By Jonathon Dornbush
February 07, 2016 at 03:24 PM EST
Dana Edelson/NBC
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The cold open to Larry David’s hosting stint on Saturday Night Live seemed like a worrying sign of the night to come. A limp Ted Cruz sketch felt more like a major introduction to Taran Killam’s take on the character (which feels even stranger in a season that opened with Killam’s Donald Trump being introduced… only for Darrell Hammond to step back in for the role).

Luckily, the night proved itself to be much funnier than those first few minutes the moment Larry David stepped out onto the stage of Studio 8H. David launched into a monologue of pure Davidian self-deprecation, setting expectations low for himself and the show, with the hopes that everyone would, as a result, find it funnier than it actually was.

But David’s signature Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm humor kicked off a surprisingly strong, if unexpected show, with a Curb parody, Bernie Sander’s cameo alongside his SNL doppelganger, and a number of other hilarious sketches that came together to form one of the most consistent and funniest episodes of the season.

Of course, the show still feels like it lacks the biting political social commentary SNL was known for at its best, and Weekend Update, as well as the cold open, showcased one of the show’s biggest struggles this year — how to handle the Republican slate of candidates. Airing on the same night as a Republican debate with an opening so awkward it might as well have been a Veep scene, SNL’s approach to that debate was, really, to just air some clips of it and laugh along with everyone else. Coupled with a cameo from Hansel and Derek Zoolander during Update that proved more biting than the cold open, and it is worrisome a show known for excelling in election years so far hasn’t found anything to latch onto with one entire political party.

Yet while SNL still needs to figure out how to tackle that facet of the presidential election, the night delivered with great pre-recorded segments, Weekend Update bits, and a number of sketches that could have been rehashes of old ideas, but frequently felt like fresh, hilarious spins. Read on for some of the night’s best moments, trends, and biggest surprises.

Bern Your Enthusiasm

A note-perfect parody of David’s HBO comedy, Bern Your Enthusiasm transformed Bernie Sanders’ life into a surprisingly appropriate episode of Curb. David continued to be great as Sanders, of course — introducing a Seinfeld-esque new term when he denies he’s a “popper” — but it’s really the supporting cast that makes the sketch so memorable. From Cecily Strong’s take on Susie Essman to Jay Pharoah’s J.B. Smoove, Sanders’ political office was fleshed out to make Sanders’ no good, very bad, terrible day an absolute delight.

Will the Real Bernie Sanders Please Stand Up?

Sanders did make an actual cameo, however, in the sketch following “Bern Your Enthusiasm,” as a fellow passenger on a boat to David’s politically incorrect character. David calls out reasons women and children shouldn’t receive priority over him to leave a sinking boat. Sanders then appears to lament the privilege of people like David’s passenger, who considers himself part of the one percent. Sanders cameo doesn’t quite receive the same focus of the sketch as Hillary Clinton’s did when she made her appearance, but how he appears with David, his Donald Trump jokes, and ability to make his values apply just about anywhere are still an amusing incorporation of the presidential candidate..

Weekend Update

As mentioned above, Weekend Update’s rapid response to tonight’s Republican debate was more disappointing than no response at all, but the lengthy iteration of the segment came back to life with two surprise cameos and an even greater surprise from one of SNL’s castmembers. Not that you would know he’s there, as Jon Rudnitsky is well aware.

Still, the little-seen member of the cast received an incredible several-minute spotlight as an audition for the upcoming Dirty Dancing remake. Pantomiming his way through the “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” dance sequence without a partner, Rudnitsky quickly showcases he’s never actually seen Dirty Dancing, as his routine takes several dark, disturbing turns. Unexpected, odd, and yet difficult to stop watching, Rudnitsky certainly delivered his season high point, though hopefully not a series one.

Weekend Update did return to the political side of its commentary, however, with the help of fashion political correspondents, Hansel and Derek Zoolander, Yes, Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller (who has likely spent more time as Zoolander than as Stiller in 2016 at this rate) stopped by to give their thoughts on “Zed Cruz” and Donald Trump’s new look, Second Place. Not as captivating as Blue Steel, perhaps, but still a fun peek into the political season’s hottest trends.

Musical Moment 

​The 1975 put in two entertaining performances for the night ahead of their new album’s upcoming release, and fans of the band can and should check out “The Sound” here and “Love Me” here.

But the night’s musical moment came in the form of a man named Russ. Larry David’s Russ gets an idea stuck in his head and runs with it, even if it goes against the everything he’s doing. Take his Intro to Songwriting class, where the teacher asks Russ to rhyme, only for the student to keep resorting to some variation of the word frog. (The best? Probably “Frogs in tiny helicopters.”) And as Russ hangs onto the idea of frogs more and more, he builds the entire civilization of Forghattan in his mind, and few acting moments have been so real, so honest, as Russ’ attempts to bring Froghattan to life through song.

Odds and Ends

SNL riffed on a few familiar ideas to stronger than expected effect. While not a perfect sketch to come out of the monologue with, the FBI Academy training sequence used the idea of castmembers as animatronics to a strange degree when David’s Kevin Roberts appeared in a bright orange suit and an outdated cell phone. But Roberts became more than a one-note visual gag, signaling instead the start of an odd storyline baked into the training scenario, with out of place yet hilarious lines like “Can a b—- get a donut?”

And while the last few years have seen Vanessa Bayer as the doting wife in a number of pre-recorded advertisements, the night’s Totinos Super Bowl spot took a hilarious turn when Bayer discovers her husband and his friends shouting at a completely blank screen. Turns out, Totinos isn’t the only advertiser looking for that sweet (fake) Super Bowl promotion.

Throw in another Last Call with some fantastic one liners (“The seat I’m on is wet and it is my fault,” and “My tongue’s not as long as Gene Simmons’, but my penis is even shorter,” were two golden lines among many), and a Super Bowl sketch that offered more biting social commentary than any of the political jabs, and SNL turned in a pretty, pretty, pretty consistent — and hilarious — night.

The original late-night comedy sketch show from the one and only Lorne Michaels.
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