It’s always a hairy situation when Saturday Night Live invites a politician over. Often politicians aren’t natural performers, riding on good will rather than talent. In last week’s episode, improbable Republican front runner Donald Trump returns for a second time to host. Trump of 2004 was a different than Trump 2015. The latter Trump is one that found political legitimacy by exploiting the ugliest parts of reactionary right wing fundamentalism – particularly pandering to xenophobia, racism, and anti-immigration sentiment (with a generous dollop of misogyny).
So, inviting Trump to SNL while not an endorsement of his repugnant views, does give him a platform and an opportunity to present himself as a likable guy – a particularly distasteful tactic, given how ugly Trump’s campaign has been. For most of his public career, Donald Trump has been a harmless, absurd goof – the hair, the tans, the parade of beautiful young wives – no one took the guy seriously, but he wasn’t destructive, either.
But this is a new Trump, and a much uglier one. One that attacks anyone he doesn’t like – and SNL was used as a vehicle for Trump to get his digs against his opponents, namely Dr. Ben Carson, whose been having a wacky few weeks.
Because Trump’s running for president and hosting during the primaries, SNL gets to pretend it’s politically relevant. The last time the show has done anything with any political bite, it was back in 2008, when a gal named Sarah Palin ran on the Republican ticket for vice president, and a gal named Tina Fey played her to devastating results.
But overall, SNL, doesn’t know how to do political humor. The show is often toothless when it comes to political humor, batting itself on the back when it gets minor digs in. President Obama has been a difficult target for the writers because presumably a lot of them are liberals, and the president isn’t an easy target.
So even though the show opened with a cold open depicting the Democratic forum, the funniest and most pointed thing the writers took aim at was the strange nature of a forum. Taran Killam did his solid Mike O’Malley, though the jokes just weren’t there – we get it, he’s an also-ran. Kate McKinnon came back for another stellar performance of Hillary Clinton, though again the writers failed to give her good material and insist on beating that dead horse of Clinton being tense and unable to let loose. Larry David – a former SNL writer – came back and easily stole the show as Bernie Sanders – it’s not a spot-on impression, and it veers dangerously close to stereotype, but David is a funny guy.
Trump’s monologue was a nonstarter that got worse when David undid any of his good will by pretending to be be a liberal plant to heckle Trump by accusing the guy of being a racist. When confronted, David admitted that he was being paid $5,000 to dog Trump. It was an unfunny moment that took a cheap shot at all the folks that stood outside 30 Rock with legit grievances against a man who insisted that illegal immigrants were bringing crime, drugs, and rape to this country. Killam and Darrel Hammond came on stage to do their impressions of Trump, and the whole thing was really ridiculous.
It all went downhill from there. This episode was a mess. An awkward, stilted mess. I’d love to blame Trump for the whole thing – and believe me, he was awful, but he wasn’t present in enough sketches to be blamed for everything. The writers and the performers all were off their game.
So the best sketch? Whew, that’s like picking the best piece of crap from an abandoned Port-a-Potty. Tellingly the sketches that I did enjoy had little to do with Trump or politics. The spoof of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” with a collection of dorky middle-aged white guys gettin’ down with their bad selves was solid – and Trump’s participation wasn’t bad – and there was a great itty-bitty cameo by Martin Short’s Ed Grimley.
The worst sketch? Well, there was a lot of them, but the absolute stinker – besides the consistently boring Weekend Update sketch – was the White House 2018 sketch, which had Trump tout how great he’d be as president, with the goofiest cabinet ever (Omarosa as secretary of state?). Ivanka Trump wanders in with a terrible cameo, that shows that lack of charisma can be hereditary. As Trump crows confidently about lowering folks’ expectations, I couldn’t help but feel that the writers took the same attitude when putting together the week’s show.
Interestingly enough, the pre-taped segments were also misses. The Bad Girls sketches should’ve worked, and the Beck Bennett vehicle of a frustrated family man who has designs on being a big time pop star has the bones of a solid sketch, but is derailed by Trump’s leaden presence.
The Porn Stars sketches have always been my favorite – Cecily Strong and Vanessa Bayer are wonderful performers who do often shine and stand out in their sketches. But it feels like both have been adversely-affected by the suckiness of the episode as a whole, because even they couldn’t pump up a usually-reliable recurring sketch. And making the sketch spoof campaign ad doesn’t pay off like the writers thought it would – and it feels really anti-American and anti-patriotic to have a potential presidential candidate allow himself and the electoral process debased like this.
Some random notes:
- I’m not sure if Trump uses reading glasses, but he had some issues with reading the cue cards.
- Leslie Jones and Sasheer Zamata are still woefully underused – these are two very talented ladies and need to be given some challenging material.
- Kate McKinnon was the cast MVP this week, but in an episode so bad, that’s not saying much.
- Sia’s two new singles were solid.
- Ugh, what a mess.
- Next week, screen comedienne Elizabeth Banks is hosting – hopefully she’ll act as a palate cleanser.