Before the season started, I thought Saturday Night Live should go all-in on election-centric sketches. With four episodes in a row, NBC clearly wanted to get as many episodes in before November 8th as possible, and rightly so: SNL is a central comedic voice during Presidential elections, and giving them as many opportunities to make an impact made sense both fiscally as well as culturally.
But a metric ton of nastiness has occurred in the short time since the cast and crew of SNL have gone back to work. While this week had more direct and indirect political sketches than any other this season thus far, the energy surrounding them felt muted and exhausted. And who can blame the show? There’s little catharsis that can come from simply reporting everything that has occurred, and trying to top actual events with something even more outlandish seems literally impossible at this point.
Maybe that’s why this week’s best material came from timeless, rather than topical, material. If the majority of the country wants this election to be over, isn’t it reasonable for those working on SNL to feel the same way? One could argue tonight’s relatively low energy was a function of this being the third week in a row without a break. That’s totally possible! It’s also possible that simply living in this country right now is the emotional equivalent of trying to navigate through the Swamp Of Sadness from The Neverending Story. The people working on SNL are professionals, but they are also people above everything else.
In any case, here are three sketches everyone will be discussing until Tom Hanks hosts next week.
Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton Town Hall Debate Cold Open
Before the show, I imagined the possibility of a 25-minute cold open that segued directly into Bruno Mars’ first performance. The show did not lack for material to cover given everything that’s gone down in the last seven days (or even seven hours, at this point). But the sheer amount of topics to cover might have worked against the show in this case.
Much like a certain MTV show, perhaps this past week is when politics stopped being polite and starting getting too real. Maybe that’s why more attention was paid in-sketch to Hillary Clinton trying to act like a human being and less about Donald Trump acting like a monster. Having Alec Baldwin as Trump was once heralded as a casting coup, but his role is becoming more reduced each week, almost as if the show is trying to write the real Trump out of existence. Satire often relies on exaggeration, but it’s just about impossible to exaggerate was passes as political reality at this point.
So rather than try to top it, the cold open leaned into exhaustion as the default position. Having the debate hosts do shots and preemptively declare Clinton the Presidential winner made everything else seem perfunctory. We’re including it here as one of the three sketches because its certainly going to be something that everyone will be collectively talking about over the next seven days. Its tepidness made it the weakest cold open this season, but also potentially makes it an accurate representation of our collective malaise at this point in history.
There are pros and cons to having a large cast for SNL. One of the pros is that you can absolutely load the screen with characters when needed. You need a classroom of kids? Boom. Done. Need a platoon of soldiers? Easily done. But here, the show cleverly uses cast size to its advantage in the form of a superior visual pun.
After an airing of a short film at a festival, a host asks the cast and crew to come to the stage, at which point every single person in the audience save one rushes to the front of the theatre. What ensues is both a savage satire of film festivals and the great image of Vanessa Bayer desperately trying to come up with questions for the overly-eager and blissfully self-absorbed people onstage.
Everything works, from the faux surprise at certain questions, the lengthy passing of the single microphone, everyone’s surprise at the existence of large number 3’s in the forest, and finally the reveal that Emily Blunt is playing herself in the sketch. Pound for pound, this was the strongest live sketch of the week.
This sketch provides the answer to a long-standing question that has plagued mankind: “What’s the funniest pronunciation of any one-syllable word ever?” And lo, we have it, in the form of CHONK, the name of a fictional line of women’s clothing. Sometimes, you want a sketch to penetrate the deep well of human experience. Other times, you just want to hear someone shout-snort CHONK sixty-seven times in a forty-five second sketch.
Buried under this comic syllabic onslaught lay a cruel punchline, in which the difficulty women have at finding clothes that fit them is contrasted by the ease with which it takes a pair of men to purchase an entire wardrobe. Having this ending doesn’t undercut the silliness of CHONK, but rather deepens it. This isn’t a segment about a word but a state of mind, and how certain industries make money off making its customers loathe themselves. SNL excels at stealth sketches of this ilk, and this was one of the best in recent years.