Last November, then-hopeful presidential nominee Donald Trump was invited to host SNL, and the resulting episode was unsettlingly upbeat; at times, it was hard to watch Trump’s slit-eyed, wide-grinning face glow as he complimented himself and delivered softball punchlines. In an episode full of opportunity, few even slightly biting digs were taken at Trump – it was a disappointing move. SNL has the power to guide and shape public opinion, and the lukewarm episode felt like a lost opportunity.
This season opened on a much more hopeful note. Alec Baldwin is brilliant, seriously brilliant, in his new guest role as Trump (good call, Tina Fey, of course); he’s juvenile and red-faced and constantly backpedaling, but with a firm-voiced conviction that’s so recognizably, startlingly accurate it’s scary – so, mission accomplished. And now, unlike last November, the digs are harder, and much more honest. Says Hillary Clinton (Kate McKinnon) in the cold open, more stating facts than delivering jokes: “This man is clearly unfit to be commander in chief. He’s a bully, he started the birther movement, he says climate change is a hoax invented by China,” and, “Donald Trump has terrible judgment. He makes bad decisions, he’s spent his life cheating middle class laborers.” There we go! This is the kind of “wake the fuck up” attitude that SNL earned a reputation for back in the mid-70s, and it’s exciting to see sparks of the show’s historically fearless attitude resurfacing.
With Baldwin’s debut, a cameo from Larry David’s Bernie Sanders, a “Celebrity Family Feud: Political Edition” sketch complete with Darrell Hammond as an Ivanka Trump-chasing Bill Clinton, and a Weekend Update playing catch up on election news, it’s a politically heavy episode, as expected. But the premiere also serves its purpose, checking in with returning cast favorites up top in Robbie’s playful monologue, and introducing three new featured players (giving considerable screen time to two). Plus, there’s plenty of focus on undeniable MVP Kate McKinnon, whose recent Emmy win has cemented her role as the show’s strongest player.
Debate Cold Open
Any doubts about Alec Baldwin’s as-yet unseen Trump were laid to rest the second he stepped onstage for the show’s cold open, a recreation of last week’s presidential debate led by IRL moderator Lester Holt. Baldwin’s tight-eyed, bulldog-lipped face beamed as he opened the scene, seeming to make the promise himself as much as in character: “Good evening, America – I’m going to be so good tonight. I’m going to be so calm, and so presidential, that all of you watching are going to cream your jeans.”
And honestly, it was hard not to, because (and I know I already said it, but) he nailed it. The way his confident, loud interjections melted into increasingly panicked accusations, sniffling as he backpedaled. The way he let his pursed lips fall, slowly, into a wrinkled halo as he whispered the words “tiny little butthole.” His windblown, white-eyed tomato face drawing out sotto-voiced slurs like “blacks” and “fat loser” and perpetual, bleated WRONGs.
And Kate McKinnon is so much fun to watch as beaming, shimmying Hillary Clinton, alternately dumbfounded and doubled over in tears of joy as she watches Trump sink his own ship.
Australian actress Margot Robbie, standout star of summer’s Suicide Squad, was a perfectly fine host to kick off the season; easing us back into things, she showcases her very capable comedy skills while giving new and old cast members plenty of time to shine. In her monologue, she shares the stage with Kenan Tompson, Leslie Jones, Cecily Strong, Pete Davidson, and Aidy Bryant, who help her fact-check her statements (since, she’s noticed on her trip to America, that “everybody just lies, it’s crazy” during election season). Robbie reveals that, yes, Jared Leto’s method acting was kind of weird, while Kenan admits those first-episode jitters have faded by his 14th season, Leslie confesses that she “called Kate McKinnon ‘Kate Middleton’ for a year,” and Aidy sends her boo Drake a secret message.
Mikey Day and Alex Moffatt makes their SNL debuts in this sketch that asks “is she really going out with him?”, where a team of Florida newscasters investigate an improbable relationship. Sent to cover a parking lot sinkhole, reporter Thompson gets distracted by the mystery of how a girl as hot as Robbie ended up with a guy like Day, a dickless, Crocs-with-socks wearing puppeteer named Matt Shatt (the beauty’s really in the details here). Back in the studio, anchors Strong and Beck Bennett speculate with sportscaster Jones and sinkhole expert Moffatt.
