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Saturday Night Live Review: “Louis C.K./Sam Smith”

(Episode 39.16)

March 30, 2014  |  8:01pm
<i>Saturday Night Live</i> Review: &#8220;Louis C.K./Sam Smith&#8221;

Unlike most SNL hosts, Louis C.K. makes the entire episode just by being there. It’s a rare talent usually relegated to past SNL cast members and Five Timers Club members, but even when bombing, Louie can save almost any segment. While not as exciting as his first episode hosting, C.K. is still an incredibly fun host who makes everything better.

The first skit of the night also happened to be the only live skit without C.K. and was one of the night’s worst. Basically, Obama’s team is trying to boost his viral advertising for healthcare.gov after the success of “Between Two Ferns.” This leads to more attempts through Instagram, Vine and Twitter, such as having Obama pose in Pharrell’s hat or dancing with the Pope. SNL has really stumbled this year with their political jokes, and this one is no different. If anything, it presents some impressions I’d love to see more of, such as Brooks Wheelan as Harry Styles or Kyle Mooney’s great Pope impression.

Louie’s monologue is always gold, as he gets to try out some great stand-up material. Louie’s monologues always remind me of older SNL, when stand-up comedians were allowed to just do what they do best, and were not forced into some wacky musical number or something. As expected, his jokes are toned down quite a bit, but nonetheless still hilarious. His bit about religion alone could have been on his next stand-up special.

Black Jeopardy, I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I always appreciate that Jay Pharaoh, Kenan Thompson and Sasheer Zamata are helping make SNL more than just a white comedian’s realm, yet the jokes here still felt filled with stereotypes. Thompson’s reactions to C.K.’s answers make the whole skit work, but the cliché-ridden jokes and the tired game show formula work against it.

Beck Bennett then brings back his character of Mr. Patterson, the boss with a body of a baby. Bennett’s dedication to this is really what makes it, and it is starting to grow on me since the first time, but this isn’t necessarily a recurring character I need to see all that often.

The only recorded segment that didn’t work was a Joseph A. Bank commercial that recommends using their cheap and poorly made suits for spills instead of paper towels. Yeah, this is one of the weaker commercials this year, no need to repeat this one in future episodes.

As for musical guest Sam Smith, who performed “Stay With Me” and “Lay Me Down”—he’s got a great voice, but he’s not much in terms of performance. I frankly don’t know much about Smith, outside of his appearance on last year’s great Disclosure record, but he’s a good singer with not much stage presence.

I can’t remember a more stiff installment of Weekend Update. It seems like Cecily Strong is trying to improve the dynamic between herself and Colin Jost, but he’s just willing to stick to the cue cards. I know he’s only been on the segment for a few weeks, but it shouldn’t feel this awkward still.

After WU, things got weirder much earlier than usual. I don’t know why, but whenever the show has a skit that revolves around the singing of a song, it usually cracks me up. This time around isn’t as good as when it was done in the Josh Hutcherson episode (also, oddly enough, the last time we saw the “Baby Boss”), but having four angry women singing “Mr. Big Stuff” at C.K. was still quite enjoyable. Especially since C.K. seems adamant that he’s is “Mr. Medium Stuff” at best and how since he ate nothing but three full meals of hot eggs, he clearly isn’t as pompous as they think he is.

The rest of the night was split between disappointing live skits and great recorded segments. In the first of the live skits, Vanessa Bayer and C.K. played two detectives who are getting ready to have sex for the first time, with Bayer getting easily distracted. It devolves into them talking about how many holes they should cut in their pajamas to have sex and is only saved by C.K. just giving up at the end of the bit. The final skit of the night has C.K. as a boyfriend trying to win back his girlfriend, played by Aidy Bryant. He starts off strong, then gets increasingly weird, as he discusses his plans for an amusement park that would be like a pet cemetery but for people. It’s a pretty good end-of-the-night skit, but doesn’t get quite off the ground.

The recorded segments though are all pretty great. First, C.K. goes to a doctor, played by Mike O’Brien, and as he’s leaving, suggests the doctor look for a Darth Vader toy up his butt. This leads to everyone else also wanting the doctor to make sure they don’t have the Star Wars villain up their butts too. The twist at the end that none of them actually do and that it’s a NBC “The More You Know” type commercial is a perfect capper.

Also great was “Dyke & Fats,” a detective show commercial starring Kate McKinnon and Bryant. It’s a pretty funny way to take down the stereotypes they likely get stuck with and is short enough to get in, get out and make me want to see another installment in a few weeks. Finally, the last recorded segment goes to the always reliable Kyle Mooney shorts. This time, he’s playing high school student running for ASB class president who’s so awkward and so close to the reality of some high school students (in addition to the horrible PowerPoint presentation he’s created), that it comes together well.

While this episode doesn’t always work, C.K. does boost everything. His ability to let loose at the end of the skit or just give up in a fit of laughter was incredibly amusing, as is him clearly doing bits during commercial breaks to make the audience keep laughing. He’s one of the few hosts who is just a joy to watch, even if the episode does falter here and there.

Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.

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