Saturday Night Live Season 42, Episode 14: Alec Baldwin hosts for a 17th time!

Well, I’m exhausted from hearing about the near daily horrors of a new administration, waking up every morning to hear some new law or some new barely coherent statement made on Twitter or just the general fact that the country legitimately seems to be going to hell in a handbasket.

But at least I have Saturday Night Live, my old standby and comfort. Maybe even the political laughs can keep me from thinking about it all for a couple hours. Let’s see who’s hosting this week…

Aw shit.

How’s the Cold Open?

SNL has always excelled at knowing where its bread is buttered. When a sketch excels, you know you’re going to see it pop up again as soon as they can, and McCarthy’s Sean Spicer undoubtedly excelled, going viral almost instantly and earning almost universal raves.

The fact that they brought McCarthy back the next week should then hold no surprise. The major surprise is that it seems as though diminishing returns have definitely not kicked in just yet. McCarthy’s Spicer packs just as much a comedic punch as it did the last time around, with enough escalations to keep the sketch feeling fresh.

The doll illustration was perfect and the motorized press-attack podium (I will pay whatever toy company is willing to make that action figure) is a great way to take jokes that worked last week and keep them going. It’s a shame that it’s becoming clear this sort of sketch will stick to a formula, considering it seemed so bold and sort of anarchic in its first take. But McCarthy continues to cut a really solid character here, I think it’s time to let her loose and put her in scenes, start having her play off the others.

McKinnon gets to take another major political figure by playing Jeff Sessions in a distillation of his appearance as a particularly demented elf. Only a couple lines but that punchline hits hard.

We all know there’s two types of crime: Regular and Black.

As someone who lived under Sessions? Very satisfying, even if it’s terrifying to remember that he has federal level power.

Who’s Hosting?

Alec Baldwin is likely my favorite SNL host of all-time. Even before he became a semi-regular cast member with taking on the role of Donald Trump, there was no host more game and able for basically anything the show could throw at him. This is the Schweddy Balls guy, no host had more earned their SNL stripes.

So it’s a delight to see him back and playing more traditional comedic roles on the show again. Whether driving the sketch or supporting, Baldwin can do it all. The only question was how much Trump the show was gonna let him do, and it ended up being a surprisingly restrained amount.

What Sketches Are Worth Watching?

“Pitch Meeting”

During the Super Bowl, it seemed like every ad went vaguely political, became a “SCREW YOU” to our current administration through the idea of reaffirming basic human decency. And while I admire that, it feels ripe for mockery, as not every brand should feel the need to reaffirm basic tenets of liberal democracy.

This one plays it perfectly, the overly serious maudlin ads pitched perfectly by Baldwin and Bryant, the increasing bafflement by the more fun ads (for Cheetos, remember). The cynicism that the ad execs are playing into (that great line about them not actually knowing any Transgendered people). A goofy little sketch with a great point. Saying the right things doesn’t necessarily mean the brands are on your side.

“Russell Stover”

This definitely feels like an older sketch, more of a 90s commercial parody. Which is not an insult, on the contrary. That was definitely prime-time for SNL‘s commercial parodies as this one packs a lot of laughs along a similar line as the “Pitch Meeting” sketch. Sasheer Zamata is the highlight of this sketch, those perfectly underplayed reactions are exactly what this needed. The writing is also just loaded with perfect little one-liners that keep this zipping along.

“Drill Sergeant”

This sketch was the sort of delight that I’m just really happy to see Baldwin getting to do in this episode. The switch between stern Baldwin and proud father is just so much fun and Mikey Day plays the hell out of the reactions here. That slide on the question about whether or not Day’s son and Moffatt’s fellow company man were friends was a masterstroke, and a surprisingly strong ending on this one. Just a whole lot of fun to see and clearly fun to perform.

“Leslie Wants To Play Trump”

Most likely the sketch responding to all the armchair casting over the past week (Guys, the quickest way to keep someone from getting on SNL is to demand they be on there). This is functionally a recurring sketch, the performers breaking character and telling their backstage story. It’s even a little serialized, continuing with Vanessa Bayer as a mean girl and the relationship between Leslie Jones and Kyle Mooney (which is adorable). This is a low-key sketch, Jones’ commitment here is the center of it all. Jones has really carved out a place in these sort of actorly sketches, and she’s actually a surprisingly compelling character on her own. Plus, the sight of Jones in full Trump is amazing, worth watching this sketch for that alone.

