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‘Saturday Night Live’ Recap: The Baldwin/Trump Beef Escalates

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Saturday Night Live

As Donald Trump settles into president-elect status, Saturday Night Live has decided on a multi-pronged oppositional approach to his presidency, generally taking on Trump’s policies and political action in Weekend Update, and leaving Alec Baldwin to mock the personality traits they find wanting in the cold open.

Target #1: Trump’s affinity for tweeting.

The cold open finds Baldwin’s Trump and Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway receiving a security briefing but ignoring the briefers, with Trump focusing instead on retweeting random people including a 16-year-old, which Baldwin, McKinnon, and Kenan Thompson’s intelligence officer practically break character to let us know is something that actually happened.

In the meeting, Trump ignores his briefers as Conway explains, “He [tweets so much] to distract the media from his business conflicts and all the very scary people in his cabinet.” Trump disagrees, saying simply, “I do it because my brain is bad.” As the meeting progresses, Trump is unable to shift his focus from Twitter to the briefing.

The sketch then uses Trump to articulate President’s Obama’s successes in office, including how unemployment is currently at a nine-year low, and how millions of people having health care, implying that Trump will take credit for the successes Obama is leaving him with.

By sketch’s end, Trump blows an airhorn for every retweet as he ignores news of potential chaos in Pakistan. The sketch also takes a shot at presidential advisor Steve Bannon, who they chose to portray as the actual character of Death, complete with black cloak and skeleton mask.

As with the show’s last episode, the real Donald Trump objected to the portrayal on Twitter, proclaiming it “biased” and “unwatchable.” SNL has regularly mocked every president, Democratic and Republican, since Gerald Ford. Trump is the first to object, and, from the looks of it, will likely continue doing so throughout his presidency.

Baldwin then escalated the matter:

Your move, PEOTUS!

One note on McKinnon’s Conway. I find the portrayal increasingly frustrating, false, and even a bit sexist. McKinnon plays Conway as the reluctant fixer, a woman trying to clean up a man’s mess, finding his bad behavior uncouth and trying to keep him in line like a harried wife on a Kevin James sitcom. There is simply no real life basis to this. Throughout his campaign and through the present, Conway has been, and continues to be, a loyal and enthusiastic supporter of everything Trump does, as important to his team and as supportive of his mindset as anyone. McKinnon needs to stop playing her like a put-upon school marm, and figure out how to portray her as she really is.

Beyond politics, the episode brought back Emma Stone for the second time hosting. The monologue took the backstage tour route, with Stone reminiscing about her last time hosting, five years ago, and taking an 80s teen film approach, with Vanessa Bayer playing the leader of the mean girls, Aidy Bryant the high school friend she left behind to chase Hollywood (they did actually go to the same high school, it turns out), and Bobby Moynihan the castmate she had a fling with. A cute opening, nothing great, but at least it wasn’t a musical. (Separate but related: Moynihan has been pushed further into the background this year, as newcomers Mikey Day and Alex Moffat have, deservedly, received far more airtime than newcomers normally do. Both have performed admirably, but, can we have more Bobby please? His reduced airtime has been noticeable. He’s been missed.)

For the first post-monologue sketch, the show inexplicably brought back the high school drama club, as the pretentious, clueless teens take on the perceived threats of a Trump administration. Taking on everything from fears of a new Holocaust to shallow aspects of American culture in the most blunt, shallow, and uninformed ways possible, the students are donating the proceeds to Standing Rock, to “get those Native Americans the pipeline they want.” For conservatives who complain that SNL never takes shots at liberals – here’s your sketch, a shot across the bow at over-enthusiastic liberals who protest with their hearts without using their heads. I’d grown tired of this sketch in the past, but this had some funny moments, including Bryant turning a pledge of support for people with AIDS into, “I love my AIDS!” Thompson and Bayer play exasperated parents who have to sit through this abomination, trying to sort through the confused messages coming at them from the stage.

Next comes a musical number from the women in the cast — plus Stone — about regifting candles. Dressed in big hair and fur coats like an old timey Christmas special, the performances are sincere, and this seems like it might be a parody of something specific (but if so, I have no idea of what). I have nothing else to say about this sketch, as I have no feelings about regifting one way or another, and this sketch did nothing to make me care. YMMV.

The next sketch is a bizarre piece of work featuring Pete Davidson as an algebra student whose posters come alive in a dream to help him learn math. While what seemed like a possible teleprompter glitch, but might have just been Davidson breaking, led to a funny moment between him and Thompson’s stand-up comic, this sketch belonged to Stone as the hot-girl pin-up holding a hot dog, which she then tries to use to help Davidson understand math. Putting on an impossibly high, nasal voice, Stone is all-in for this, mocking sexual stereotypes while doing her best to make eating “gross, stinky” hot dogs sound aggressively, enthusiastically sexy.

