Julia Louis-Dreyfus shows who’s boss on ‘SNL’

From the Set: Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nick JonasJulia Louis-Dreyfus is one of those SNL alum that doesn’t get to wax sentimental about her days on the show. Unlike Tina Fey or Amy Poehler, when Julia Louis-Dreyfus returns to SNL as a host, it’s more of akin to a neglected class nerd who was ignored in high school, but then became a huge deal once she graduated. After SNL, Louis-Dreyfus moved from one comic triumph to another, starting with Seinfeld and working her way up to her current win, HBO’s Veep.

And while she’s not as bitter as Janeane Garafolo, Louis-Dreyfus is remarkably candid about her less-than-stellar experience as a cast member SNL. There was some of that when she returned to Studio 8H for the third time to host. During her monologue, the legendary comedienne referenced her mediocre tenure by showing a clip of her “greatest hit” which was an old Ed Grimley sketch that had her playing a walk-on role as a secretary. And though her time as a cast member was a bit of a dud, as a host, she’s aces. Even if the material was just so-so – and it was – Louis-Dreyfus commanded the stage with her energy, commitment, and her willingness to look silly for a laugh.

The cold open was yet another political sketch, with Louis-Dreyfus’ old pal, Larry David returning to play Bernie Sanders. Matching his great performance was yet again, the magical Kate McKinnon as an increasingly frazzled Hillary Clinton. Louis-Dreyfus pops up as her iconic New York misanthrope, Elaine Benes – complete with her permed mane of black hair, and her angry grip on her purse (I always thought she jammed her purse underneath her arms like the top of a crutch). The sketch’s writing was pleasant, and it was nice to see old Seinfeld pals David and Louis-Dreyfus play with each other – though, Elaine’s continuous harping about how Bernie Sanders’ economic policies would hurt multimillionaire sitcom writers made little sense as David was playing Sanders, so why would David’s concern about higher taxes make its way into the sketch. Also, as an added bonus, Vanessa Bayer gets another chance to show off her incredible Jennifer Aniston-as-Rachel-Green-from-Friends.

After Louis-Dreyfu’s funny monologue (which included a cute bit with her Veep pal Tony Hal and a great jab at the awful/racist 80s comedy Soul Man), we get a fake ad for heroin in pill-form. It’s beautifully filmed (even though “live” is in the title, Saturday Night Live is started to rely heavily on pretaped segments). It’s a funny bit, with Louis-Dreyfus giving a pitch-perfect performance, capturing the tone of those silly pill ads.

The Long Island jewelers commercial was essentially Bronx Beat, with McKinnon and Louis-Dreyfus taking Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s place. The joke is essentially the elitist stuff that suggests anyone who doesn’t live in Manhattan or parts of Brooklyn are vulgar yokels. Unlike Bronx Beat, the ladies of this ad aren’t witty – still McKinnon and Louis-Dreyfus play the hell out of the sketch, and get good support from Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant as bored daughters (though music guest Nick Jonas’ cameo was essentially an excuse to have the audience’s female (and some male) members to shout and scream over his muscles.

Speaking of Jonas’ muscles, the Pool Boy sketch – another pre-taped deal was probably the best sketch of the night. Louis-Dreyfu plays a beautiful housewife who is having an affair with Pete Davidson’s dim-witted pool boy. What is so funny about the sketch is that the housewife is weighed down with guilt over her affair and dramatically breaks it off with Davidson, who shruggs it off with a genial and doofy smile before going back to his work. Jonas and his abs pop up again, suggesting that the housewife’s eyes will remain a-wandering.

The Cinema Classics sketch is always a mixed bag, but this one worked because of Louis-Dreyfus’ old-fashioned commitment to the joke: she’s an actress unable to remember her lines, so she has them written in stupidly obvious places on the set. There’s something very Vaudevillian about Louis-Dreyfus’ physical/slapstick work, as she crawls around the fake movie set, pulling props and reading her lines. Again, the Cinema Classics sketches are never great, but Louis-Dreyfus’ ridiculous performance sells it.

