It’s often hard to figure out which three Saturday Night Live sketches to include here each week. Last week, coming up with three I felt strongly enough about to even share proved a challenge. This week, the show’s comedic cup runneth so over that I was spoiled for choice. I could come up with an alternative list of three sketches that don’t appear below that I’d feel perfectly fine defending, and in most weeks would absolutely appear below.
The animal photographer and Olive Garden segments were both extremely funny and featured sharp writing. The blobfish sketch marked a welcome return and had an inexplicable but welcome runner featuring the theme song to The Simpsons. A newly sober and supremely confident Pete Davidson returned with gusto to the “Weekend Update” set immediately after Alex Moffat unveiled a really strong Al Franken impression. The “mansplaining” sketch served as spiritual sequel to last week’s highlight sketch “Girl At A Bar.” All of these were strong segments in a show that top to bottom might have been the best all season.
But the three below? These three focused on the here and now, and while timeless sketches have their place in SNL, they take a secondary seat given the drama that is the real world. With five-time host Scarlett Johansson once again proving her aptitude at sketch comedy, these were the show as its most vital, most incisive, and angriest.
Alien Attack Cold Open
Can you hear the applause at Alec Baldwin’s first appearance? That’s the energy missing from last week’s installment, instantly injected into this one. For better or worse, SNL has tied itself to Baldwin as portraying President Trump, and it’s such a successful performance that any episode without him feels lacking at this point. He’s a release valve for the crowd, allowing respite after a week of tweets, executive orders, and tenuous relationship with reality.
Putting this sketch a year into the future in the midst of an alien invasion not only breaks this cold open out of its usual setting, it also allowed for some slick (if sometimes obvious) parallels between today’s reality and tomorrow’s fantasy. From fears that Trump has business ties to the invading planet, to his joy that the destruction of California means he might have won the popular vote, to thinking the soldiers played by Leslie Jones and Sasheer Zamata are both aliens hiding in plain sight, the gags flow fast and freely. (Zamata’s, “Oh, OK, no,” might have been her best line reading since joining the show.)
The train has left the station on whether or not having Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy play such important yet inconsistent roles on the show was a smart move on the show’s part. It is what it is. The upside is that when they do appear, it has the comedic effect of a huge rock band playing a packed stadium. The center of the universe can be pinpointed to Studio 8H when those two appear, and SNL stands supreme in those moments.
Something of a sister sketch to the Tom Hanks’ “Black Jeopardy” segment last fall, this has a conceit so great it’s shocking that it hasn’t been done before: What if your dog could talk, and you absolutely hated what came out of its mouth?
Part of the comedy comes from the simple conceit of having a creature that has silently watched you at your worst suddenly able to reveal all your secrets. But the other part comes from not wanting to hear a particular point of view that conflicts with your own. Hearing Max the pug praise the rising stock market is funny enough. But Max pointing out his owner’s hypocrisy over reproductive rights after having him fixed is a pretty brilliant way to point out how Americans in 2017 talk over rather than to one another.
The sketch is clearly anti-Trump, but doesn’t let his in-sketch opponents get off the hook without some condemnation their way as well. For some, that might reek of trying to equivocate an imbalance that isn’t equally weighted. Johansson’s scientist almost immediately loses her enthusiasm for hearing Max talk once it’s clear his politics are different from hers. This isn’t about saying that everyone’s viewpoints are equally valid, but suggesting there’s often not even an attempt to hear disagreements without shutting them down as quickly as possible.
Also? That dog was super cute, and rightfully rebelled against its headgear, so there’s that as well.
In 2007, Johansson hosted SNL for the second time. In it, she also played Ivanka Trump. In that episode, she appeared on a parody of “Live With Regis And Kelly,” in which she appeared due to her role on The Apprentice. This version of Ivanka even brought Regis Philbin a gift from Donald himself: a large pillow that had a picture of Trump on the front and the words, “You’re tired!” on the back. At one point, Philbin asks Ivanka about a recent family vacation. “We spent ten whole days on one of my dad’s construction sites in Orlando,” she replies. “We walked around with hardhats on and Dad pointed out our weaknesses. It was so much fun.”
Flash forward to 2017: Once again, she’s playing Ivanka, but in a perfume ad called “Complicit.” It’s such a specific and accurate word that calling the scent anything else would yield a lesser parody. “She’s a woman who knows what she wants, and knows what she’s doing,” intones the narrator, as the crowd around her turns from being amazed to being repulsed. It’s a surgical strike of a sketch, nearly half the length as most segments this week but packing an equally devastating punch all the same. Comparing the SNL treatment of Ivanka in 2007 versus 2017 demonstrates how the show’s lasting power can make turn topical sketches timely, even a decade later.