With much of HBO's “Curb Your Enthusiasm” written in a freestyle improvisational style, Larry David may be more comfortable working off the cuff than some of the cast-members. It also means he's more likely to stray from the cue cards and pursue an angle that is funnier. Even better, he's paired with Miley Cyrus as musical guest, and with her own comedy background it was inevitable she'd probably appear throughout the episode as well, doubling the funny potential.
David gained on-screen prominence with "SNL" for his recurring portrayal of then-candidate Bernie Sanders throughout the 2016 presidential campaign season before finally hosting for the first time in February. With “Curb” back on television, David found a reason to return, and the bar was set pretty high for entertainment after a few weeks off and plenty of headlines to spoof.
As usual, we're ranking all the sketches from worst to first, including the Cold Open and the regular “Weekend Update” segments. We'll skip the musical guests, because they're not usually funny -- unless Ashlee Simpson shows up. We wrap up with a look at the cast-member who had the strongest week. Also, in these early episodes, we'd like to see if the new kids are getting any screen time. “SNL” recently added Heidi Gardner, Luke Null, and Chris Redd as featured players.
White House Press Briefing
The writers can't seem to figure out how to make Sarah Huckabee Sanders funny, so instead they let Aidy Bryant, who portrays her, take the lead with her own style. Bryant has brought us some inspired musical pieces, but this combative press conference of nonsensical statements interspersed with Sanders singing Demi Lovato's “Confident” just never really came together as clever or funny. She is able to say such ridiculous things because of confidence? Not sure this sketch was ready to come out of the writers room just yet.
Larry David marries Cecily Strong as a performer who is all hip to the lingo and world of gay culture, and so now he is as well. She shows up at his place for a cocktail party and brings a performance that confuses everyone in the room, just like this sketch confused most people watching it. What was the point of it? To show that the writers knew a lot of these words? To see if David and company could get through saying all of them without breaking … news flash, they almost made it. We can't even say this one failed on execution, because it conceptually never even came together.
Ad Council Lifetime Achievement Award
The changing culture was at the heart of this sketch, with Larry David as an ad man whose earlier work certainly doesn't hold up to today's standards. “No way, that's gay” as an anti-smoking campaign and “making fun of someone with a disability is retarded” are clearly problematic, but David wasn't wrong in saying these were common in the vernacular of kids in the 80s and 90s. That said, they'd have never been approved for an ad campaign even then. It was a weird sketch, asking if a product of a different era deserves to be forgiven or at least understood today. Heady stuff, and a little uncomfortable as comedy.
This sketch telegraphed where it was going a little too clearly even by having Larry David on a panel with a bunch of freshmen for a high school panel news show. As their gossip monger, he quickly made things awkward by talking about a female student dressing sexier for a male student, who famously disliked condoms. The funniest bit came when Leslie Jones showed up as the nurse with a press conference to reveal who has scoliosis before the inevitable end of David getting in trouble for his comments. Mikey Day and Alex Moffatt are developing a really strong rapport (along the lines of Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney) that could pay off in future episodes and seasons, but this sketch failed to really bring the laughs.
“I think I'm doing quite well,” David said about midway through his monologue, but he'd saved his more controversial material for right after this declaration. Before, it was amusing anecdotes about his dating strategies when he lived in NYC. After, it was tackling the Hollywood harassment schedule, lamenting that a lof of the predators are Jews. Then, he went even a little further down the rabbit hole of taste. “Would I still be checking out women in the [concentration] camp,” he mused, before deciding there are no good opening lines there. The audience laughed nervously, as we waited for the inevitable fallout on social media
“A very special episode” of some terrible 90s sitcom featured Larry David as Cousin CJ with an important lesson about the dangers of drinking. Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney brought the right kind of “poor acting” to this parody of “TGIF” programming, but it ultimately -- and perhaps inevitably -- went off the rails with CJ stabbing Mooney and sharing a drink with the guys after admitting he had a drinking problem. The potential for hilarity was in the premise, but it seems like maybe they were more excited about the fun of playing in this hyper-realized world than writing a solid ending … or they just couldn't find it.
