'Saturday Night Live' Recap - Louis CK & Sam Smith

By Noah Golden,

2014 has been a strange year for Saturday Night Live so far. Between long breaks, Seth Meyers’ departure and uneven writing, it feels like we’ve hit a bit of a speed bump. That’s not to say SNL hasn’t pumped out some good material. The Ooh Baby short from the last episode with Lena Dunham was about as good of a stand-alone, prerecorded sketch as I can think of. Speaking of SNL at its most uneven, comedian Louis CK is back as host for his second outing. His first episode last year was strange, to say the least. The Last Call sketch and Lincoln bit were great. But two dire sketches from that night also made my list for the worst sketches of last year. So we’ll just have to see how tonight’s episode progresses.

Like always, I’ll be writing the recaps “live,” meaning I’ll watch a sketch and immediately write a short blurb reviewing and recapping it. For each segment, I’ll rate it on a scale of 0-5 stars. At the end of the piece, I’ll share some quick overall thoughts and the best/worst sketch of the night.

Cold Open - Healthcare.gov Meeting: * * *
After the success of President Obama’s appearance on Between Two Ferns, his social media team (Killam and Wells, doing somewhat of a riff on her Hannah Horvath impression) are meeting with the POTUS to discuss ways to improve his online presence. They have him take an Instagram pic wearing Pharrell’s hat, a Vine video with the Pope dancing the nay nay and other similar stunts with a parade of celebrity impressions. If there’s anything people will remember about this sketch it’s the gif of Obama kissing McKinnon’s (amazingly good) Bieber that I’m sure has already made rounds on Twitter. So, to recap, perfectly fine if not bland (and insert [current pop culture phenomena] here) sketch.

Opening Monologue: * * * * *
Louis CK is a fine actor and writer but he’s at his best doing stand-up. This monologue was pure CK stand-up and I loved every minute from his riffs on fatherhood to the name of a certain type of men’s undershirts. It’s so, so simple by SNL standards, but also one of the funniest monologues of the year.

Black Jeopardy: * * * * *
Welcome to the black version of Jeopardy with categories like “Pssst” and questions like “She think she cute” (answer: Monique). The perfect foil for all that craziness is CK’s African studies professor who is confused by the lack of black history questions on the board. It might take a while to get going, but by the time we got to the Michael Vick joke, I was totally on board. This was a well written sketch that had much more teeth with the racial humor than I’m used to on SNL. But it played out perfectly, all capped off with a hilarious Final Jeopardy question. You know how I said the monologue tonight was one of the best of the season? This was probably the best post-monologue (live) sketch all year too.

Office Boss: * * * *
I loved the first sketch with Mr. Patterson when Bennett trotted him out in the Josh Hutcherson episode. The second Mr. Patterson sketch takes the half-baby-half-CEO character even further with cake throwing and a delicious paper-ripping gag. On paper it’s a simple sketch, but Bennett’s physical comedy chops are so sharp, it’s just a pure delight to watch.

Cleaning Product: * * * ½
I guess Jos. A. Banks doesn’t advertise on NBC. The joke here is delightfully simple: Jos. A. Banks’ suits are so cheap you can use them instead of paper towels around the house. But it’s tightly executed, brilliantly hosted by Bayer and doesn’t overstay its welcome. A solid, if not unremarkable, SNL commercial parody.

Weekend Update: * *
This episode has been so good thus far I can forgive this tepid incarnation of Weekend Update. The jokes were so-so, the chemistry between Jost and Strong is still lacking and WU’s only guest, Stephen A. Smith, didn’t make much of an impression on me. Perhaps that’s cause I’m not a sports guy and have no idea what the real Stephen A. Smith looks or sounds like. Also, I’m deducting a half-star in my ratings because that OTS of Chris Christie will haunt my nightmares tonight.

Mr. Big Stuff: * * * ½
Last week I was watching a rerun of the 2011 SNL Anna Farris episode which ended with a pretty great sketch where the SNL ladies sang a Motown song as a way to give advice to a single lady. Mr. Big Stuff is sort of a variation on the same theme. When an average middle-aged guy stops to ask four women for directions, he unwittingly becomes a part of their song-and-dance routine. CK is great here and elevates this so-so sketch into something genuinely funny.

Doctor Appointment * * ½
Louis CK is on his way out of a doctor’s office after a routine physical when he stops in the doorway to proclaim that he may have a Darth Vader action figure jammed up his buttocks. And it turns out he’s not alone. There’s a surreal feel to this sketch I dug, but it never seemed to find the momentum it wanted. Plus, besides “hey, there’s an action figure in my tuches (as my grandmother used to say – the tuches part not the action figure inserted rectally part), there wasn’t a lot to this short.

Private Eyes: * * * * ½
What a bizarre sketch! From the ‘50s sitcom score to the stilted line readings (“pine-APPLE juice,” anyone?) to the knife-wielding intruder, nothing in this sketch made a lick of sense. But, for some reason I can’t possibly explain after only one viewing, I absolutely loved it. This is a rating I might regret later on, but, hey, I call it like I see it.

Dyke & Fats: * * * * ½
McKinnon and Bryant star in a late ‘70s buddy cop show called Dyke & Fats with the catch that only they can call each other Dyke and Fats. Again, this is a prime example of a one-joke sketch that just works and knows when to get out of its own way. I have a feeling there was a deeper meaning behind this sketch for McKinnon and Bryant, but their impetus for the sketch was never distracting.

Chris Fitzpatrick for High School President: * *
I get where Moody was going for this sketch with the lo-fi esthetic and the ‘90s loser archetype. Problem is, it just wasn’t very funny. And Moody’s digital short shtick is wearing thin.

Dave & Stacy: * * *
I’m not sure what to make of this one. Sort of like the Pajamas one, it left me confused and a bit speechless. But unlike Pajamas, it didn’t really make me laugh. CK is really good at playing these sad-sack characters, especially sad-sack characters with a surrealist twist, but this one never found solid footing. It’s somewhat of a fail, but an interesting, unique fail.

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Best Sketch: Black Jeopardy.

Worst Sketch: The Chris Fitzpatrick one, but only because I already forgot about the lukewarm Weekend Update.

Musical Guest: Sam Smith
I don’t who Sam Smith is. He could be Taran Killam’s cousin for all I know. But, man, does this guy have pipes. His ethereal yet strong vocal performance on the ballad “Stay with Me” was pretty remarkable (if not for a couple falsetto-ed parts where Mr. Smith’s “intonation” wobbled a bit, if I may borrow a phrase from Harry Connick, Jr). I enjoyed “Stay” but really jumped on the Sam Smith bandwagon with “Lay Me Down,” a moving and wonderfully simple piano ballad featuring an incredibly passionate vocal that was all over the place in the best possible way. I don’t know what’s to come for this kid, but he’s something odd and something very special.

Overall Thoughts:
Louis CK made a triumphant return to 8H and delivered a weird and wonderful show. Sure there were missteps but even the missteps showed glimmers of promise. So it’s a good night of SNL in my book.

Next Week: The funny and multitalented star of Pitch Perfect and Up in the Air Anna Kendrick will host along with Pharrell (and possibly his famous hat).

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