This is going to be an interesting stretch for Saturday Night Live. Usually, after a presidential election, the amount of political sketches decreases. But that’s obviously not the case here. I’ve noticed a trend over the last few shows: the political sketches have been strong, while the rest of the show has been fairly forgettable. (There are, of course, exceptions like the “Dunkin’ Donuts” sketch from the Casey Affleck show.)
But this has to weigh on the writers because it can’t not be weighing on them. Trump is everywhere. It’s all anyone wants to talk about. Even in my job, I’ve found myself thinking things like, “Why would anyone care about The Return of Xander Cage right now?” There’s still supposed to be some fun in writing about culture, but everything is so soaked in Trump right now, most of that fun isn’t there. Even writing about SNL has become a weekly column about Trump. It’s impossible for it not to be: Trump tweets about the show on a weekly basis. (As I’m writing this on Sunday morning, he has yet to tweet about SNL. I promise the only reason he’s not is because everyone expects him to, so he’s using every ounce of willpower to stop himself.)
My point of all this is I do wonder, long term, how this changes SNL. I’m starting to get the impression that this is just the way it’s going to be. I know it’s kind of changed the way the show works a bit already in the fact that the cold open is written later and later into the week because there’s so much news on a daily basis. And there’s probably enough material to do four Trump sketches every show.
Granted, this is one show in this new world we find ourselves in. And last night Felicity Jones had some nice moments, but, honestly, she looked nervous most of the show (which was basically the basis of her monologue. An example: the joke about her not having a lightsaber, but instead got to download some data files was a pretty good one, but the deliver was very rushed I think some people missed it). And it’s fine, live comedy is a hard thing to do. (Though at least we did find out that Kenan Thompson does a pretty mean Saw Gerrera.) But we haven’t had a truly great show since Dave Chappelle’s right after the election – a show that was chock full of political sketches. It just feels like Saturday Night Live is trying to adjust itself into what it’s going to be now and it hasn’t quite figured that out. To be fair, I guess we all are.
(Also, it’s weird to say “there are only so many shows left” in January, but after last night there are only 10 shows left in this season. After the Aziz Ansari show next week, they already get a week off. NBC really did jam a lot of shows into the front half of this season to take advantage of the election. Who knew they would have been better off waiting until after?)
Sketch of the Night
“Cold Open: Donald Trump Press Conference” I do wonder, have we really grasped what’s going on here? I know we all thing we have, but have we really? I do think there’s been such a gradual climb to this insanity, that we have somehow become acclimated to the whole thing. Let’s think back to Will Ferrell playing George W. Bush. Remember how funny it was because Ferrell played Bush as kind of dim and didn’t always know how to pronounce words correctly? That was pretty much it. Oh, Bush choked on a pretzel once. That was a big deal. There was lots of comedy gold to come out of that pretzel. We were so innocent then.
Now, we have a president who stands accused of participating in a group golden shower with Russian prostitutes, an alleged event the Russian government is using as leverage against our new president. SNL used to have to find nuance to find the humor in presidents. Yes, Bill Clinton’s scandals left a lot of comedy to be mined, but in comparison they now look quaint. It was just Darrell Hammond making “innuendoes” basically. There used to be complaints that Obama was tough to do because there’s no obvious angle – now we have Beck Bennett playing Putin holding up a videocassette that’s labeled “pee pee.” (I don’t know why, but I also imagine this alleged video being on an old videocassette as well.)
It was a nice touch that Alec Baldwin was wearing a Russian flag pin on his lapel. I wonder how easy those are to just find. Did a costume designer have to order that? I suppose it’s possible one was just lying around from an old Boris Yeltsin sketch or something. And I somehow missed the Steve Harvey news during the week, so I honestly thought this was a joke. I honestly thought they just wanted to use Kenan’s Steve Harvey impression in the cold open for some reason. But of course it’s real. It’s all real. And we are all getting somewhat used to it. The scandals are so preposterous now, could anyone imagine something like Whitewater mattering? Remember that? A scandal about real estate? Would that even be in the news now?
“Theatre Owner” Oh, hey … comedy. See, I didn’t mean there’s not still some stuff that can break through. And this was nice, for a few moments I laughed and forgot about the world around us. This was interesting because I don’t really think of Mikey Day as a physical comedian – at least not from his past work on the show – but I guess he is now! At least, I hope he is now. Outside of Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon, we don’t get a ton of physical comedy on the show anymore. I guess that makes sense. Somewhere along the line it all became a bit garish. But when it’s done right, it’s great and it’s impressive. And there was Albee Durberry, driving himself out of the theater. Where’s he going? We may never know. Godspeed, Albee Durberry.
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“Weekend Update” Since the election, both Michael Che and Colin Jost have upped their games. They both seem to have found their calling with everything that’s going on. When they first started and were doing more “slice of life” news stories, they seemed lost and, at times, uninterested. They’ve both, now, become pretty good at this. Che especially has found his voice and it’s a unique one that we haven’t seen on “Weekend Update” before. His monologue about Jeff Sessions was biting, funny and genuine. (It was so smart to let Che start doing monologues during “Update,” this is when he’s at his strongest.) Jost has mostly broken away from his early tendency to mimic the delivery patterns of Seth Meyers and has found something a little more playful.
I’m still not convinced that the style of Jost and the style of Che work together. They are so different and it’s striking to back and forth between Che’s social commentary and Jost’s boyish, innocent court jester – but it’s certainly working better. And right now a political comedy segment is in high demand, but the infrequency in which they’ll be doing the show over the next few months might be a hindrance into something great. (In other words, I wish there was a way “Update” could air more often than 10 more times before June, but that’s just they way it works this year.)
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Average Overall Score for this Show: 5.97
· Dave Chappelle 7.44
· Tom Hanks 7.35
· Lin-Manuel Miranda 6.99
· Margot Robbie 6.95
· Emma Stone 6.46
· Casey Affleck 6.37
· John Cena 6.17
· Kristen Wiig 6.12
· Felicity Jones 5.97
· Benedict Cumberbatch 5.73
· Emily Blunt 5.45
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.