COLD OPEN - Paul Manafort Visit
By this point, Alec Baldwin appearing as Donald Trump in the cold open is just about updating us on what's been going on in the White House since the last episode, as filtered through the “SNL” writers room. Nevertheless, they're getting wackier and even funnier with the addition of more of the cast as Trump supporting players, lead by Kate McKinnon's inspired take on Jeff Sessions and Beck's Mike Pence stiffness. Cecily Strong gave us another fun look at Melania Trump, unexpectedly falling in love with a blow-up Trump doll while the real one was concocting his ingenious plan to pardon Paul Manafort … wait until Thanksgiving and dress him up like a turkey. The sketch even sneaked in a quick jab at the president and Harvey Weinstein with the line, “He could have gotten away with all of it if only he'd gotten himself elected president.” That one got some oohs from the audience.
Larry David is not in this sketch, and that angle is probably the funniest thing about it because it's ridiculous. We'd like to imagine Pete Davidson pitched this rap song about actual babies -- with the cast in diapers -- and then David said it was awful and he didn't want to do it and then someone had the inspired realization that THAT was the sketch. When David finally goes onto the stage to shame Kenan Thompson and Miley Cyrus for participating, it was golden. And Chris Redd got a notable moment simply because Larry called him Carl and he got to belatedly correct him. These little moments are how a featured player gets remembered.
The Price Is Right: Celebrity Edition
Every once in awhile, “SNL” trots out a sketch so they can fill it with celebrity impressions, and this was no exception. Every contestant had a celebrity partner, and there were even three more celebs there just to pad their numbers. Chris Redd made a solid appearance as Lil' Wayne, while Alex Moffat got to channel his Chris Hemsworth alongside Miley Cyrus as a regular jane. Her real-life fiancee Liam Hemsworth joined them for the sketch where he leaned into the Aussie stereotypes. But the highlights had to be David reprising his Bernie Sanders -- making us wish they'd worked him into the cold open somehow -- and Baldwin's inspired and completely daft Tony Bennett. Only Beck Bennett's take on Drew Carey felt like it really missed the mark. Nevertheless, this sketch was so much nonsense, but it had just enough structure that you couldn't help but laugh the whole way through.
Easily the most successful installment of this venerable “SNL” institution, with all three guests making very strong appearances, and Colin Jost and Michael Che showing a great rapport in mocking one another's jokes. Che even worked in a quick response to the weird “Fast & Furious” feud going on right now with the line, “I'm tired of the president having an emotional breakdown on Twitter like he's Tyrese [Gibson],” Michael Che said. Alex Moffat's Eric Trump is an inspired imbecilic performance, alongside Mikey Day as Eric Trump Jr., while Heidi Gardner really showed off some comedic acting chops as every boxer's girlfriend in every boxing movie. And, of course,. Leslie Jones fanboying with the stars of the World Series champ Houston Astros just allowed her to be her always funny self.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
This week, it was tough to pick a favorite, because the show spread the love across its cast more than usual. Newcomer Heidi Garnder really shone with her "Weekend Update" character, but not enough to get the title. Miley Cyrus was game for lots of fun sketch appearances, and Baldwin treated fans with his Tony Bennett on top of Trump, but none of those quite got the nod this week.
Instead, it goes to ready-to-be-a-castmember Alex Moffat for making Eric Trump one of the funniest impressions going while barely speaking a word. His facial expressions alone while he was discovering the true power of Fun Dip nearly sealed the deal, but he played wonderfully off of Baldwin in the cold open, and showed some real chemistry with Mikey Day in both the "Update" bit and their "Fresh Take" high school sketch. Moffat has been getting more and more screen time this season, and we're hopeful that both he and Day will get that promotion soon.
“Saturday Night Live” returns next week with host Taylor Haddish and musical guest Taylor Swift, airing live coast-to-coast at 11:35 p.m ET/8:35 p.m. PT.