SNL #39.16 RECAP: Host Louis C.K., musical guest Sam Smith

The beauty of Saturday Night Live remains right there in its title. No matter how much funnier and slicker the pre-taped sketch videos for SNL may be in any given week, and there have been more of them in the past year, too — the things that can happen or go awry on live TV make the show worth tuning in that night.

We had a few such moments when stand-up comedian Louis C.K. made his second appearance as host of SNL; one, right from the get-go. So. Let’s get going!

SNL begins with a “cold open,” which is an industry term that means the show starts without an introduction, theme song or title sequence. In tonight’s case, even the audience was caught cold, or at least flat-footed (flat-handed, since it’s their applause hands that were caught not clapping?!).

We’re in the White House with President Barack Obama (Jay Pharoah) and his aide (Taran Killam) and new social media expert (Nöel Wells) brainstorming ways to drum up even more people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act health insurance coverage by Monday’s federal deadline. With a nod to Obama’s “Between Two Ferns” video with Zach Galifianakis, they come up with separate photo ops for Instagram, Twitter and Vine. Nice to see Noel get some stage time for a change. Nasim Pedrad shows up as Kim Kardashian with Brooks Wheelan as Harry Styles, but who played Batkid? Kyle Mooney as Pope Francis is worth more than a six-second looping Vine video. When really, seeing Obama kiss Kate McKinnon’s Justin Bieber is the Vine to grow on!

Louis C.K.’s monologue is all stand-up he’d been working on in the NYC clubs over the past two weeks, and it’s a refreshing change of pace for the show — normally, the SNL writers have to figure out something to make the host feel comfortable, and everyone gets a break even further knowing C.K. can go long and take up the time of what would have been another sketch (and set design and costume changes and all of that). He opens with a sly comeback to the audience’s applause: “That’s very nice. I hope somebody does that for you someday.” His monologue jokes themselves are more absurd and silly, a throwback to his younger stand-up days. And then he dives deep, mocking first-world hunger complaints of “starving” after only a few hours. He makes a case for agnostics, and imagines that a God certainly would push back against the concept of Heaven. “Who’s telling you that?” CK imagines God telling a newly dead person. “You guys are greedy dicks down there!” He has a solid position on the chicken-and-the-egg debate. And he believes women used to have all of the power and don’t now only because men are afraid of them. An eight-minute monologue would stop any other show in its tracks. Here, you think, yeah, keep the camera on him. Keep going!

No fake ad in the fake ad slot. Although that ad for Pepsi mini-cans with everyone delivering movie lines can’t be real and reel, can it?

Black Jeopardy: Obligatory sentence goes here about how SNL is less white in its cast lineup and its writers room now than it was even six months ago. Even more obligatory sentence telling you how funny this sketch is now, and with CK thrown into the mix as a well-meaning but misguided African-American Studies professor from BYU. Because, of course, BYU, the whitest school. Kenan Thompson is your host, Alex Treblack, er, no, Darnell Hayes. The other contestants are Pharoah and Sasheer Zamata. Loved the subtlety of rephrasing a one-word answer as a question. Wished the kicker Final Jeopardy answer had gone even further, because instead it just reminds us of how wild and crazy it was some 35 years ago to see Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor really let loose.

Wait. What’s this? An actual ad for a car that stars Cecily Strong and SNL writer Michael Che, but pretends it’s just a behind-the-scenes of an SNL sketch called “Bear Girlfriend.” Still waiting on an answer from Che on whether he got paid properly for his contribution here. Ahem.

Moving on.

Office Boss: Should be titled BABY BOSS, because that’s what Beck Bennett’s CEO character, MR. Patterson, is. Wheelan, Bryant play straight roles reacting to Bennett’s big baby movements around the office set, while CK plays an employee waiting to deliver some important news to the boss. Felt like the same sketch as last time, just with a different host. Can you ask for personal growth out of a big baby sketch, though? Is that too much to ask?

Cleaning Product: Now here’s the fake ad. But it’s about a very real thing. Vanessa Bayer plays the mom with Killam as the husband, Mooney and Wells as her kids. How will she clean up after them? “What do I reach for? A suit from Jos. A. Bank,” she said. “It’s cheaper than paying for paper towels.” Oh, Jos. A. Bank, you just got served. Those three-for-one suit sales really hit a nerve with someone in the SNL writers room!

