Kate McKinnon’s was always a breakout star on Saturday Night Live, but something special happened last week when Chris Hemsworth hosted. The cold open – usually a toothless political joke – gave McKinnon the opportunity to show just how fantastic and talented she is by essaying former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
Like Amy Poehler’s hilarious take on Clinton, McKinnon doesn’t impersonate the veteran politician, but instead takes values and ideas that Clinton exemplify – terse entitlement, intelligence, seal-like slickness – and creates a whole new person. It’s recognized as Clinton, but it’s also something else completely: it’s a snapshot of women in politics circa 2015. It’s very funny.
But that isn’t surprising given just how fantastic McKinnon is. Seriously, there hasn’t been an SNL cast member this versatile and talented since the glory days of Will Ferrell, Poehler, and Tina Fey. Because McKinnon’s a gorgeous blonde she has the ability to play stunning lookers, but because she also has little-to-no vanity, she can also play grotesques. Her seemingly endless list of characters and impressions include an excellent Ellen DeGeneres, which McKinnon plays as somewhat weary and darkly resigned; her Justin Beiber is the right mix of insouciance, puppy dog coyness, and unappealing doucheness; Sheila Sauvage, the appalling barfly; Barbara, the skittering and deeply disturbed volunteer at a cat shelter; Jodi Cork, the spot-on satire on 90s dated workplace instruction videos; and because she’s a wiz at coming up with accents, she can play Australians, Mexicans, and British people.
As a cast member and writer, she’s also responsible for two bonafide classic moments on SNL: “Home for the Holiday (Twin Bed),” the excellent Pussycat Dolls-like ditty she wrote with Aidy Bryant, Sarah Schneider, Chris Kelly, and Eli Bruggeman; and the incomparable “Dyke and Fats,” a brilliant faux cop show that she starred in with pal Bryant (seriously, I’d pay anything to see an episode of “Dykes and Fats”).
What’s so great about watching McKinnon is that she brings an energy and star power that will remind viewers of Gilda Radner or Maya Rudolph (even a nothing sketch like last week’s “Iggy Azalea Show” benefited from the virtuoso’s talents). Not only is she incredibly funny, she’s also utterly likable, and stands out even in an ensemble piece (in the excellent “Say What You Wanna Say” sketch from Dakota Johnson’s episode, McKinnons fiercely optimistic performance makes her a first among equals).
Click here to watch a collection of McKinnon’s sketches – in the past few years, SNL has suffered from a sense of malaise and mediocrity, but McKinnon has been a consistent source of brilliance.