Anytime a comedian like Louis C.K. hosts Saturday Night Live the expectations will perhaps be unreasonably high, and coupled with the fond memories of C.K.'s last appearance on the show, that was undoubtedly the case this week. The last time C.K. hosted SNL came the week immediately following Hurricane Sandy, when much of New York concentrated on rebuilding. Laughter was both welcome and necessary. For his part, C.K. delivered a classic episode and a sketch many think is one of the best the show has ever produced.
Literally none of that matters now, though; there were no stakes this week. We wanted C.K. to show up and be funny for the sake of being funny, which is his job, and he arguably didn't deliver on his end of the bargain. He performed material from his stand-up routine for the monologue, but it seemed scattered and unfocused. His jokes jumped around with very little cohesion from one to the next. We were hungry for laughs when he began and starving by the time he finished.
That's not entirely true — parts of his routine worked, certainly — but that hungry/starving bit seemed entirely out of place. As someone not caught up on the latest C.K. routines, maybe this is new material he was trying out for the first time, but this joke in particular needs more time in the oven.
Every other time C.K. appeared on screen it seemed he was playing some variation of his comedy persona — a struggling dad or or divorced middle-aged man. There was not a lot of variation on theme. Two sketches stood out above the rest, though. "Black Jeopardy," which came right after the monologue, was delightful and a massive success. C.K. played Mark, a professor of African American studies at Brigham Young University, who cannot compete with Keeley (Sasheer Zamata) and Amir (Jay Pharoah). The first time Mark answers a question is a disaster. The first time he answers a question correctly is when he chooses the category, "White People." It does not go over well. We never see Final Jeopardy but we doubt Mark answered at all:
We should all take a moment and snap for the under-appreciated work Kenan Thompson has delivered this season. Some were worried heading into this year about the turnover and Thompson being thrust all of a sudden into the elder statesman role, but he has weathered the storm and provided a consistent, reliable energy to the show this year. He has quietly helped anchor the show and get his fellow cast members over with the audience.
Unfortunately the rest of the episode was sleepy, which was surprising after a three week layoff. But the back half was strong, thank Yoda, due in part to Mike O'Brien investigating whether Louis C.K. stuck a Darth Vader action figure up his butt.
No one really knew who Sam Smith was two weeks ago but, in the time since, plenty of people seem very excited about this new singer. He's really good! His performances last night could potentially lead to him becoming a New Big Thing. He definitely owes his P.R. team a round of drinks. — C.S.
I haven't been the biggest fan of the Kyle Mooney/Beck Bennett era of whatever we're calling the digital shorts now. The sense of "you should be getting this/why aren't you getting this?/a smarter person would get this" is thick in the air whenever these two team up, and while I still treasure that beer-pong sketch, I have on balance a wary relationship with the two of them. The less I say about Baby Boss's return the better, but I was pretty well delighted by Mooney's "Chris for President" sketch. Mooney's chief virtue is his insane levels of commitment; he never, ever, ever leans in for a joke, and that kind of restraint keeps the homemade class-president video feel so real. I knew that guy in high school. You did too. The deadpan delivery and hyper-focus on good music and good movies (like Lock Stock and Kids) and the police videos all fit so perfectly. Deal with it, Christina Crapulera. — J.R.
Aidy Bryant knew what you were thinking when her ‘70s Chicago cop drama spoof flicked on. Oh boy, here’s Kate McKinnon and Aidy running around bein’ silly, this sketch will probably have some deliberately crass name like…oh, wow, it’s actually called “Dyke and Fatz.” Just as I was beginning to wonder how in-yer-face unoriginal things were going to get, Louis C.K.’s boss character started talking and addressed them by name and was swiftly shut down. “Those are OUR words and only WE get to say it!” It was a clever, goofy spin on the concept that Bryant and McKinnon are very much aware of, and in charge of, their images, a one-joke sketch that was punchy and to-the-point. Bryant did some solid work throughout, anchoring the bizarre 12:55 sketch as the straight man to C.K.’s vaguely psychotic admirer, and providing one of many buttons at the doctor’s office filled with Darth Vader enthusiasts. — D.S.
At this point you should not be surprised Kate McKinnon won again this week. She appeared only twice in this episode — as the Dyke to Bryant's Fatz, and as a weirdly primal Justin Bieber. Her Bieber impression is always welcome. She nails the way the Canadian pop star is constantly fidgeting and shifting and seemingly rubbing himself. But this week McKinnon added a dash of "monkey walking around a zoo compound" to the mix, and I liked her Bieber even more. If we never get a sketch with Bieber and Brooks Wheelan's Harry Styles then sternly worded letters from Canada will flood Lorne Michaels' desk this summer. — C.S.