Larry bombed. Baldwin was back. Miley . . . well, maybe Miley should’ve hosted.
You usually know how dull, off-tune, misguided or stale an edition of “Saturday Night Live” is when you have to wade deep into a “Weekend Update” for the best bit, or skip through the live sketches for the first digital short.
Or just turn it off and go through the highlights Sunday morning on YouTube.
Yep, it was that kind of “SNL.”
Proving that just because you’re a comic genius doesn’t assure a funny or at bare-minimum competent “SNL” performance, host Larry David delivered the most tone-deaf monologue of the young season, with riffs on Quasimodo, Jews and Harvey Weinstein.
“I think I’m doing quite well,” he said, deploying the fallback line any stand-up comedian reaches for just before a premature outbreak of cold, clammy, flop sweat. He closed with a riff about hitting on women in concentration camps.
Too soon? Always, always too soon.
“Watched #LarryDavid #SNL monologue this AM,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, in a tweet Sunday. “He managed to be offensive, insensitive & unfunny all at same time. Quite a feat.”
“SNL” was a disappointment, but don’t blame LD, at least entirely. This edition never quite recovered from a sour cold open that largely served to remind viewers that Alec Baldwin, back as you-know-who, now has a book to sell. In fact, Baldwin and Kurt Anderson’s Trump parody, “You Can’t Spell America Without Me,” goes on sale Tuesday. He even reprised another of his classic “SNL” impressions, Tony Bennett, spoiled only by what it was actually about: A parody commercial during the “Price Is Right” sketch about a laxative, with the line “you drop one of these plinko chips into your tum tum [and] your sphincter starts paying out like a slot machine.”
Yep, it really was that kind of “SNL.”
There were good moments — brief ones — that also reminded fans why “SNL” won all those Emmys and still counts as pop culture’s most important comic interpreter of this president and that White House. Aidy Bryant, as Sarah Huckabee Sanders, makes a great example: her digital short of a spoof White House news conference intercut with a cover of Demi Lovato’s “Confident” was clever, and also evidence that “SNL” is still trying to fill the void left by Sean Spicer/Melissa McCarthy. Sanders isn’t Spicer, nor does the Sanders material automatically write itself. As press secretary, she has a humorless, colorless mien; doesn’t stumble; rarely loses her cool; and says stuff that beggars logic but says it with aplomb and confidence. Hence, the opening, or the most obvious one: that cover of “Confident.”
Meanwhile, Baldwin has mused that perhaps his “SNL” portrayal of President Donald Trump is a bit too soft and cuddly, so on Saturday night, “SNL’s” cold open eliminated any suggestion that it was in any danger of going soft and cuddly on the president or his administration. The president was portrayed as a dummy en route to Asia, while the “real” POTUS visited Paul Manafort (Alex Moffat), under indictment and house arrest. Explaining why he skipped the trip, he said “my staff was terrified that when I went to Jina, I’d do that slant eye thing like the guy on the Houston Astros,” referring to a player who was suspended for five games for making a racist gesture from the dugout.
A Harvey Weinstein reference was the coup de grace: “What an idiot that Harvey Weinstein is. He could have gotten away with all of it if he’d gotten elected president.”
Meanwhile, and on a happier note: Miley Cyrus performed a spirited “Bad Mood” and “SNL” newcomer Heidi Gardner got her first extended close-up on the show. In the “Good News” segment of “Weekend Update,” she played “Every Boxer’s Girlfriend from Every Movie about Boxing Ever.” With the recurring line — “I’ll be at my sister’s” — she slayed, and reminded everyone why “SNL” — even when down, out, dull or listless — still turns up gold in just about every episode. This was a nugget amid some chunks of coal. We’ll take it.