Casey Affleck made a point in his monologue tonight on Saturday Night Live that the Christmas episode is usually hosted by someone more famous than he is. And while it’s true that more people probably know Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Jimmy Fallon, “fame” in and of itself isn’t really an important factor in making a great SNL host. With the show’s ratings doing very well this fall thanks to Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump, the show can take chances on hosts that may not be A-list celebrities.
Unfortunately, while Affleck is a great actor, he wasn’t a particularly great host. His slow, awkward delivery worked on occasion, but the show never let him do anything else. Maybe he didn’t WANT to do anything else, but the result was a fairly forgettable episode right as the show takes a much-deserved break. But as always, there were a few highlights, so let’s look at what people will be talking about heading into the show’s holiday hiatus.
Donald Trump Christmas Cold Open
For the foreseeable future, any sketch with Alec Baldwin as President-Elect Donald Trump will be the most notable thing that SNL does. Even if Trump doesn’t actually tweet his displeasure before “Weekend Update” even airs, people will still look to see how the show handles him. They are the satire of record, and seemingly no one hates being parodied more than Trump. In some ways, the show is playing by Trump’s own rules here: There’s a positive feedback loop wherein the more the show satirizes him, the bigger the ratings go up, which in turn infuriates Trump, and thus SNL is empowered to start the cycle all over.
What’s been fascinating over the last two weeks is the show’s approach to Trump’s psyche: Last week, “Through Donald’s Eyes” portrayed PEOTUS as someone unable to get past a combination of narcissism and self-loathing. This time around, SNL depicts him as someone so focused on Vanity Fair that he’s unaware that others around him are running the show thanks to his incompetence. Vladimir Putin and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (played by SNL hosting vet John Goodman) all but ignore Trump as they plan out their own respective futures, leaving the President-Elect feeling…well, “unpresidented,” one might say.
Having Baldwin’s Trump be unable to face the fact that Russia may have interfered with the Presidential election is probably more devastating to Trump than if the show outright accused him of treason. By the time you read this, the show’s rope-a-dope might have worked and Trump will have owned up to masterminding it on Twitter. Who knows? It’s 2016, and while there’s not much less time for things to get much worse, there’s still too much time to pretend like there’s not a chance this year still has something up its sleeve.
If you envision a bracket of all-time SNL characters, you can probably see Kate McKinnon’s Ms. Rafferty on there somewhere. Maybe she’s in the lower tier, but she’s present all the same after only a few appearances to date. Given the audience reaction each time Ms. Rafferty pops up onscreen, it’s safe to say we’ll be seeing her more in the future.
To be honest, this one probably was the weakest of the three iterations of this character. It’s unfair to knock this down a peg simply because her other cast members didn’t dissolve into fits of laughter this time around. But while the first instance was an all-time classic due to its newness, and the second was equally as great due to audience delight at Rafferty’s return, this third one tried to coast on simply having a new shared experience for her and her friends to relate.
Now, McKinnon is so good in the role that even a subpar version of this sketch is still mighty funny. I’ll be haunted by “Krinkle Maus” for weeks, in a good way, thanks to Rafferty’s harrowing tale at the North Pole. Her final line (“Damnit, Colleen, you’re becoming your mother.”) was also one for the ages. McKinnon is the star of the show at this moment, and this is probably her most signature character post-election. Hopefully the next time we see Ms. Rafferty (and we will absolutely see her again), the show pulls the same trick it did with Bill Hader when he played Stefon and keeps some of McKinnon’s lines hidden from the cast until airtime. This isn’t the kind of sketch in which rigorous structure needs to be maintained to elicit laughs. Make McKinnon a comedic chaos monster and just let loose on live TV.
A sketch in which a lot is said but little is spoken, this Love Actually parody not only hits on most of the show’s usual takes on Hillary Clinton but manages to be a quiet plea for the Electoral College to prevent Trump becoming President. Strikingly, it doesn’t have Clinton make the case for herself, but for anyone else but him.
Thus, the sketch gets to have its apocalyptic cake and eat it too. It can make fun of Clinton for mixing up Love Actually and The Help, but also succinctly point out all the things that Trump has done that has put the entire world on high alert. Clinton doesn’t say a single thing for the entire duration, keeping the same bright smile throughout. But her last handwritten signs for Cecily Strong’s Electoral College member is, “If Donald Trump becomes President, he will kill us all.”
The show still hasn’t moved past the fact that it had Trump as host roughly a year ago, and can rightly be accused of hypocrisy in sketches like this. But that’s an accusation to level at those who made the decision to let Trump host, not at the writers and performers on the show. I don’t know a lot about the inner workings of the show, but I’m going to go out on a limb and state that the people who wrote this sketch did not hire Trump to host in the Fall of 2015. Blaming the former for the latter seems unfair, even if it’s easy. Plenty of people involved with SNL did not want him there in the first place, and feel guilty by association for their part in participating in the episode. Sketches like this don’t undo the past, but they do point a way towards the future. It’s a scary future for many, and SNL articulating that fear will go a long way towards keeping it relevant in 2017.