Saturday Night Live, Season 41, Episode 4, “Donald Trump/Sia”
Airs Saturdays at 11:30 pm ET on NBC (East coast version watched for review)
Let’s get this over with…
The Host: Somebody’s hands were tied—that’s the feeling, anyway. Trump can be a good comedy figure (anyone want wings?) but, Jesus, trying to be funny when you’re running for president and saying inflammatory things on a regular basis makes it incredibly hard to be funny around you. SNL tries to have its cake and eat it too tonight and neither works at all: When they play along, like in the “Trump White House” sketch, the cast and the writing come off as stilted and unenthused; when they try to drill the Donald, no one in the studio audience laughs and it just forces the viewing audience to question why the show would welcome a host they clearly don’t want to be there. However SNL handles Trump breaks the reality of the show. Trump is even barely on-screen for a host—Variety clocks it at 12 minutes—out of a likely concern for equal time. Trump hosting was a no-win scenario for SNL, and it shows. Next week will likely be an explosion of comedy, as Elizabeth Banks comes to rescue the show from the doldrums, but for a week we’re stuck with a bored and ineffectual Trump and one of the weakest episodes SNL has ever thrown together.
Musical Guest: Sia was set up to be the one unambiguously entertaining aspect of tonight’s show, simply because there would be absolutely no way the malaise of the writer’s room and the cast would effect her musical performance. Turns out, in a way, it does! Both of Sia’s performances feel derivative of her previous appearances on the show and the songs are half-baked rough drafts of her previous hits. The performer interrupting her songs is even going through the motions, or at least the choreography is. What is traditionally a bathroom break for some becomes a bathroom break for all this week.
Best Sketch: Speaking of hands being tied, time to pick the best sketch of the evening. No sketch would get higher than a D if we graded sketches here; there are two that start out at a B, however, before they come crashing down. The “Bar Band” sketch gets off to a pleasant enough start: SNL loves musicians whose ambitions wildly outmatch their talents, and so having a massive band go off on indulgent solos while the cast makes silly faces is always a good start to a sketch. This is one of the only times this episode cast members seem to visibly enjoy being on stage, but then a glassy-eyed, monotone Trump shows up with a laser harp and sublimates whatever charisma is present on screen. The other is a strange little aside before Trump introduces Sia’s second performance, where Kenan comes out dressed as Toots, the musical guest the last time Trump hosted, and tries to be Trump’s friend. “Over-eager Rastafarian” is a pitch-perefect Kenan Thompson character, and his energy and the oddness of having a sketch placed right before a musical performance keep the thing moving along swimmingly. Then Trump threatens to shoot Toots, the whole sketch falls apart, and the audience is swiftly reminded of what a chore the episode has been up to this point.
Worst Sketch: The post-monologue sketch. A speculative future where Trump is president and he has made good on all his boisterous promises, this sketch is begging for a twist that never comes. Simply laying out that, “Hey Mr. President Trump, you sure are doing a good job negotiating with the Chinese and making Mexico pay for that wall” is the kind of bald-faced absurdity that SNL would likely use to make fun of Trump were he not present. But his presence necessitates some kind of twist or complication because what would be absurdity is now just propaganda.
Weekend Update: Leslie Jones is good at making people laugh and she saves the show from total irrelevance. Jost and Che spend most of Update all but checking their watches to see how much time they have left; they’re so locked in, in fact, that they botch introducing Update. And while they both do a good job of ripping apart Ben Carson (“He’s probably the first black man to turn down an alibi”), when they eventually do try to make jokes at Trump’s expense and point out how ridiculous of a person he is, particularly Che who could’ve been a loose canon but ends up being a kind of wobbly canon, the fact that Trump is sitting in a dressing room backstage somewhere takes the teeth out before the anchors can finish biting down. Drunk Uncle shows up to praise Trump, but Uncle must have taken some speed instead of the sauce ’cause Bobby rushes through the panel segment as quick as possible, talking in a whistle instead of a slur, trading in the character’s lethargy for twitchiness. But Jones, God bless her, spends several minutes talking about how her penis references. To describe it would rob it of its potency. Put simply: Leslie Jones saves a real downer of an episode by being herself and sticking to her guns and for that, she is a hero.
Other Notes: Larry David appears to just live at 30 Rock now, as he makes an appearance in the cold open as Bernie Sanders to talk about his disdain for bridges and his love of vacuum pennies. But then the show uses David to try to curb any heckling by having him call Trump a racist because he “heard he’d get $5,000 for it.” Poor David looked like his soul was broken during goodnights. Next week is Elizabeth Banks and Disclosure, which is probably going to be better than what he had this week. In the mean time, here are some links to a bunch of cool stuff, for being such good sports.