In another pretaped sketch, Louis-Dreyfus is pushing a new Mercedes that runs on batteries – AA batteries. As with the other pretaped stuff, it’s gorgeously put together, aping the beautiful, glossy look of an expensive car commercial. The jokes are cute, too – the idea so stupid, it works as a joke. My favorite bit, the dashboard feature that tells the driver which battery is dead – which results in Louis-Dreyfus releases all 9,000 batteries from the car, and having her climb over these piles (again, whenever we get to see her do some physical stuff, no matter how minor, it’s great).

Weekend Update was solid – not hilarious, but solid. The highlight was Cecily Strong’s One-Dimensional Female Character. The last time the character appeared it was just, meh, landing soft ball on cliches of romantic comedies. This time Strong and the writers hit harder, and the sketch came off angrier, more bitter, and funnier. Strong’s monologue included swipes at bro-comedies’ stupid tropes which reduce women to ciphers, reacting to the male characters (there’s also a powerful bit about her character sneezing into a tissue with semen without knowing – an important detail, since I found the whole semen in the hair joke in There’s Something About Mary to be kinda sexist and hateful).

Who Works Here? is another fantastic sketch – a fake game show, set in a CVS. Boring as hell contestants have to figure out which of the creepy freaks paraded in front of them are CVS employees. Led by game show host, Louis-Dreyfus, the contestants watch some fantastic character work by Bobby Moynihan, Aidy Bryant, Leslie Jones, Pete Davidson, and Kate McKinnon as a ghost (yeah, a ghost). The sketch allowed for Louis-Dreyfus to set aside her physical gifts, and employ her her slightly cruel comedic persona (she refused to introduce the contestants because they’re too dull).

Every show, no matter how good, will have a dud, and in this episode, it’s the Meet and Match sketch. It’s truly bizarre – McKinnon and Louis-Dreyfus are black-eyed aliens who arrive at a Match.com mixer. The comediennes’ voices are shredded by some nasty Auto-Tune work which make them sound like evil monsters. The joke is that they’re aliens, so their mating habits include turning prospective suitors into smoking skeletons. Though both McKinnon and Louis-Dreyfus give their all, it’s a terrible sketch (though Beck Bennett brings in just enough douchery as the Match.com mixer host).

The final sketch was another pretaped sketch – a trailer taking a hit on all those stupid Christian movies that position white Christians as oppressed minorities. In God Is a Boob Man Vanessa Bayer’s homophobic baker doesn’t want to bake a cake for a nefarious, cruel gay couple. The jokes are easy and land – but it’s funny and timely, given that more and more states are lining up for the title of the most ignorant/hateful state in the world (North Caroline and Mississippi are neck and neck, while Tennessee is out).

It’s telling that this season has been pretty uneven, but the shows hosted by comics – Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Tracy Morgan, Larry David – have all been bright spots – which should tell the talent bookers over at SNL, that it’d be best if instead of just having some starlet or action hero with a new project to promote, that real funny people should be tapped to host.

Random thoughts:

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus looks ahmazing and whoever dresses her knows that because throughout the episode she looked turned out.
  • Though Kate McKinnon’s easily the show’s current MVP, judging from Cecily Strong’s pointed One-Dimensional Female Character appearance, she’s close behind.
  • I liked the mini-Seinfeld reunion – it would’ve been just a touch sweeter if Jerry, Kramer, or George popped up, too…
  • Michael Che and Colin Jost are getting better, but Weekend Update is still the time during SNL when I jump off the couch to grab a soda from the fridge or to use the bathroom.
  • Tony Hale stole is micro-cameo – I think we know who should host next…
  • The show is leaning hard on pretaped segments.

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Filed under Celeb, celebrity, Comedy, commentary, Sitcom, Television, Writing

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