More po­lit­i­cal, but is it still funny?

Bill Goodykoontz on the new sea­son of ‘Satur­day Night Live’

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - BILL GOODYKOONTZ

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.

PHO­TOS BY WILL HEATH/NBC

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.

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