Ladies and gentlemen, Sam Smith. This is “Stay With Me.” I keep thinking he’s the combination of any two number of guys. Whatever your answer is, it’s the right answer.

Weekend Update with Cecily Strong and Colin Jost

Couldn’t care less about Weekend Update. Scratch that. I did care enough this week to notice that Strong looks so much stronger now that Seth Meyers has left. Or that’s just a reflection of the lack of anything happening when it’s a two-shot or a three-shot with a guest at the Update desk. I almost would rather just watch Strong fly solo right now for a bit. Was that Lorne’s intention? Probably not. And that’s not to say Jost wouldn’t also be much greater if he were left to do Update on his own. Because he very well could be great in the anchor role. Together, though? Not much to see here.

Even less when the only Update guest is someone not even the audience knows or cares about.

That’d be Pharoah as ESPN hot-air talking head Stephen A. Smith, with outdated and out-of-touch opinions on the sports headlines — here, it’s NCAA March Madness basketball.

Mr. Big Stuff: Over this past season, SNL has ramped up its song-and-dance efforts, focused most specifically around Strong but also regularly including multiple cast members. Strong dueted with Jimmy Fallon over Christmas, drove the carpool singalong with Lena Dunham, and here gets first crack at the “Mr. Big Stuff” serenade of passing pedestrian CK. Zamata, Bryant and McKinnon all get their own solos, too, while CK interjects with straight-man dialogue. “Who the hell are you people?” “Did you rehearse this? This is a song!”

For CK’s first SNL hosting gig, he did a brilliant pre-tape mocking his FX show but as Lincoln.

Doctor Appointment: Here, he takes a normal doctor’s visit (with Mike O’Brien as the good family doc), and tags it on his way out the door with a simple question. Can you check his butt to see if he has a Darth Vader action figure stuck up there? Kenan Thompson’s Reggie stops mopping the carpet to add his request. As does another doctor (Beck Bennett) and even the secretary, Janet (Aidy Bryant). Because she has a general grievance. Or is that a General Greivous? “Would you mind dipping into my backzone and seeing what’s up?” IT’S BETTER TO KNOW! #getyourbuttchecked

Private Eyes: What it says about me that I saw Bayer and CK as detective partners reading stilted dialogue and within two seconds recognized it as a Cinemax Skinemax parody is that I’m single and up late at night. That’s all that means. Honestly. Bobby Moynihan in the eye-patch makes a late entrance into the sketch as well as the night’s scheduled entertainment. This has the best sketch ending since “It’s Better To Know!” Honestly. I wish all SNL sketches ended with one character in complete befuddlement. Then we could put the argument about SNL not knowing how to end sketches to bed.

Cop Show: I have a feeling that “Dyke and Fats” is not only a video about “the best cops in Chicago,” but also a sketch that we’re going to see more of in 2014 and the years to come. Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant are a great team. Louis CK as their boss with a desk job brings the same bureaucratic absurdity that he did on the big-screen in American Hustle. I think he’s also depicted in one of the title sequence fight scenes as a thug. Easter egg!

Once again, Sam Smith. This is “Lay Me Down.”

Chris For President: Chris Fitzpatrick (Kyle Mooney) is running for school president — this is a Good Neighbor video sketch campaign video.

I see what they’re doing here. I just wish I could see more. Or different.

Romantic Speech: Tonight’s show had a number of simply great premises that didn’t all necessarily lead to the best punchlines. But the effort showed here, with CK at Bryant’s door with a small bouquet of flowers and a series of mixed messages to win her back. Shhhhhhhut up. Again, Moynihan enters late with just a lightning bolt dash of weird. Shhhhhhhhut up. You had me at shhhhhhhhut up!

And we came in safely on time, people! Time for good-nights. “I want to thank everybody on the floor here. Jenna and Wally! Everybody. Phil who lights this place so beautifully,” CK says, extending that to the rest of the crew. I’m pretty sure he’s referring to the people right in front of him with the camera and cue cards. Actually. Looking at the credits…Lighting Designer Phil Hymes. Stage Manager Gena Rositano (with Chris Kelly). And Cue Cards is Wally Feresten.


See you next week with host Anna Kendrick! Looking forward to it already…

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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