More political, but is it still funny?
Bill Goodykoontz on the new season of ‘Saturday Night Live’
Calling the new season of “Saturday Night Live” hit-or-miss so far is unnecessary — the show has always been hit-ormiss.
I’m old enough (read: old) to have watched it from the start, and there has always been plenty of chaff among the comic wheat, even at the beginning.
But with a renewed interest in political satire and comedy — gee, wonder why that happened? — the show is enjoying better ratings and more attention. People want to see Alec Baldwin impersonate President Donald Trump, because the real thing evidently isn’t funny
enough. After three new episodes this season, and new ones starting up again next Saturday, Nov. 4, it’s a good time to check in and see how the show is doing. It’s hit-or-miss.
The Baldwin-as-Trump skits remain as they were — monotonous. Baldwin returned for the first show, running through what amounted to a “Last week on ‘Saturday Night Live’” recap of Trumpisms. Eh. Same old, same old — which, scarily enough, may be a form of “normalizing,” to use one of the hot-button words this administration has wrought, but so be it.
On the other hand, “Weekend Update,” anchored by Colin Jost and Michael Che, has become the best, most-dependable part of the show, and one that actually seems kind of important. It’s been a while — probably some time before Jon Stewart took over “The Daily Show” — since that was the case. Both anchors, in different ways, are clearly passionate about their work in the segment. And, more importantly in this case, they’re also funny. If they weren’t, they’d be on the wrong show.
They’re even making news, never a bad thing for a show like this. During the first episode, while decrying the Trump administration’s slow response to the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico, Che said, “Do what you just did for white people twice, you cheap cracker.”
Cue outrage from those who didn’t seem to mind when a Republican member of Congress once shouted, “You lie!” at Barack Obama during the president’s speech to a joint session of Congress.
We didn’t see Baldwin at all for the second episode (he would return for the third), but he wasn’t missed. The best moment of the show — the best moment of the season thus far — was the cold open, the slot where we often see Trump’s misadventures relived. And it wasn’t even political.
Or maybe it was. The second episode opened with Jason Aldean singing “I Won’t Back Down.” It was a stunningly effective moment, and a perfect one: Aldean had been singing on stage the Sunday before when the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival began. And Tom Petty, who wrote “I Won’t Back Down,” had died that Monday.
“I’m Jason Aldean,” he began. “This week we witnessed one of the worst tragedies in American history. Like everyone I’m struggling to understand what happened that night and how to pick up the pieces and start to heal. So many people are hurting — there are children, parents, brothers, sisters, friends. They’re all part of our family, so I want to say to them, we hurt for you and we hurt with you, but you can be sure we’re going to walk through these tough times together every step of the way. Because when America is at its best, our bond and our spirit, it’s unbreakable.”
With that he kicked into the anthemic song.
That’s the kind of thing, more than the skits and the jokes, that people remember. It’s also the kind of thing that exists outside the ability of the show to plan for (and thankfully so).
A quick reminder that “Saturday Night Live” is a comedy show. The bulk of what it’s been doing, and always has done, doesn’t involve politics. Yet here we are, talking about that one aspect.
Is everything political? Does everything have to be?
Yeah, sadly. Right now, it does. A show that purports to be a barometer of the culture has to recognize that there are things going on right now that seem comical in their absurdity, like the continued assaults on the First Amendment. Why?
Because if we don’t laugh, what other choice do we have? We’d have to cry.
Kate McKinnon as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Alex Moffat as Senator Chuck Schumer, and Alec Baldwin as President of the United States Donald Trump during the cold open on Sept. 30.
Melissa Villaseñor as Velma, Kyle Mooney as Elvis, Kumail Nanjiani as Groot, Cecily Strong as Maleficent, hot dog Leslie Jones, Aidy Bryant as a nun and Kenan Thompson as Mario.
Jason Aldean performs “I Won’t Back Down” on SNL on Oct. 7.
Alec Baldwin portrays President Donald J. Trump during “Trucker Rally Cold Open” on Oct. 14.