‘SNL’ Is Offering A Take On Kellyanne Conway That’s Totally Disconnected From Reality

This weekend, Donald Trump tuned into Saturday Night Live with the delusional expectation that he would not be mocked. Of course, he was mistaken. When the show opened with Alec Baldwin portraying the president-elect as a clownish megalomanic with a “bad brain” who can’t control his impulsive tweeting, Trump (of course) responded with a clownish, impulsive tweet. “Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can’t get any worse. Sad,” he bellowed.

However, I’m guessing that another person parodied in that sketch, Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, wasn’t nearly as offended. In this season’s Trump sketches, SNL has presented Conway in a weirdly sympathetic light. As portrayed by the imminently likable Kate McKinnon, Conway is one part put-upon mother figure, and one part victim of Stockholm Syndrome. As a viewer, you’re set up to feel bad for how Conway has to put up with this blowhard, as if she didn’t a choice.

This most recent sketch is a perfect example: SNL treats Conway as a proxy for the audience, with multiple eye-rolls accenting all of Trump’s misdirected bluster. Upon the entrance of a horror-show caricature of Steve Bannon, she recoils. When Trump tweets at a 16-year-old, McKinnon looks directly into the camera and says, “He really did do this.”

The gap between Conway the real person and Conway the SNL character couldn’t be any wider. In real life, Conway has described Bannon as a “brilliant tactician” and dismissed charges that he’s a white nationalist. And she was worked tirelessly, time and again, to deny that Trump didn’t do the awful things we all know that he did.

SNL established its Kellyanne Conway character back in October with the well-received “A Day Off,” in which a harried Conway is called upon repeatedly by CNN to answer for Trump’s increasingly erratic behavior. When I say “well-recieved,” I mean that Conway herself loved the sketch, tweeting that it gave her “a good laugh.” Of course it did — SNL absolved Conway of any responsibility for enabling her boss. Instead, she’s been enlisted by SNL as the straight woman in an administration full of dangerously wacky cut-ups.

This treatment of Conway is my biggest pet peeve with SNL this season. I find it absolutely mystifying, not just because I think it’s plainly dishonest, but also because it makes no sense comedically. There’s plenty of evidence that Conway is as nuts as anyone in the Trump administration. Why give her a pass?

Consider that Conway tweeted out this photo of herself less than three hours before SNL went live on Saturday.

How do you square this “heroic” selfie with McKinnon’s self-aware Conway, who mused about the deadness of her soul on the most recent SNL? When Conway unknowingly slips into self-parody by posting a photo of herself dressed as Supergirl with a smiling Trump at her side, she’s presents a far more devastating portrait of mindless, amoral reverence for power than anything on our country’s top comedy show. Once again in 2016, real life has dunked on satire.

The word “normalize” gets used a lot — probably too much — these days. In terms of comedy, there’s legitimate concern that jokes reduce the potential awfulness of what’s in store for our country. As much as we want (or need) to have our stress relieved, Trump’s administration no doubt will require extra vigilance. But comedy can also be a means of illumination, so long as your jokes are directed at the right targets with proper aim and forcefulness. Since the election, Baldwin has injected a little extra venom into his Trump — the most recent cold open was almost mean, though still not nearly mean enough. But Trump doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and excusing Conway smacks of either laziness or, more nefariously, a malignant disregard for the truth.

I haven’t always agreed with calls for SNL to take a side politically in these deeply polarized times. A comedy show must go where the comedy is, and while I’ll always believe that Hillary Clinton was imminently more qualified to lead this country than Trump, I also recognize that given her personal history she practically demanded to be satirized. But SNL‘s instinct to play the middle has resulted in some deeply muddled characterizations, most egregiously with Conway. This is a parody designed to please no one — for Trump’s critics, McKinnon’s passive and reticent Conway is insultingly benign; for Trump’s supporters, it is condescending and even sexist. Conway is a top political operative. Why assume that she’s not exactly where she wants to be right now? (Conway’s terse Twitter bio, among other things, shows she’s not above spiking the ball.)

As charming as I find McKinnon playing any character, portraying Kellyanne Conway as a babe in the woods is both factually incorrect and comedically suspect. She either needs to be a Machiavellian sociopath, or a cunning pragmatist who has effectively worked around her boss’ shortcomings. She needs an edge. Either way, Conway deserves a lot more credit (and blame) for making Trump happen.

I thought “A Day Off” was funny right up until Trump got elected. Now, SNL must be called out for being unmoored from reality. While some might fault Baldwin for soft-selling the profound danger Trump’s bumbling ignorance has unleashed on the world’s stage, at least his take on Trump as a narcissistic imbecile is on the right track. McKinnon’s Conway, however, is just flat-out wrong. At best, Conway is a cynical opportunist who relishes manipulating Trump through the media. At worst, she’s a witting and enthusiastic supporter of the darkest elements of Trump’s inner circle. She’s either craven, or insane. But she’s not harmless, and she’s definitely not blameless. It’s time to give Conway the sound mocking she deserves.