“Jake Tapper”

Fatal Attraction reference? I’m down for it. Kate McKinnon and Beck Bennett are currently the two best performers on this show, so any chance to have them go full bore and play against each other is worth it. It helps that this is a surprisingly dense and clever little sketch, the transformation of Kellyanne Conway as a character from “Unwitting Architect” to “Monster of Her Own Design.” McKinnon relishes getting to play Conway’s lust for power up to the rafters, and Bennett plays against that so well. This is also just well-filmed and well-acted, I want to commend the craft going on here.

“Alec Baldwin’s 17th Time Monologue”

As always, at least it wasn’t a musical monologue. Davidson and him have a fairly fun chemistry, and I can’t imagine a lot of other hosts who would be willing to be so negative about themselves. But that’s what you get when someone’s been around long enough to be this comfortable.

What Didn’t Work?

“Trump People’s Court”

Probably one of the more anticipated sketches (Baldwin’s Trump on Baldwin’s episode), this one ended up coming out weirdly deflated. They just never found a good hook in or a joke that they hadn’t already made. I won’t necessarily say underwritten, there’s plenty going on. Just nothing particularly hilarious, nothing particularly pointed. The joke got made during the Spicer sketch, an expansion doesn’t necessarily do anything for the concept.

“Beyonce’s Babies”

I love seeing Tracy Morgan show up, don’t get me wrong. And Sasheer’s doing a solid Beyonce here, who we’ve not really seen since Maya Rudolph. But like the People’s Court, it feels like a relevant and decent concept that it just never ends up really finding a hook into. It’s all vaguely amusing, but nothing necessarily funny.

“Gym Class”

Yeah, a fart joke. Sadly, one that tipped its hand too early and ended up not really doing anything for me.

Weekend Update!

There’s a formula that seems to be developing for how our anchors here are handling Trump jokes, and tonight is perhaps the most brutal. Factual explanation, secondary joke, then a twist that goes hard. This was perhaps their best night for these, delivering some jokes that felt directly pointed at Trump and that were undoubtedly brutal. The MVP joke of the night has to be the end of Che’s stand-up riff. “Is this really how you want to spend the last two years of your life?” Oof, that’s a hell of a joke. A solid week for these guys.

The Correspondent bits all roughly worked this week. McKinnon laid claim to another member of the political landscape with Elizabeth Warren (obvious enough) and her solid impression papered over the weaker joke writing. The last punch back at SNL really worked, playing into my theory that Jost and Che are probably the two angriest that they had to work with Trump.

Moffatt brought out what was clearly an audition character with the douchey frat dude “Guy Who Just Bought A Boat” and it was funny if a little too real for me to not look at it with a dawning horror. If anyone’s wondering why it hit me like that, I went to a private university with a massive business program.

Finally, Greg and Shelly Duncan who took the terrible BDSM advice of 50 Shades Darker. Day’s underplaying next to Leslie Jones alternatively giggling and commanding performance is a comic delight, and the name Toilet Dog is just an audacious detail. I could see these guys recurring.

Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?

Nope.

MVPs!

You know what? Let’s go Mikey Day tonight. Bennett and McKinnon both performed well within expectations, but Day is starting to get his spotlight and he’s making it increasingly clear where his niche is, starting to distinguish himself from performers like Killam or Bennett. His underplayed reactions and surprising gift for physical comedy is standing out, I could see his spot on the cast being firmly secured at this point.

Season so far:

Beck Bennett – 3
Kate McKinnon – 2
Cecily Strong – 2
Vanessa Bayer – 1
Mikey Day – 1
Jost and Che – 1
Leslie Jones – 1
Bobby Moynihan – 1
Kenan Thompson – 1
Ensemble – 1

Final Thoughts!

While not quite the episode for #theresistance that the entire country seemed to expect it to be (look, SNL‘s political efficacy does not need to be its primary goal), it was a solid and fun episode, Baldwin always keeps the cast on at least their B+-game.

Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)

  1. Dave Chappelle
  2. Tom Hanks
  3. Kristen Stewart
  4. Lin-Manuel Miranda
  5. Emma Stone
  6. Aziz Ansari
  7. Alec Baldwin
  8. Kristen Wiig
  9. Margot Robbie
  10. Casey Affleck
  11. Benedict Cumberbatch
  12. John Cena
  13. Felicity Jones
  14. Emily Blunt
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