All the elements were in place for an epic Saturday Night Live this week. Alec Baldwin was hosting for a record 17th time, and his performance as President Donald Trump has bolstered ratings and enraged many in the White House. Last week’s episode featured perhaps the most widely-hailed sketch in years, with Melissa McCarthy’s impression of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer earning universal praise and buzzworthy attention online.
Yet, while much of this week’s episode was good, it rarely transitioned into truly great. There were many solid but forgettable sketches this week. That’s hardly a negative thing, but when all the dominoes were lined up for the show to have an all-time great episode, it’s a little bit of a shame that no one bothered to knock them down. But it’s not a loss: Here are three sketches people will be talking about until the show returns.
Trump’s People’s Court
Let’s be honest: This was probably the weakest Trump-centric sketch since Baldwin took over portraying him. But as long as Baldwin does portray him, it will make the rounds on every Sunday morning news program.
This probably would have made a little more sense as the post-monologue sketch rather than the post-“Weekend Update” sketch, as Spicer mentioned The People’s Court in the cold open. Baldwin was fine but seemingly a little off this time around, as if doing this in addition to his hosting duties detracted from the performance a bit. His interactions with Beck Bennett’s Vladimir Putin were good, but we never got to see anything between him and Steve Bannon (whose skeletal figure sat in the back row as an Easter egg for eagle-eyed viewers).
The real star here was Cecily Strong, who took her exasperated reality television show judge and turned her into a voice for many Americans already fed up with the Trump Administration. After he repeatedly (and nonsensically) kept interrupting the trial, Strong’s judge blurted out, “You’re doing too much! I want one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me!” The applause that met that line suggested SNL struck a nerve with that line, and that Strong delivered a knockout punch with her delivery.
Sean Spicer Press Conference Cold Open
The odds of Melissa McCarthy returning to play Sean Spicer were so good that Las Vegas wouldn’t list odds. And lo, the second time around didn’t disappoint. Often it takes multiple iterations of a character to truly connect with an audience. This time, it felt like everyone in the audience had already memorized every moment of last week’s sketch. Simply repeating those beats probably would have been enough, but luckily, SNL had escalation on its mind.
McCarthy’s Spicer initially vows to be less combative, but his inability to pronounce the name of any foreign leader or country puts him off his game instantly. By the time he takes questions from the press corps, he’s already at a fever pitch. This week’s props weren’t as creative as last time around, but we did get a heck of a Moana joke out of it. The faux QVC ad for Ivanka Trump’s line of jewelry was a particularly brilliant touch, looping in that particular scandal while adding a visual twist to the established visual palette.
While Kate McKinnon’s Jeff Sessions was fine, the real capper here was the transformation of the podium into a motorized weapon, topping last week’s best sight gag and taking it up three notches. I’m not sure where SNL can go from here (Does the podium turn into Voltron next time around?), but it’s clear the show understands that it’s hit a home run here and will mine it for all the comedic value it can. After all, it’s unclear if Spicer will even be around to mock when the next episode airs, so it’s smart to strike here while the iron was hot.
Jake Tapper (Fatal Attraction)
It’s fascinating to track how SNL has treated Kellyanne Conway this season. You can almost watch the evolution in real time. In “A Day Off,” the show was sympathetic towards her constant appearances on CNN to explain away Donald Trump’s latest gaffes. But prolonged exposure in the Trump Administration has changed the show’s tune: Now, it views her as a media-hungry figure desperate for airtime, one willing to make up her own lies in order to maintain the spotlight.
Having a Fatal Attraction parody in 2017 isn’t exactly timely or topical, but there’s something interesting about this interaction between Conway and Jake Tapper as part of a larger serialized narrative this season. SNL has been experimenting more with continuity recently, and it pays off dividends here. A simple film parody is one thing. Placing it in the context of a months-long storyline is quite another. It’s not just that the show keeps featuring Conway and Tapper. It keeps placing them in scenarios in which the past sketches involving them also occurred within the fiction of this universe. There’s no reset button. Conway appearing in his apartment isn’t a new idea devoid of context but rather the natural progression of their previous interactions.
It’s impossible to ask SNL to increase this type of continuity in its comedy, as it’s antithetical to the show’s “make it up each week” production aesthetic. But as we saw last week with the third installment in the Totino’s trilogy, there are seriously huge rewards that come from producing punchlines that pay off weeks, if not months, of planning.