Well, they can’t all be winners.
Probably an unduly harsh way to start this off, but hey, that’s sketch comedy, especially in a show like SNL. Not every sketch can be a hit, not every week is gonna really work. Coming on the heels of the “All Eyes on Us” Lin-Manuel Miranda episode, one of the show’s best in some time, who can blame them for taking a little break?
And a break they must have taken. This was a weirdly sloppy week, content to cruise on conceptual oddity (Tina Fey once said “If you ever see an episode of SNL that isn’t that great, just know that the writers probably had a blast that week.” Clearly the case here) more than anything else.
How’s the Cold Open?
An SNL Presidential Debate sketch inherently relies on exaggeration of what are usually fairly dry affairs. They tend to be one of the most popular political sketch forms on the show as well one of the weakest as a piece of comedy writing, largely for the same reasons. They’re reference-heavy, the audience gets what’s going on easily, but there’s really not much besides putting those references into a comedic context with the preexisting impressions. Essentially, this thing happened, and now we’re making actually funny.
This sketch shows the limits of that approach. How do you exaggerate something that was already hard to believe was happening? Baldwin and McKinnon are giving their all, but how do you get more bizarre that the actual Trump coming up behind the actual Clinton like the It that Follows? Could Alex Moffat’s Anderson Cooper and Cecily Strong’s Martha Radditz be any more exasperated during the debate than the actual Cooper and Radditz were? What is more darkly satirical than Trump actually calling for the jailing of his political opponent, or actually parading Bill Clinton’s accusers before turning around and mocking his own? What’s more weirdly indicative of where we are than the fact we briefly turned a man in a sweater into a celebrity only to bring him right back down.
The sketch isn’t more bizarre or satirical or hilarious than real life. It’s the limit and the problem of the Debate sketches as they apply to this election and it’s why, for all the effort and performance that went in, the sketch ultimately doesn’t work. Its only benefit is how much less painful it is than the real thing.
Though I will say that it’s odd that this is the sketch that finally made Trump answer SNL’s insults. Last week was much meaner, but I guess “the shackles are off” or whatever.
Of course it’s great to have Emily Blunt around. It’s been long enough since she’s really done a comedy that seeing her here feels like a novelty. She’s in the school that most of the hosts have taken this season, all energy and commitment, feeling like she really was willing to do anything. She gels well enough and she’s trying her best to put a little extra “oomph” into sketches that aren’t working. She’s not quite all there, a few flubbed and uncomfortable line readings became apparent in the early sketches. Not an all-timer by any means, but not bad either. A low-impact host that feels like she just came in on the wrong week for her style, a week where the live writing was doing her no favors.
What Sketches Are Worth Watching?
This is a one-joke sketch, but holy shit, what a joke. A flattering-to-everyone women’s clothing line with a super-unflattering name. That’s it. Just an example of how good performance (Strong’s narration, the growing discomfort on everyone’s faces as they keep hearing the name) and good construction (the thing is a dead ringer for every women’s clothing commercial) can sell a joke.
“Short Film Festival”
For those of you who don’t know, head writer Chris Kelly currently has a film on the festival circuit, his semi-autobiographical dramedy Other People. That likely explains this sketch, a dead-on parody of what it’s like to be at a film festival. So many people on stage, all of them trying to answer questions with no one wanting to ask. That great gag with everyone being influenced by Linklater and Kaufman (two who couldn’t be further apart in their approach, by the by). The mic getting passed and dragging it out. Great and specific.
One of the bits of oddness that really worked for me. A theme of this show seemed to be “Were they high?” An Emily Blunt-voiced sink having an existential crisis about its place in the world. Barely a joke outside of the fact that it’s a sink having a crisis. I almost loved it just because I had to imagine someone pitching it to Lorne and it making it all the way to the show.
The other bit of oddness that worked for me. A classic 10-to-1 sketch that had McKinnon and Bennett reenacting Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s parts in Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf. Straight-faced. In hamster costumes. Blunt and Day played the younger couple.
It has to be seen to be believed. A truly bizarre sketch, almost TGS-level, that I just wonder how this was even pitched to anyone. Just…the fuck?
I’m increasingly looking forward to these every week. I’ll speak more about Strong’s Melania Trump a little further down (further than you think), but these one-off, dark little jokes are great and I’m almost gonna miss when they have to go.
What Didn’t Work?
This is impressive, no doubt. The replication of Lemonade is impressive, and everyone’s having a lot of fun doing it. It’s a replication and almost a fantasy in the light of the comments that seem to flow like a river of shit out of Trump’s mouth about women.
But, and I hate to say this right after I praised two suuuper-thin sketches about conceptual oddity, where’s the joke here? It can’t be in just the replication of Lemonade, or that Melania and Trump’s women are singing it. I get what’s being done, but there’s no real jokes or laugh lines here, especially considering the accents and the musical work are going to muddle anything they say. It’s impressive, but the satire just isn’t all there, and the ending seems to put the mockery on them for going along with Trump and seeking his approval. It could have been a great dark joke (along the lines of “Melania Moments”), but something leaves a weird taste about the way they do it.
Earlier this year, SNL announced they would be having “branded content sketches.” The idea is that about 6 sketches a year would be directly sponsored by a company, and that would mean shorter commercial times and likely more revenue for SNL. I feel like it’s pointless to get in a wad about this, because doing so ignores what 30 Rock and SNL itself has told us, which is that product placement sketches pretty much already exist. The only difference is that these are less subtle.
