After a long and much-needed break, Saturday Night Live returned this week for its first episode of 2017. Following an overloaded, overstuffed fall schedule, the show has just two episodes announced for this month. As these fall right before and right after the inauguration of Donald Trump, both have great importance. We can surmise that he’ll be watching both closely.
What will the President-Elect Of The United States be tweeting about on Sunday? Let’s find out by looking at the three sketches he and everyone else will be discussing.
Donald Trump Press Conference Cold Open
So long as Donald Trump is front and center in global politics, each Alec Baldwin portrayal of him on SNL will be notable. This one was no different, with the show taking ample time during the cold open to unpack this week’s press conference. Honestly, this could have been a twenty-minute cold open and not covered everything that happened during that press conference, never mind what happened this week. But it did what it could to cover as much ground as possible.
Yes, there were a myriad of so-bad-they-ended-up-being-great puns about the supposed compromising footage of Trump in a Russian hotel. But the stronger material lay elsewhere, whether it be in Trump deflecting criticism of the dismantling of Obamacare (“Listen sweetheart: I’m about to be President. We’re all gonna die.”) or Cecily Strong’s amazingly deadpan delivery as Trump’s tax lawyer. It was reminiscent of Scarlett Johansson in the “Chandeliers” and “Marble Columns” sketches in terms of delivery, and Strong completely slayed in her brief time.
With so much material, and with so much interest, and quite frankly with so much at stake, why wouldn’t SNL spread out its analysis of the current socio-political landscape over an entire show, instead of primarily limiting it to the cold open and “Update”? Given Tina Fey’s pointed comments during the monologue, I know the show isn’t a fan of critics analyzing the program in this way. It’s true that the show historically mixes in the timely with the timeless in terms of its comedy. But “this is how it’s always been done” doesn’t seem to apply to the country anymore. Why should it apply to this show?
In live TV, anything can go wrong. It can go especially wrong when you rely on sound effects and practical stunts as comedic punchlines. It can go triply wrong when you base the premise on outlandish physical humor. All of these add risk to an already risky proposition. But with the professional crew of SNL and the physical fearlessness of Mikey Day, it can also go really, really right once in a while.
Could you see most of the gags coming? Sure. But surprise really wasn’t the point here. Once Day’s aged investor constantly interrupted the play that he helped fund, the beats were essentially mapped out. This could have been one-note segment. But the sheer variety of interruptions, coupled with Day’s go-for-broke silliness, made this much better than it had any right to be.
Still, it would be unwise to overlook the contributions made by Kate McKinnon and Beck Bennett as the stage actors trying to keep “The Rainstorm” afloat despite the distractions. Both as actors on SNL and actors in the play-within-the-sketch, the two kept things grounded so Day and his nurse (played by host Felicity Jones, who really didn’t make a huge overall impact during her first hosting gig) could take the absurdity to 11. McKinnon and Bennett weren’t the focus of the sketch, but helped elevate that focus through their contributions. It wasn’t as overtly obvious as what Day did, but was vital to this sketch’s success.
SNL has been pretty good this season about satirizing Trump, but it’s also had its eye set on puncturing the pomposity of liberal reaction to his presidential win. You might favor one approach over the other, but it’s certainly in keeping with the show’s five-decade approach of taking on all viewpoints.
If you argue that the idea of this sketch is better than the actual execution, I wouldn’t necessarily argue with you. But this is undoubtedly one that got better as it went along, with all four actors getting into a rhythm about halfway through that built right through the end. It’s the spiritual successor to the “Ann Arbor Short Film Festival” sketch from Emily Blunt’s episode last fall, as both get a lot right about the vacuousness of promotional interviews and the overinflated sense that artists often have about less-than-stellar art.
The real star here was Kyle Mooney, who absolutely nails the faux surprise at having pre-scripted talking points posed to him as off-the-cuff questions. But he also added a lot of unexpectedly depth to the psychology of writer/director Adam Perkins. There’s a small moment in which he and Bennett start answering at the same time, and Mooney’s slight shift from “isn’t this delightful” to “I will cut you if you pull that one more time” is simply phenomenal. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but it really adds the cherry on top of this sketch.