The nominees for the 2016 Primetime Emmy Awards were announced earlier this week, and once again, SNL was nominated in a number of categories—including the big one, Outstanding Variety Sketch Series. At the same time, we also gotta give props to Tina & Amy, Melissa McCarthy, Tracy Morgan & the OTHER Amy for their nominations for “Guest Actor”, as well as a few “Technical” awards; and of course Kate McKinnon for “Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series”, Find out who wins what on Sept. 17 & 18th…This brings us to the subject of this weekend’s Editorial. You see, every year the Television Academy sends out what’s called “Screener Discs” to its members in an effort to persuade said members to vote for a certain show when either the nominations are announced, or if the person/show is up for the Emmy itself. This Year (at least according to various ebay sales), SNL decided on the episode hosted by Larry David as their primary Emmy Candidate. So in light of that, and possibly for the first/last/only time ever; Instead of looking at just one sketch today, we are going to take a look at an ENTIRE EPISODE of the show and see if it was Truly Emmy-worthy.
Now, before we begin, a couple bits of background. In the (INSERT NUMBER HERE) years I reviewed SNL episodes, there were certain levels of protocol. For instance, I give sketches a score from 1 to 10, I then add up the number of sketches in that evening’s show (I.e. 12 sketches = Top score of 120 points), and then I add up the scores I gave the sketches, divide by the top score number, and that’s how I come up with the “Watchability” number for the episode. You should also keep in mind that I don’t “Grade” a show the way a Teacher grades a test (I.e. an 85 = B, a 62 = D-, etc.). If I went by the standards of our increasingly failing education system, None of the episodes of SNL I have ever reviewed over the years would be worth watching—even the ones that I say are the “Best episode I’ve Seen in a Long Time”. That’s why I call it a “Watchability” rating, because despite the fact there are bad aspects of a particular episode, there will still be a few things worth watching & re-watching over and over. Anyone can say the show is “Bad”, but even “Bad” or possibly the worst shows I’ve ever seen still have at least one salvageable thing about them. I can even think of a few episodes where I gave it a score of Less than 50%, yet they still had something redeemable in them. Long story short, don’t think of a 50-65% score as a “Failing” score, think of it as Average or “Middle of the Road”. Further, my “Scoring” of sketches tend to be a little “Punny”, so stay sharp. Also, feel free to comment/question certain forms of terminology if you “don’t get” certain things that I say throughout this.
Now that we got all of That out of the way, join me as we take a look back at the evening of February 6th, 2016…
TED CRUZ: As the old saying goes, sometimes you have to eat your veggies before you get to dessert. There was very little to laugh about here, but then again that seems to be the way with “Message From’s”. The sole iotas of credit I will give this one are Kate’s brief appearance as Cruz’s awkward daughter, and Taran’s near-psychotic laugh when telling the “Trumper Tantrum” “Joke”. Furthermore; Lack of Comedy aside, the more I think of it the more I feel that [former cast member/current writer] Tim Robinson should’ve played Cruz—Largely because of their facial similarities (Seriously, look at their noses/body types, the least Taran can do is wear Padding & a Prosthetic). It was dull, it was boring, but thankfully this was the only true dull/boring piece of the evening.
SCORE: 4 out of 10 Delegates going in Cruz’s column…out of pure pity.
MONOLOGUE: I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting Larry to Fly Solo here; Partly because with the exception of his time as a cast member on that Long-Ago SNL clone “Fridays”, I wouldn’t exactly peg Larry as a “Live” performer in any context…BOY am I glad to be wrong, because this was not only a very sharp set from LD, but as a comedy snob it helped me feel nostalgic for the days of the Borscht Belt/Lenny Bruce’s material—and I wasn’t even Born during that era. Seriously, the whole “Pricks & Schmucks” bit sounds like something Lenny would’ve done before he was unfairly censored (Throwing up a Jewish meal sounds pretty close too). Bonus points for LD breaking the “We’ve Got a Great Show…” cycle, anybody who deviates from the norm is a hero in my book. The ONE thing that would’ve made this perfect is if he made some sort of reference to ’84-’85—Yeah, he makes a passing quip about Quitting every job he ever had, but it wasn’t the same. Either way, I think we’re gonna be in good hands here.
SCORE: 9 out of 10 “Sour Grapes” (Larry’s failed attempt at writing/directing a movie)
FBI SIMULATOR: As much as I’m for Cecily playing an aptly named “Strong” female, her constant yelling throughout the sketch was kind of a turn-off comically. Kenan actually manages to keep his reactions in check, resulting in a better than average “straight man” performance, while Pete continues to contribute minimally. The clear highlight is Larry dressing up as a simulated douchebag, simply because any self-respecting, self-loathing, multi-hyphenated 60-something in that kind of a role either has a lot of dignity to swallow or (as we saw in the monologue) Larry doesn’t give a Shit as to how he’ll look. Despite yet another premise that becomes blatantly obvious within seconds, Larry’s performance helps the sketch save a little face.
