If last week was about introspection, this week on Saturday Night Live was about moving forward. The world has changed in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, and SNL will probably spend most of the season figuring out its place in that landscape. It certainly can’t have Kate McKinnon singing Leonard Cohen songs for each cold open. So where does it go from here?
With Kristen Wiig, SNL bridged the gap between current commentary and classic characters. Wiig created one of the most formidable series of original characters in the show’s history, and many made return appearances tonight. These made for crowd-pleasing moments, but didn’t provide the true highlights of the evening. The true winners focused more on the present of the show than its past. Here are the three sketches that will have people talking until the show returns in December.
This week’s cold open was surprisingly tame, even with the return of Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump. But this pre-taped sketch mined much deeper territory, and was all the more effective for it. Whereas the cold open tried to shove about six ideas into a four-minute segment, “The Bubble” zoned in on one specific aspect and was more successful for its specificity.
That specific aspect actually cut a little too close to home for many in the audience, judging by the reaction heard while this aired. Calling out liberals at this point in time probably isn’t the safest move for the show, but that makes it all the more interesting. When paired with last week’s Election Night sketch, you can see a pattern emerging in which SNL wrestles with its own blind spots when it came to this year’s Presidential election. If last week was about dealing with the shock, this sketch is about trying to avoid keeping its head in the sand anymore.
It’s not going to be a particularly popular sketch, I’d wager. But it’s important, in that it’s part and parcel of an emerging dialogue that is starting to form by those initially shocked by Trump’s win. Yes, this sketch makes fun of a certain type of citizen, but it’s really the show indicting itself. SNL can’t undo everything since Trump himself hosted, but this is the kind of sketch that suggests smart self-awareness rather than smug obliviousness. And if anyone at home gets mad about being accused of shying away from reality: Well, that’s just an added bonus.
Anderson Cooper 360
Most successful sketches work above all because of the writing. Yes, a strong performance can overcome some weak writing, but there’s an inherent ceiling on how good that segment can be. And while this sketch has a really clever writing trick up its sleeve, what really puts this over the top is the absolutely fantastic ensemble work on display. That transforms this cable news parody from good to great.
The conceit is simple: Cable news segments not only all sound the same, they essentially ARE the same. With each spin of the Breaking News Wheel, the panelists on Anderson Cooper 360 utter the same dialogue, in the same order. That’s a perfectly fine if prosaic observation. But what really makes this sing is the variation in tone, speed, and hysteria as each cycle progresses. Kyle Mooney in particular does an unbelievable job modulating each version of his stock phrase, taking something smart on paper and turning it riotous live onstage.
Yes, the Westworld punchline is decently funny, but what makes this sketch timely has nothing to do with HBO’s latest drama. This is a sketch about journalistic impotence at a time in which facts themselves are under attack. You don’t need to make reporters robots for that fact to still ring true. Luckily, the sketch still makes a mark even without the final twist.
Whiskers R We With Kristen Wiig
As a pure joke-generating machine, it’s hard to top this recurring sketch. The formula is always the same: Kate McKinnon’s cat adoption agency owner tries to help place kittens in homes alongside a new business/life partner. Descriptions of the cats range from horrible (yet awesome) puns to some of the most surreal humor that the show has ever unleashed. That’s it.
And yet, there’s such joy in each iteration that it’s hard to resist. In a time in which so many things bring us down, a supremely dumb sketch about ghost cats featuring two all-time sketch comedy pros clearly enjoying each other’s company is a sweet relief. You could take each single joke and tease out an entire history behind it: In what bunker was Wiig’s character trapped, and for how long? How did McKinnon’s character get gaslit by a cat? This is a very simple sketch that manages to create a three-dimensional universe with its own skewed logic. It won’t change the world, but it certainly makes it much more bearable.
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