Saturday Night Live
Though he’s been an unofficial cast member since taking on the role of Donald Trump last year, Alec Baldwin’s 17th SNL hosting gig is still a cause to celebrate. No need to talk comedic chops; anyone who has seen five minutes of 30 Rock can vouch for his delivery, timing, and commitment to character. On SNL, he takes things one step further with impressions — not just Trump, but subtle, crafty ones like Robert DeNiro and broad, goofy ones like Charles Nelson Reilly — and he brings real dimension to his role in each sketch. Whether some new legend like Pete Schweddy or Canteen Boy’s scoutmaster will emerge is anyone’s guess, but it’s easy enough to presume President Trump will be hate-watching.
Sean Spicer Press Conference Cold Open
The SNL writers were surely watching social media explode over last week’s surprise triumph, because this no-Baldwin opener finds Melissa McCarthy returning as Sean Spicer. It follows the same, successful formula of last week’s sketch, with “Spicey” losing his top upon being asked perfectly reasonable questions by journalists, and it’s just as well-scripted and wonderfully executed. After Spicer tries to pronounce some names of diplomats from central Asia, he has to show the idiots of the press corps what “extreme vetting” means with dolls. (Barbie’s blonde, and therefore welcome to the U.S., but the darker Moana gets stopped for an airport pat down: “We read her e-mails, and if we don’t like the answers, which we won’t — boom, Guantanamo Bay.”) Spicer becomes a QVC ad for Ivanka’s shoes, a reporter (Cecily Strong) gets hit with a leafblower, and we learn that “80 percent of the people of Chicago have been murdered.” And then the podium goes mobile. It’s a smart, effective satire and McCarthy’s Emmy is practically in hand.
Alec Baldwin Monologue
Pete Davidson joins Baldwin onstage to revisit some of Baldwin’s biggest sketches since his first hosting gig in 1990 — and to rib him about how different he looks when compared to the handsome youngster he once was. While Baldwin reminisces about Schweddy Balls and his DeNiro impression, Davidson makes cracks like, “It’s like someone soaked you in water for the last 20 years,” and “At what point, when you get older, does your whole head, like, expand?” Pretty simple, but both of these guys can sling a barb, which makes their repartee worthwhile.
Russell Stover Commercial
This perfectly inappropriate parody pitches a black history-themed box of chocolates for anyone who wants their special someone to know they are loved — and that their struggle has not been forgotten. The chocolates, all sculpted to look like the heads of important black leaders, all have different flavors; Malcolm X is a cayenne-infused caramel, while Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s is “I Have a Cream.” Sasheer Zamata’s look of confused horror is excellent, as is the tagline: “Russell Stover’s: Are We Doing This Right?”
Another part of the ol’ SNL ad series, execs sit before a bowl of Cheetos to hear post-Super Bowl pitches about Cheetos from rival ad companies. Two ad reps (Baldwin and Aidy Bryant) whisper some political and wildly off-center ideas, while the other team tries to sell standard pitches about kids hanging out and eating Cheetos. The execs may as well work for 84 Lumber — the company behind that Super Bowl commercial about the border wall — because they love hearing about Chester Cheetah getting gender reassignment surgery and how “we are all one.” Eventually, the other team gets on board and tries this one: “We open on the twin towers…“ The sketch raises a fine point about how companies profit by pandering, and Baldwin’s dramatic renditions of his team’s ideas hit the right, self-congratulatory note.
Kellyanne Conway has too many credibility issues, so Jake Tapper (Beck Bennett) refuses to bring her on CNN’s State of the Union anymore. When he arrives at home after a long day, Conway (Kate McKinnon) is there, in a nightie, seductive and threatening as she tries to get back on the news. “I want to feel that hot black mic pressed up against my skin,” she tells him, in her best sexy psychopath voice. From there, she pulls a knife, imagines really going off the rails to do “a free commercial for Ivanka’s shoes” and breaks down after she considers going on HuffPo Live. It’s damning and funny, in no little part to McKinnon’s strung-out take on the character. Stick with it all the way to the end — there’s a dramatic and creepy finish not worth spoiling.