SCORE: 6 out of 10 Cinderblocks that could pass for 1980s cellphones.
BERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Another point of honesty, I’m actually a little late to the party when it comes to watching “Curb”. I’ve only seen a handful of episodes AND the entire “Seinfeld” Not!Reunion season, but that doesn’t mean I’m hardcore about the show itself. Having said that, they nailed it. Not a single thing about this was done wrong, and I’m tempted to give this piece the first Perfect Score of the Year. The pacing, the tempo, the nuances, the music cues, the punchline AND the fact that Bobby, Cecily, Taran & Jay make Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman, “Super Dave Osbourne” & JB Smoove proud. This is just one of those rare things that are beyond difficult to review in a good way, because there are only so many ways to say “That was Good/Great/Brilliant” without becoming redundant. So why am I only “tempted” to give this a perfect score? Because with Larry hosting, how could you NOT see this coming? Once you Do see it coming though, it’s all a matter of how they execute it—and they do so expertly.
SCORE: 9 out of 10 times I need to stream the Real “Curb” on “HBO GO”
STEAMSHIP: This had the potential of being the best Live sketch of the night, but something about it felt a little uneven. It sort of feels like a sketch Jason Alexander would’ve done when he hosted in ’93—especially knowing LD is/was/will always be the REAL George Costanza…but I digress. I don’t want to say Larry talking about the merits of “Women & Children First” feels slightly predictable, but the way he puts his spin on it, it kind of is. However, just as this was starting to look like a potential Lost sketch of Larry’s that got cut from the ’84 season, along comes his clone, Bernie Sanders…and speaking of “lack of surprises”, as much as I wanted to be excited about how they used the Real Bernie here, I have to once again point out that any/all chance of the audience being completely surprised was pretty much reduced to nothing the Moment they announced that Bernie would appear on the show AHEAD OF TIME. I mean seriously, whatever happened to the element of surprise? Press Releases, that’s what happened. Now that I got that out of the way, it was still a very well-played cameo—“Socialism/1%” jokes and cue card fixation notwithstanding, at least his appearance helped save the day. We still get our requisite [KENAN REACTS] drawback, but at least that doesn’t dominate the whole thing, and I could’ve done without the “Pubic Test” joke. It was OK, but I wouldn’t give this a total rave review.
SCORE: 7 out of 10 Wrecks of the Edmund Fitzgerald (Because Titanic jokes are SO 1998).
TOTINOS/X-FILES: Honesty Check #3; I thought they were going to repeat last year’s spot with JK Simmons…and for at least the first minute, I was ready to write this one off completely. But then we get to an honest to god Twist that not only comes out of left field, but actually makes this version Better than last year—Way to play with our expectations! Yeah, Vanessa is once again reduced to a Sad Sack role similar to last year, but as long as something new is added and it makes me laugh, I’m entertained. I really have nothing else to add to this, it was a complete 180 from Last year, and it was impressive—the only thing I didn’t like was just how unremarkably similar that first minute was.
SCORE: 8 out of 10 Pizza Bagels (FAR More appetizing than Pizza Rolls)
UPDATE (Sorry for the cropped screen):
Colin’s Best: Cruz & Broadway Songs
Michael’s Best: Trump in 2nd Place, Black History Month, Marijuana Suppositories, Vegan Hellman’s
*Let’s begin with Jost’s opening comment on the Republican Debate, not only was it a solid takedown, but it also showcases a very Rare instance on the show that Jost himself points out—Actual Breaking News. I know moments like that are few and far between, but it’s moments like that that “Update” should Strive for more often—it’s about as close as it’ll ever be to being “Spontaneous” around here.
*Kate’s “Sturdy Barbie” (I hate to say) sounds like a laundry list of Lesbian Stereotypes…even though the character itself doesn’t seem to be one per se, I’m guessing “Sturdy” is another term for “Salt of the Earth”.
*At long last, we Finally get to see Jon “J.R.” Rudnitsky as Himself (sort of); I was a little worried that the Dirty Dancing homage would be a little too cheesy, but thankfully it took a far darker turn that sort of reminded me of the old “Sound Effects” game on “Whose Line is it Anyway” (minus Ryan Styles making the sounds), also that quick potshot J.R. made towards his lack of airtime was a nice bonus.
*And then we get to Zoolander & Hansel—who if Stiller’s tenure on the show lasted more than 6 episodes, wouldn’t surprise me if it was an SNL Character before the movie was ever realized years later…but once again, I digress. Basically, if you saw the first Zoolander, you know what to expect from Stiller & Wilson. If you haven’t, the Hillary, Cruz & Trump jokes scored the biggest.
*You know it’s Sweeps when “Update” is on its A-Game despite a few minor flaws, and this was the most Jam-Packed one I’ve seen in a Long time.
SCORE: 8 out of 10 WRAL’s (Soon to Become an NBC Affiliate in Raleigh, NC—GO PANTHERS!!)