And subtle is not a word I’d use for this one. Not in the branding, which is pretty blatant since Pete Davidson is listing off menu items in the sketch. Nor in the sketch itself, which is a classic Parade of Weirdos sketch, where everyone picks a weird voice and costume and we flip through them saying or doing a bizarre thing (think “Worst of Soul Train“).
I can get down with a Parade of Weirdos sketch and there’s a funny one or two in here. Moynihan and Thompson are most at home here, the two performers who can most wring a laugh out of a funny voice and one good look. Everyone else just seems lost, and this thing goes on into eternity. There is no rhythm to the parade, and Davidson could not seem more bored playing off most of them. A few jokes doesn’t save how dull and eternal this sketch ultimately is, and if we’re going to have more branded content, can we try to be better about it?
I’ve seen some people say this one is branded content like the Burger King one, I’m not necessarily sure on that. At the least, I don’t think it’s any more branded content than the Dana and Niff sketches were, using the real company as background.
But branded content would be the least of this thing’s sins. Sweet merciful crap, this thing goes nowhere and lasts forever. This is the kind of sketch that makes people hop on the “SNL sucks” train. No central idea, just a bunch of tangential jokes. No performance to center on. Just a lot of nonsense with no ending and no real through-line.
This is a sloppy one. I’m all for weird details, but they seemed to have nothing but the weird details. Part of the problem is that the two escorts (Blunt and Jones) are odd straight from the go. No escalation, just their weird hang-ups straight away with no time to build. Between that and the fact that both Blunt and Jones seem to be stumbling over half their lines, this was just an unfortunate one.
On a side note, they seem to be putting Mikey Day and Alex Moffat together in a lot of sketches. They have good chemistry, it would be interesting to see them in a sketch that actually uses their pairings, I feel like we haven’t had a fun pair of performers in a year or two.
“Great British Bake-Off”
A sketch the entire pitch of which must have been “We’ve got a British person…why not?” I’ll admit I’ve never seen The Great British Bake-Off, so maybe I was missing something, but it doesn’t so much seem to be a parody as just an insertion of Strong and Blunt’s chav morons into a preexisting thing. Performances are fine, but the joke seems to be that the two are obnoxious, which we learn quick enough. It goes nowhere from there.
“Emily Blunt Monologue”
Ahh, the dreaded musical monologue for a non-musical guest. Blunt is fine and cheery enough, but the weird thread of the night is “What’s the joke here?” Maybe that wasn’t the goal? Whatever it was, just a weird way to kick things off.
As the rest of the show went, so often goes Weekend Update. Some strong jokes as per usual, but nothing compared to last week’s brutal all-in bashing. Trump gave Weekend Update the material to blaze him like they did last week, but everything seems to be pitched more at their standard chuckling distance than the fight they brought last week. Still great, Jost and Che have really grown on me, but I now know they can do more.
Jost, on Trump’s defense from an accuser: “She wasn’t your first choice? The problem is you weren’t her choice, period”
Jost, on the Republican Downticket races: “This will be the first time Trump’s ever gotten white people evicted from a building.”
Che, on remarks that the accusers just want attention: “Yeah, that’s every little girl’s dream”
Our visitors to the desk were two always welcome returning characters. McKinnon’s Povlatsky brought tales of Russian poverty delivered with a hilarious energy and the kind of oddity this show usually savors rather than slathers over the whole proceedings. Bayer’s Laura Parsons and her unusually worldly knowledge was great too, especially for landing the only really funny Ken Bone joke of the night.
Overall, not a bad showing, but not the exceptional one of last week.
Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?
While I can’t say I particularly love the music of Bruno Mars, the dude is one HELL of a showman. Loved the way he opened up by doing a Steadicam shot from his dressing room and he seemed determined to keep the energy going the whole way through. If nothing else, admire a man that dedicated to entertaining.
Impression of the Night?
Cecily Strong’s Melania Trump.
Partially this is because there just isn’t another really A+ one here, and Baldwin didn’t do his best Trump tonight.
Partially, it’s because, despite the weakness of “Melanianade,” this is the show that really made me realize (thanks to “Melania Moments”) the satiric potential of Strong’s Melania. Quietly, the show’s been going dark with her. Paired with Baldwin’s Gargoyle Donald is Strong’s Damsel-in-Distress Melania. The darker joke here is that Melania is kept so far removed and so dreads her husband that she’s dying to get away from him. At times, Baldwin feels like a monster. Strong’s Melania is the one that makes that real, that turns him into a monster we can understand. If SNL is smart, as the allegations keep coming out, they can use Melania to really tear into him over them.
I’m going with Cecily Strong tonight. Her “Melania Moments” sketches are consistently well-done, and she acquitted herself well all over the board tonight. On an off-night, she was the only one who consistently stayed on.
Season so far:
Kate McKinnon – 1
Jost and Che – 1
Cecily Strong – 1
Tonight felt like more like a variety show than anything else. A lot of sketches that didn’t necessarily seem to have comedy first and foremost, a lot of weirdness and a lot of stuff that just didn’t necessarily go anywhere. An bad week for sure, which is a shame given the few things that do work, and the clear enthusiasm Blunt had. The misses are much bigger than the few hits, and I’m really more interested in how the sketches this week got pitched than I am to actually ever see them again. There’s just a lot of real conceptually out-there stuff, and I’m dying to know how it was all sold. Like I said, you can’t win them all.
Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)