Recent sightings of Hillary Clinton in the woods around her home inspired “The Hunt for Hill,” a reality TV parody in the tradition of shows determined to find Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. The sketch also seemed, at first, like an excuse to employ McKinnon’s now iconic Clinton impression, one that many expected would be a regular presence on the show for the next four years. The sketch features regular people describing Hillary in impersonal terms, a la Bigfoot, followed by trackers seeking out her shoe prints and trying to call her in the woods with an exaggerated laugh. They also use an article about the current Wisconsin recount as bait, but to no avail. Surprisingly, after dressing McKinnon as Clinton, they give her nothing to do but run through the woods in long shots – the sketch ends somewhat abruptly, the trackers’ mission unfulfilled. The premise here was clever, but the sketch seemed cut short.

Weekend Update was its usual hit-or-miss, with Colin Jost and Michael Che, in what we might as well consider the segment’s permanent format now, spending the entire first segment on Trump. Che’s initial joke, about Trump’s call to Taiwan this week, made the incorrect point that, “Trump probably doesn’t know the difference between Taiwan and China.” Note to Che – he knows it well. There were many aspects of Trump’s breaking with almost 40 years of U.S. protocol that could have been addressed here. Che side-stepped all of them.

Jost then noted that Trump was doing victory rallies in all the places that helped him get elected, like “Ohio, Pennsylvania, Russia, the FBI, Wikileaks, and Hillary’s campaign headquarters.” (That last one got a groan from the crowd. Suck it up, people. There’s truth to it.) He then said that Trump’s “thank you” tour was “the Trumpiest idea I ever heard,” given that “he’s so egotistical that his idea of saying thank you is to have thousands of people show up and chant his name,” then made the case that it would be like if someone started a charity, then had the money go to a portrait of the guy who started the charity – something Trump actually did.

Jost also echoed the cold open by wondering if Trump’s more controversial tweets — this week, about flag burning and voter fraud — were an intentional distraction meant to pull the media’s attention from more important issues. He made the suggestion that if the media insisted on reporting on Trump’s tweets, they should do so in “the most boring way possible,” like a weather report.

The pair then took on the Standing Rock controversy, with Jost, noting America’s history of screwing over the natives, comparing the protesting Native Americans to Milton from Office Space, and the area they’re trying to protect to his stapler. “‘Cause remember,” he says, “at the end of Office Space, Milton burns the entire place down. And oil – famously flammable.”

The week’s first desk piece came from Leslie Jones, commenting on a report that women in long-term relationships report greater sexual dissatisfaction. Jones’ rant about sexual frustration included some men’s tendency to brag inaccurately about their natural gifts. “Do not promise me a rack of ribs,” she says, “then show up with a little penis.” Jones’ message to men — be confident, and be proud of whatever you have down there. “Even a thumb drive can hold a lot of data.” She ends with a quote from Maya Angelou (not really tho): “No matter the size / in-between your thighs / you can still rise.”

We also got Bayer’s spot-on Rachel-from-Friends impression, commenting on the current ’90s nostalgia wave before being interrupted by the real-life Jennifer Aniston, there to call Bayer out on her Friends‘ obsession (while performing the impression with her). It was a cute, brief cameo, really stealth promotion for the upcoming film Office Christmas Party, which the pair appear in together along with McKinnon.

Jones, Stone and Cecily Strong then play an office cleaning crew who want to perform a Christmas song for the people they clean for, and it turns out the songs involve having sex with Santa. By the end, it’s a full-on orgy with elves. Quick and funny.

Next up we have a sketch about a panel on gender equality in film. Sasheer Zamata plays moderator, with panelists Jones, Stone, and Aniston (and more film promo) as themselves, and, from minute one, McKinnon as the obvious joke of the sketch, Debette Goldry, her elderly actress character who fondly remembers the horrible sexism of the old-time film industry, including “having to eat arsenic to make your skin pale.” She rationalizes men being paid more than women by noting that men do all the work; women just had to lay on train tracks looking frightened. She then describes being handled as a prop on film sets, and blowing FDR at his request.

“Wells for Boys” was a commercial parody offering wells for introspection for boys who can’t find their place in childhood (read: boys who are gay) and their difficulty in adapting. I didn’t fully get the symbolism of the well, but the sketch made its point clearly and with laughs, noting that outsiders do things that are often considered weird because the regular world is not cut out for them.

The episode ended with a nativity parody featuring Stone as Mary, just after giving birth, telling Joseph to send the three wise men away because she’s exhausted after giving birth. Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh? Why not blankets, diapers, and a crib?

Next week’s host is wrestler and actor John Cena, with musical guest Maren Morris.

[Watch Saturday Night Live on Hulu or Seeso]

Larry Getlen is the author of the book Conversations with Carlin. His greatest wish is to see Stefon enjoy a cheeseburger at John Belushi’s diner. Follow him on Twitter at @larrygetlen.

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