’s not as long as Gene Simmons‘, but my penis is even shorter.” And McKinnon was as amazing as ever, ending the sketch by licking David’s bald head. This type of fearless go-for-broke absurdity was what made the best parts of this episode sing.