A drill sergeant (Bennett) warns his ragtag recruits that none of them are safe from getting chewed out, even though one of the boys (Mikey Day) is the colonel’s son. When the colonel (Baldwin) arrives to terrorize the lackluster crew, however, he can’t resist being sweet and fatherly to his kid. “You look so handsome in that uniform,” he coos in between tirades, “I’m so proud of you.” Though the whole thing is just lightly amusing, Baldwin has a fun flub and there are giggles in lines such as, “You got a wand up your ass, Harry Potter?”
This supersized Update includes several runs of jokes and three guest stars. Colin Jost takes a nice swing at the defenders of our new “confederate general” Jeff Sessions, saying, “If there’s one thing that makes racists better, it’s age.” When Michael Che digs in, he talks about Trump’s crazy pace as president, saying that he hopes he’ll quits for health reasons. “Is this really how you want to spend the last two years of your life?” he asks. Kate McKinnon wheels on to play a soft-spoken but righteous Elizabeth Warren, who attacks Jost about his salary, the swag he accepts from corporations currying favor, and his connections to Goldman Sachs. The monologue meanders a bit, but McKinnon has a nice, goody-two-shoes take on Warren.
After a few stray jokes about $18 coffee and babies born during the Super Bowl, Alex Moffat makes an appearance as A Guy Who Just Bought A Boat. The character is a slick neo-prep who speaks in a mash-up of exhausted bits of vernacular (think “Reservaysh,” or “Totes magotes”) and some unconscious asides about the size of his penis. After a few more strays, and then Leslie Jones and Mikey Day appear as a couple who tried out S&M for the first time after seeing the new 50 Shades movie. Jones is shy, bespectacled, and wearing pink; Day looks like he just came from Fight Club. Apparently, she didn’t hold back, going as far as to waterboard her spouse with his own urine. Watching Jones play demure is a delight.
Trump People’s Court
Trump (Baldwin) brings a case against the federal judges who upheld the stay on his travel ban — on the People’s Court. He won’t swear to tell the truth, interjects by rapping his own tiny gavel, and tries to explain the necessity of the ban: “The bad people, they’re pouring in, and you see them, and it’s ISIS and San Bernadino and Chicago … they’re bad dudes, bad hombres, bad boys, bad boys, what’cha gonna do.” After calling a character witness in Vladimir Putin, the judge (Cecily Strong) rules that the ban is unconstitutional and tells Trump that she wants “one day without a CNN alert scaring the hell out of me.” The in-studio crowd loves this one.
An excited doctor (Baldwin) is all-too-happy to take an ultrasound for Beyoncé (Sasheer Zamata). The twist: Her twins are played by Kenan Thompson and Tracy Morgan, lounging on a couch and talking about what it means to be Queen Bey’s future progeny. The boys contemplate their mom’s status, kick at her belly (“That one is not an athlete, but will be hilarious,” the doctor says of Morgan) and sass the other two-thirds of Destiny’s Child. It’s cute and silly, and having Tracy Morgan back is always cause enough to watch.
Leslie Wants to Play Trump
Once she realizes that Baldwin will eventually have to leave for another gig, Leslie Jones commits herself to winning the Trump role. She does her best to convince the rest of the cast and her lover (Kyle Mooney) before donning a blonde wig and taking her case to Lorne. When he refuses outright, she loses it. (“People keep casting me as somebody who always yells! I’m trying to show you I’ve got range!”) The second behind-the-scenes look at Jones’ SNL life, the tone of this one is even better than the first. It’s not funny from start to finish, but it’s got a lot of charm and Jones’ assault of Lorne is well, well worth it.
Aaaand sometimes you just need a two-minute fart joke before everybody goes home. A gym coach (Baldwin) encourages one of the kids (Day) to get down on the mat and break the school sit-up record. The student gets in position, starts in with the sit-ups, and blasts ass each time he touches elbow to knee. It’s possible that this sketch is cut a beat short, because the end credits run long, but this is all it is. Not a highbrow exercise, but if toots tickle your fancy — and they seem to have that effect on Aidy Bryant, who looks to be breaking throughout — this will do the trick. Everybody else, watch the Spicer sketch again.
Yet again, the political sketches are fire and most of the remainder is just so-so. The return of Sean Spicer, the Trump People’s Court, and the Jake Tapper sketches are all great examples of the sort of satire that might help moderate Americans stay sane in the early days of the Trump presidency. Baldwin brings his magic — fleshing out that angry colonel, for instance — but several sketches just don’t give much to do. Still, the cast and writers do a great job with the sketches that have gravity to them. Keep it Spicey, y’all.