Larry David refused to promise a great episode of Saturday Night Live during this week’s opening monologue, instead suggesting the end product would be “so-so.”
Nevertheless, it was more than a case of lowered expectations that led to the Curb Your Enthusiasm star presiding over one of the funniest, sharpest-eyed episodes in recent memory.
Sure, there were a couple of low points — that Learning Annex songwriters’ workshop was a kernel of an idea gone fetid — but when Bernie Sanders shows up and lands a one-percenter punchline (in a very funny sketch opposite David’s ship passenger questioning the “women and children” first rule) without leaning too hard on his cue cards, you know you’ve got a winner on your hands.
Below, my picks for the episode’s best and worst sketches (BTW, the Zoolander-on-Weekend Update wackiness just missed the cut):
BEST: BERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM
David reimagined Democratic presidential candidate Sanders as the star of a Curb Your Enthusiasm-style comedy that found Jay Pharoah doing a stellar J.B. Smoove and Cecily Strong scoring chuckles as a foul-mouthed, hyper-critical Susie Essman. Still, it was David-as-Sanders’ awkward blunders — refusing to shake Leslie Jones’ hand after she coughed, and walking away from Aidy Bryant’s car-accident victim – that sealed the candidate’s narrow Iowa caucus loss, and solidified the pre-taped sketch as best-in-show.
BEST: DIRTY DANCING AUDITION
I had my doubts at the start of this “Weekend Update” bit with SNL‘s newest cast member Jon Rudnitsky — who’s made almost no impression in Season 41 thus far — wordlessly shimmying his way through Patrick Swayze’s Dirty Dancing choreography. But when his imaginary dance partner took a tragic tumble — and Rudnitsky took the bit all the way to dousing “Baby” with gasoline, then setting her ablaze with his cigarette, I couldn’t stop laughing. Welcome to the show, young man — hope to see you again next week!
BEST: TOTINO’S PIZZA ROLLS
Vanessa Bayer was brilliantly benign as a spokeswoman for the frozen party snack in this Super Bow; season — until she realized her husband and his buddies were whooping and cheering robotically while watching a blank screen. Her “grab the scissors, pack up the kids!” response was priceless, but the “X-Files” ad tag upgraded the sketch to classic SNL ad territory.
HONORABLE MENTION: TED CRUZ
One of the best cold opens of the season found Taran Killam hilariously portraying the Republican presidential front-runner as a man admitting that “from the side, I look like a Far Side cartoon” — and to filling the “sneaky little stinker” role in the GOP race. Mean? Perhaps. LOL-inducing? Most def.
WORST: LEARNING ANNEX SONGWRITING WORKSHOP
This bit with Pete Davidson as a songwriting coach struggling to get David’s character to rhyme the words “log” and “frog” started out pretty painfully. But just as things began to show some promise — with David’s fellow students falling under the spell of his toad-war visions — the sketch was over… with not enough laughs to justify its existence.
QUESTION OF THE NIGHT
Where/why are they hiding Sasheer Zamata?