Amid a series of largely disappointing, half-baked sketches last night, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nick Jonas’ “Pool Boy” skit stood out as a complex and compelling portrayal of female emotion and vulnerability.
The sketch began with Louis-Dreyfus emphatically telling the boy who cleans her pool that they have to end their affair. As she explains the complexities of her guilt, love, social responsibilities and dissatisfactions to him, he consistently responds, “OK,” “Oh, cool,” or “My bad,” remaining unaffected as she oscillates between telling him the affair is over and saying she wants to sleep with him again.
While Louis-Dreyfus’ behavior is certainly emotionally charged, the sketch avoids painting her as the hysterical character to which many women are reduced when they express their feelings. Instead, the pool boy comes across as unaware and unintelligent. While she has taken the time to write out her feelings in a letter, he is concerned with a dead squirrel in the pool. When she tells him she couldn’t sleep the night before because she was trying to figure out what their relationship meant, he agrees, “Oh, I hate that!”
The sketch complicates typical unsatisfied, villianized suburban housewife characters as Louis-Dreyfus herself asks, “What am I doing? Am I some bored housewife who is having an affair with her 23-year-old pool boy?” Often, such characters are portrayed as emotionally unstable, dependent on men for definition and evil and power-hungry for wanting satisfying sex and love. But, in this episode, it is the pool boy who is the joke, as his cluelessness contrasts starkly with Louis-Dreyfus’ complicated personality.
And despite her vulnerability as she speaks to Chad, Louis-Dreyfus exhibits complete control and agency at the end of the skit when she sees (a very buff, attractive, young) Jonas mowing her lawn and says, “I’m gonna f*** that kid.” Ultimately, she is not indecisive or hysterical. She knows what she wants, and she is going to get it.
The character fits well with last night’s theme of distinctly feminist sketches. There were a few problematic moments in Weekend Update. For example, Colin Jost joked that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump’s wives are polar opposites because one is a supermodel and the other does her husband’s taxes, effectively implying that a supermodel couldn’t ever know how to do taxes and that a woman who knows how to do taxes could never be a supermodel. There were also a number of jokes made about boyfriends waiting on their girlfriends to finish their makeup, and one joke pointing out that the benefit of being a woman is that men will pay for your drinks at bars.
Still, sketches like “The One-Dimensional Female Character from a Male-Driven Comedy” were hilarious and, unfortunately, accurate depictions of the reductive way that women are often depicted in television. It was exciting to see Louis-Dreyfus portray the complex character in “The Pool Boy” as a solution to the objectified, simplistic woman that Cecily Strong portrayed — one who is tricked into sneezing into a tissue full of semen, who shuts off when she has spoken too much, and who is clearly paid less than her male counterparts. And sketches like “Meet ‘n’ Match,” where two aliens come to Earth to date and sleep with men in order to reproduce and keep their species alive, also showed us powerful female protagonists on a mission. Ultimately, it was exciting to see the women of SNL challenge sexist television tropes with layers of critique, satire and subversion.