SONGWRITING CLASS: Part of me wants to picture Larry as Fred Armisen…don’t know why, it just seems like this is a kind of part he would play; one of those idiots that refuses to get the point. The only difference between the two is that Larry is actually funny enough to pull it off. Maybe it’s his raspy voice that makes it funny, maybe it’s the fact that he’s fixated on Frogs, Toads & Lizards, or Maybe it’s the rest of the cast suddenly hanging on to his every word by the end of it–Either way, it works just well enough. Gotta give Pete props for playing it straight, and Kate for playing it nervously—Jay, Taran & Vanessa are just there to watch.
SCORE: 7 out of 10 first editions of “Frog & Toad are Friends”
PEYTON & CAM (Sorry again for cropping): I Really hate nitpicking, but when someone is as athletic as the real Cam Newton, someone as rotund as Kenan should NOT be playing him. You have Jay, you have Che, Either one of them would’ve been better here. At the same time, Taran once again has the look down but not the voice; his Peyton sounds like he has to go to the bathroom…and NOT while driving a Car and Eating Meatloaf (Seriously, [that night’s] “Vintage” show was Manning’s episode, certainly Taran could’ve taken the time to study a little after Dress Rehearsal). Having said that, this was more “cute” than “clever” with a couple of decent zings (I.e. Manziel, Papa John & getting arrested for Dancing), but I wouldn’t place this on any future “Sports Extra” special.
SCORE: 6 out of 10 times Nationwide is on my Side.
LAST CALL: Well, well, one of the few things on the show that’s not only recurring, but also something I actually enjoy watching…Kenan’s continued reactions notwithstanding (Though I WILL give him credit for a few clever Prop variations—particularly the blinds and the police tape). First of all, the Make-up department at SNL is on Fire! First was all the effort they put in to “The Wiz”, now they make Larry look like somebody nearly unrecognizable if it weren’t for his voice. Second, even though this is about as “Lather, Rinse Repeat” as sketches go these days, it’s really the build-up to the punchline that makes all the difference. In this case, Kate & Larry overdoing it on the lip/chap stick followed by Kate lifting up Larry’s wig was perfectly fine (In comparison to the far grosser punchlines this sketch had in the past). No major complaints, I just wish they could do something to change it up a little…like maybe a filmed segment where Kate & her Date step out of the bar and act gross to the outside world or something.
SCORE: 6 out of 10 Beers I need to turn any Female Barfly into (*INSERT CURRENT FEMALE CRUSH HERE*)
BONUS POINTS (Based on either creative artwork in the Commercial Bumpers, or other minutiae I found interesting during the show):
+1 for “How many Larry’s does it take to Change a Light Bulb?”
+1 for the Larry Oil Painting
+1 for Levitating Larry
+1 for the obligatory (but still funny) “Pret-ay Good” from Bernie
FINAL SCORE: 74 out of 100 (74% Watchable)
FINAL THOUGHTS: What can I say, Larry powered through and gave us a combination of laughs and thinking a little while The writers seemed to be firing on all cylinders (Especially on “Update” and the filmed piece). The inevitable Bernie cameo helped only a little; but like I said elsewhere, when one is (as of this 2/6/2016) ahead 30 points in the New Hampshire polls, he might as well kick back a little. Everybody else seemed to be content with taking the backseat while Larry did most of the driving—and rightfully so, Larry David is a Comedy God/Reinstated Member of the SNL family, if they screwed this one up the balance of the universe would’ve faltered dramatically. They HAD to get this one right, and thankfully they did…the only problem is that this is now going to be a tough act to follow.
So now with 6 months of hindsight in stock, is the episode Emmy-Worthy? Not only do I think it’s Emmy-Worthy, I think it might be a guaranteed a couple of wins despite some tough competition. Then again, The Television Academy always had a soft spot for Larry once Seinfeld started gaining momentum; and once “Curb” came along, it all but secured him as one of its elder statesmen, so I have a feeling he’ll lock up at the Very least a “Guest Performer” Emmy on the strength of not only this episode, but all the other times he appeared this year. And why not? Larry was a tremendous asset to the show this year playing Bernie Sanders, and “Bern Your Enthusiasm” is probably one of the best sketches of the year–until “Farewell Mr. Bunting” came along in May’s Finale (More on THAT one later). What’s more, Larry is a Writer first before he’s a Performer, so something tells me that when a person of his writing caliber comes to SNL, they damn well Better get it right—Irony of ironies considering he almost failed as a writer thanks to his ill-fated year in ‘84. This episode not only represented the definition of “Going Full Circle” for LD, but it also showed that given the right circumstances, SNL still manages to show off glimmers of its various heydays once in a great while. Unrelated; Who would’ve guessed the Broncos would go all the way and beat the seemingly unstoppable Carolina Panthers this year? Must’ve been some sort of “Damn Yankees/Angels in the Outfield” arrangement where the team suddenly sucks once they reach the championship…but I digress.
While we’re on the subject of Larry; Tomorrow: The ONE Sketch he wrote that made it on the 1984-85 season.