From a hot wife to a hot librarian, Robbie’s covering ground; this pre-taped sketch turns a sexy teacher fantasy – soundtracked by 80s dream sequence staple, Yello’s “Oh Yeah” – into a disgusting nightmare for teens Bobby Moynihan, Kyle Mooney, Moffatt, Day, and Thompson. What starts as a best-case scenario catcall response ends with literal blown minds when Robbie performs a striptease for her students, ditching inhibitions and revealing her rotted teeth and reptilian tongue, her fondness for murder, and her two (two!) Haley Joel Osment tattoos.
Celebrity Family Feud: Political Edition
Thompson’s weary Steve Harvey is back, hosting a special political edition of Family Feud. Team Trump features McKinnon as campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, Robbie as over-enunciating robot Ivanka Trump, Moynihan as Jersey Strong Chris Christie, and Bennett as an especially eerie Vladimir Putin. Team Clinton is led by Darrell Hammond’s Bill Clinton (who gets a huge wave of applause, and manages to say “I love the Feud” as sexually as humanly possible), newcomer Melissa Villasenor as Sarah Silverman, Strong as a slightly out of place Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Larry David as the always lovably shaggy Bernie Sanders. Moffatt and Day materialize to mock Children of the Corn mini-Trumps Eric and Donald Jr., and gosh darn it, Chris Christie just can’t stop mentioning bridges. Plus, a random Jill Stein dig!
While the episode’s heavy on well-deserved Trump digs, Weekend Update takes the opportunity to acknowledge that, though a very welcome alternative, Hillary Clinton’s not ideal, either. “It’s like choosing a phone right now,” Michael Che explains. “There’s really only two options: we don’t want the iPhone 7, because it feels like it’s kind of being forced on us – also, it’s not necessarily an improvement. But we also don’t want the Samsung Galaxy, which could explode at any minute.” After comparing this year’s disappointing election picks to a fridge full of Tang and prunes, Che asserts that “no matter who wins, this is going to be a rebuilding season for America,” likening the US losing Obama to the Yankees losing Jeter (pretty apt, actually).
Plus, undecided voter Cathy Anne (Strong) stops by to break down her POV; she’s for Robama, even though she can’t vote, due to being in a “fugitive-type situation.” And beloved Red Sock David Ortiz (Thompson) shares his retirement plans with co-host Colin Jost (endorsing mints in general, and unsanitary soda knockoff hepsi, a new transportation app and a budget erectile disfunction cure).
The Hunch Bunch
In a Scooby Doo knockoff featuring another great turn from Day (and a perfect take on Shaggy from Kyle Mooney), Robbie is the clueless girlfriend tagging along with the gang and failing at every turn to interpret even the most obvious clue.
A “Deep Thoughts”-inspired dive into the mind of Melania Trump, in what will hopefully become a recurring segment.
Actress Round Table
The New York Film Festival has assembled a panel of powerful actresses, plus one aged Hollywood veteran, to speak about their experiences in the industry; when Debette Goldry (McKinnon) shares her recollections of being pumped full of drugs by producers, getting paid in brooches, and stripping for Nazis, her contemporaries, Marion Cotillard (Strong), Keira Knightley (Robbie), and Lupita Nyong’O (Zamata) – whose biggest complaints are about choosing between roles like “beautiful girlfriend“ and “beautiful mother – are completely horrified.
In the last sketch of the night, Leslie Jones addressed some of the social media drama she’s been dealing with all summer in a pre-taped Mr. Robot parody. Hacker genius Eliot (Davidson) faces his toughest challenge yet when Jones tasks him with tracking down the scumbag who stole personal files off her outdated brick of a laptop. High five to Jones for taking control of her story (and, as usual, for laughing at herself so easily).
- New featured player Mikey Day got by far the most screen time of all the new hires, with spots in four sketches (including “Live Report” lead straight main Mike Shatt). Former writing partner / SNL co-worker Taran Killam posted a smiley note of support on Instagram:
- Lots of low-key great Beck Bennett moments tonight, from his looks of blank confusion throughout “Live Report” to his Britney Spears-inspired dancing in “The Librarian”:
And, honestly, I kind of have a crush on his shifty-eyed, heavy accented, huge cross-wearing Putin:
- Margot Robbie’s monologue outfit was insaaane; who knew a black silk and sheer, weed leaf-embroidered lace dress could look so classy.
-Milestone alert: the first SNL lines for new featured players are as follows:
Mikey Day: “Yeah, cars fell in, it was crazy; I’m just very happy my wife and I are ok.”
Alex Moffatt: “Well, it varies – most likely they were childhood friends who grew up together, and then that blossomed into a romance over time.”
Melissa Villasenor: “Oh my god, we might be electing the first woman president! I feel so much pride from my head to my vagina.”