Saturday Night Live, Season 40, Episode 21, “Louis C.K./Rihanna”
Aired May 16, 2015 at 11:30 pm ET on NBC (East coast version watched for review)
The Host: It takes a special kind of talent to craft an entire set out of jokes about benign racism and the ins and outs of being a child molester. It takes a crazy mad bastard to come right out of the gate with that set. Louis C.K. is a crazy mad bastard. Louis has spent the past five or so years carving out a space across multiple media landscapes in which he can have total creative control over his outputs, allowing him to act on any strange impulse that comes across his mind, all the way up to and including a crazy naked guy attacking him. Throughout this Louis golden age, SNL has been an integral part of this creative space, because the show is practically the only place where he is able to satisfy his sketch comedy itch, whether that be playing a shoemaker who is doing all he can to resist dominating his worker elves, or a Lumberjack with a Glory tear because people no longer buy wood products. Louis’ energy permeates SNL whenever he hosts the show, giving the writers and performers implicit permission to go all out, resulting in the hands down best episode, soup to nuts, of the season. And there is no better way for the show to end its 40th season than with a real barn-burner of an episode.
Musical Guest: Rihanna may bring a different style to Studio 8H than tonight’s host, but she equally pulls out all the stops when she stops the show; what other musical artist would even be near a creative space where they could end up in a controversy with a bunch of seapunk artists? This time, Rihanna goes all out by performing the first half of “Bitch Better Have My Money” in a giant car that sits on stage while images of a police chase are happening behind her, and by performing “American Oxygen” on stage by herself in a massive fringe jacket with giant screens on the back and sides of the stage displaying images of 9/11, soldiers, and men and women looking hungry. Rihanna is at her best when she is making STATEMENTS, and whether its commenting on her incredible swagger as an artist or about the darker side of America, she only makes STATEMENTS tonight.
Best Sketch: Oh, what’s this? A sketch about a shoemaker and the cute little worker elves that help the cobbler cobble? How adorable. But this is a Louis-hosted SNL, so there’s no room for cute or adorable here. It is quickly revealed that the elves are more kinky than Keebler and want their boss to punish them oh so hard, either verbally or physically. Louis is fantastic as the shoemaker, speaking in a mannered fairytale voice, and even bringing in some pathos when he finally breaks down and admits how much he wishes he were dominating the elves, but can’t because he’s married. Vanessa Bayer and Kenan Thompson are also perfectly cast as the elves, giving their characters the right amount of whimsy and depravity to keep the sketch afloat. Even the ending of the sketch is brilliant, with Louis-as-shoemaker turning to the camera and asking America to decide whether he should stay with his wife or dominate the elves by texting their vote. “Shoemaker and the Elves” is what every great sketch should be: Internally consistent, true to its characters, wickedly funny, and just a bit outlandish.
Weakest Sketch: No sketch is bad enough tonight to truly be called the “worst”, but there is one that is less successful than its peers; where every other sketch is an A or A-, the “Cabana” sketch is a B+. The sketch’s biggest issue is that it is too short to really develop the main thread of Louis’ character’s obsession with Kenan’s character. He clearly found something in Kenan in that “focus group for potato chips”, but because the sketch gives moments to each of its four characters, it doesn’t give itself the space to really figure out what it is about Kenan that Louis is latching on to. That said, it’s hard to think of a stranger ending to a sketch than people counting down as Vanessa Bayer eats 20 pounds of shrimp.
Weekend Update: The history of broadcast television will now be talked about in two ways: A pre-Riblet landscape and a post-Riblet landscape. Sure, Jost and Che have some really solid jokes tonight, and Charming Tom Brady a great premise, but Riblet, who may have come to take Che’s jorb, has instead taken our hearts. With Riblet, Bobby Moynihan has his Stefon; an incredibly specific weirdo who completely rolls over the entire Update segment through pure charisma and power. Riblet is a machine custom built to fire jokes out of a cannon and continuously deliver custom burns to Che’s ego. Riblet even enters the frame from seemingly out of nowhere, as if he has just become part of the set dressing for the Weekend Update desk, always threatening to come and create the world in his image. Riblet is amazing, the human personification of a waiter delivering you a mic on a silver platter for the express purpose of dropping it. All hail Riblet.
Other Notes: If you are, for whatever reason, reading this without having seen the episode, go and seek it out, because everything, from the “Sprint” sketch to the “Police Lineup” sketch, from the Lumberjack ads to the glorious return of Reese De’What, is worth your time. On a personal note, thank you for reading along with these reviews this season. SNL can be frustrating from time to time, but when it works, it works, and it’s been a blast to chronicle its journey during the show’s 40th season. See y’all in the fall!