Sure, Saturday Night Live Was Timely—But Did It Matter?
To borrow a term from musical theater, it was kismet. Last night—a day after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s no-good-very-bad week (sort of) ended, and less than 24 hours before his second debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—Saturday Night Live gave the mic to political musical mastermind, and Hamilton creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Then he dropped it.
Last night’s episode, easily one of the most well-timed and on-point SNL episodes of the last few years, opened with guest-star Alec Baldwin reprising his Trump impression in a mock CNN segment wherein the Donald defended his “grab them by the pussy” comments by telling the anchor (and women voters who might be watching) that “I promise I can do a whole lot more than just grab it. I can also bop it, twist it, and pull it.” Cut to Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton, popping champagne. It wasn’t the abject waste-laying satire people hoped they’d cook up, but it was something.
Thereafter, though, it was Miranda’s show. Breaking off from his traditional monologue, the musical polymath performed a reimagining of the Hamilton song “My Shot” wherein he celebrated his chance to host SNL by singing “I’m getting a piece of it/like Miley, Schumer, Tracy Morgan and this piece of…” and stopping himself in front of a picture of Trump hosting. Then, just when you thought Robert De Niro saying he wanted to punch Trump in the face was going to be the toughest blow a New Yorker would strike against the Republican nominee, Miranda riffed on the Hamilton song “The Reynolds Pamphlet” by singing “never gonna be president now.” (“Pamphlet” is about a married Hamilton having a “torrid affair.”)
The musical monologue wasn’t the only timely segment in what seemed like SNL’s attempt at finally digging in its heels politically. Despite being the home of Dan Aykroyd’s Richard Nixon roasting in 1976 and Tina Fey’s “I can see Russia from my house” Sarah Palin segment in 2008, the show’s political material was anemic last season. The show even had Trump on as a host, a move that drew protest and that Miranda felt compelled to call out in his monologue. Yes, the network, and parent company, that gave us both Access Hollywood and The Apprentice was now satirizing its star. Like Republican leaders turning on Trump turning on Trump, SNL was too.
Later a sketch called “A Day Off” tackled Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway’s imagined daily travails defending the Donald’s tweets and statements—even on her personal time. Jogging between yoga and painting, Conway (played by McKinnon) gets called into a CNN studio to say things like “of course Mr. Trump thinks that Mexicans can read and actually what he wants them to read the most are Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 missing emails” and “yes, Mr. Trump did challenge Obama to a penis-off” before finally capitulating: “He’s crazy. He’s the worst person I’ve ever known.”
Nor was the cold open the only segment to address the Trump comments revealed by the Post. Almost the entirety of “Weekend Update”—the writers of which clearly hadn’t slept in 36 hours—was devoted to the Donald’s 2005 comments. Hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che broke down not only the comments but also the aftermath, even referencing tweets about the incident that had gone up just hours before airtime.
Michael Che threw back to Trump’s comment that he needed a Tic Tac in case he felt compelled to “start kissing” a woman he and Access Hollywood host Billy Bush were about to meet. “I don’t think the problem women have with sexual assault is bad breath,” Che said. “And by the way, you might want to take it easy on those Tic Tacs, ’cause they might be turning your skin orange.”
That bit was quickly followed by guest appearances from Fey and Trump toussler Jimmy Fallon as undecided Philly voters. While also acknowledging Trump’s lewd comments about women, the pair—in character—also referenced (and seemingly, if weakly, apologized for) Fallon’s buddying up to the the Republican nominee with the late-nite host claiming “I don’t like Trump!” Like SNL itself, Fallon has some explaining to do for giving a Trump a pass over the last few months, and while one segment won’t do that, it’s still course correction—and one that comes as ever more elected Republican officials are doing the same.
Rounding out the show was a “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey”-type short segment called “Melania Moments” wherein Trump’s wife (played by Cecily Strong) wakes from a dream realizing her replacement has just been born, thinking in voiceover “‘I must find this girl and banish her to the woods,’ she thought to herself. ‘Not for my sake, but for hers.’” This segment more than likely was written and recorded before Trump’s 2005 comments surfaced, but also seemed painfully relevant considering the real Melania Trump is defending her husband, saying that although she finds his words “unacceptable and offensive” they don’t “represent the man I know.” (Sigh.)
Shortly after the episode ended on the East Coast #SNLinManuel was the No. 1 trending topic worldwide on Twitter and GIFs had already started started circulating. It was, if the Internet is to be believed, the most cathartic SNL in a long time. Because if you’re going to check a presidential nominee who wants to target millions of immigrants for deportation, it’s best done in a show hosted by a Pulitzer-Prize-winner who wrote an entire musical about the importance of immigrants in building the US. Because Lin-Manuel Miranda is the kind of guy who can rap “Yes, I’m right in my element/Who knew that Hamilton would be so topically relevant?/The way these grandstanding candidates be talkin’/they’re just a tweet away from facing off in Weehawken” and everyone knows what he means.
But was it enough? Considering SNL’s track record over the last year, it’s definitely the boldest it’s been so far. Miranda definitely dropped the mic on Trump, but unless SNL keeps hitting hard in the next few weeks until the election, it will still have dropped the ball.
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