Say goodbye to the days of goofy politician caricatures. Gone is the overeager, goody-two-shoes Hillary Clinton. No more sleepy Ben Carson. Forget “I can see Russia from my house!”
A month into a presidency some argue has felt more like a year, Saturday Night Live is done portraying politicians as well-intentioned if unequipped goofballs. The writers have snapped. They’re not here to just make people laugh anymore. They’re here to make a point and they don’t care what anyone has to say about it.
Saturday’s episode of the show, hosted by Alec Baldwin, was a turning point for a program that has provided topical, political parodies for the past 42 years. Humorous commentary on current events has been replaced by a new kind of anger-tinged satire.
The “Trump People’s Court” skit this week served almost to voice the public’s frustrations — or even the cast and writers of the show. Cecily Strong’s character, a television judge — which is okay, because we have a “television president,” as Baldwin’s President Trump declares — is so exasperated by the end of the skit it’s almost tough to tell where the character stops and Strong begins.
“I want one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me,” she says.
The Diamondback’s Taylor Stokes wrote in October that “the political humor is saving the show right now, but with the election finally ending next week it’s hard to say whether SNL will be able to pull itself out of the rut it seems to be stuck in.”
Ironically, the very same political humor that had been saving the show just recently nearly doomed it into a rut. How many more times could we watch Alec Baldwin, eyes squinted and mouth puckered wide open, sitting on an Oval Office set as he’s visited by a rotating cast of his closest confidants?
Enter: Melissa McCarthy. For two episodes now, her press secretary Sean Spicer impression has not only mixed up the monotony of what seemed like a perpetual Trump cold open spell, but set a new precedent for the show itself: The SNL writers know the president is watching, and they’re not afraid to hold up a huge, metaphorical middle finger to him.
Not only are Trump cold opens becoming too expected, but they’re not even necessary at this point. SNL skits and shorts are uploaded online individually the next day — viewers don’t need to be hooked with Baldwin right away, because they can watch in any order on their own time. SNL‘s Trump impersonations will go — and have gone — viral regardless.
For all the praise and notoriety this episode got for taking a firm stance, the “Jake Tapper” skit was cause for outrage on social media. In a Fatal Attraction parody, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway breaks into CNN anchor Jake Tapper’s apartment to beg/seduce/threaten him into allowing her back on TV. Some viewers thought the skit was offensive, others found it funny, still others considered it just plain bizarre.
The episode mostly criticized the current political climate, but there was also an underlying criticism of news and late night TV in general for not taking more firm stances against Trump’s administration. But SNL‘s new, unprecedented stance begs the question: Are they crossing a line?
The answer, though perhaps unsubstantial, is that it doesn’t really matter. SNL doesn’t care if it crosses lines anymore.