I’ve been a fan of Saturday Night Live since the mid-1980’s, and covered it on a weekly basis for six seasons. So when I say this was one of the worst episodes the show has ever done, I wanted to properly frame the context around that statement.
Jonah Hill hosted for the fourth time, and each of his three previous appearances had at least a few highlights. But here? For whatever reason, the combination of all factors led to an episode that fundamentally didn’t work on almost every level. Given the nearly silent reaction from the in-studio crowd, I don’t think I’m alone in this opinion. Do I think this says something about the quality of show as a whole at this point in 2016? Not especially, since there’s an inherent risk that every episode might be this terrible. The fact that so few even approach this level is actually a compliment to the show’s relatively great track record at avoiding such catastrophe.
So it’s best to cut losses and just move on. But before we do, here are three segments actually worth discussing.
CNN Election Center Cold Open
It’s almost inconceivable that SNL didn’t go for the more obvious route here and simply stick with Chris Christie’s onstage antics with Donald Trump (once again, and I assume permanently henceforth, played by Darryl Hammond). I figured the camera would push in and we’d get the equivalent of Obama’s Anger Translator from Key & Peele. Instead, Bobby Moynihan left the stage almost instantly as the cold open decided to split the proceedings into three separate segments.
The second, involving Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton dumbstruck at her luck regarding her potential Republican opponent, was fine. But what really makes this cold open noteworthy is the return of Jason Sudeikis as Mitt Romney. An all-time SNL all-star, Sudeikis hasn’t returned to the show (so near as I can recall) since leaving. And while this sketch already featured one primary character played by a show alum, I can’t begrudge the show for having Sudeikis return to reenact one of his seminal impressions. Calling it an “impression” isn’t entirely accurate: Indeed, both Sudeikis and SNL crafted an intensely intricate, as times deeply sympathetic portrait of the former presidential candidate during the 2012 election season. If this appearance didn’t fully capture the depth of that characterization, at least it reminded all of us how important Sudeikis’ contribution to the show truly was.
Voters For Trump Ad
Look, in a vacuum? This is a great sketch, one that didn’t overstay its welcome and make its point in cutting, brutal fashion. It undercuts the reasons that a segment of Donald Trump supporters overtly profess and then lays bare their ulterior motives. To do all that in less than two minutes represents some efficient writing and editing.
And yet: From the moment that SNL booked Trump to host last fall, it ceded any type of moral high ground that it might otherwise have here. Even if you don’t blame the cast for Trump’s appearance (and you shouldn’t, as they didn’t book him), it’s still problematic to see the show try to have its cake and eat it too. Trump gave the show a temporary boost in ratings and hurt its overall ability to comment on his increasingly important part in the current political process over the long haul. It’s a move that benefitted Trump and hurt SNL. It was an unforced error that the show brought upon itself, and tinges everything else between now and this fall’s election.
Weekend Update: Jay Pharoah On Katt Williams and Kevin Hart’s Feud
Jay Pharaoh has come a long way on SNL since his debut. Initially only getting prominent roles for his celebrity impressions, he soon got traction via musical digital shorts as well as original character creations such as Principal Frye.
So having him come on to essentially fill time doing what we all know he can do felt a little bit like low-hanging fruit, but it’s incredibly well-executed low-hanging fruit all the same. It’s not easy to seamlessly maneuver through nearly ten impressions the way Pharaoh does here. But he’s so damn good at what he does that it SEEMS easy. And on a night in which almost nothing worked, it was a relief to be in good hands for at least a few minutes.