‘SNL’ Plays its Trump Card Well

Last Saturday's episode hosted by impeccable Donald Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin brought in major ratings — the most watched since Jim Carrey hosted in 2011.

click to enlarge Alec Baldwin (left) plays a dense President Trump in an SNL skit. - Photo: Courtesy of NBC
Photo: Courtesy of NBC
Alec Baldwin (left) plays a dense President Trump in an SNL skit.
The lampooning of America’s highest office is nothing new for sketch-comedy institution Saturday Night Live (11:30 p.m. Saturdays, NBC). When the show first debuted in 1975, Chevy Chase portrayed President Gerald Ford as a bumbling buffoon, which over the years gave way to Dana Carvey’s George Bush and his catchphrase “Not gonna do it,” Phil Hartman’s Bill Clinton jogging to McDonald’s, Will Ferrell’s squinty-eyed Dubya and so many more. Over the past 42 years, the show transformed often-bland politicians into comedic characters.

Then the U.S. elected a comedic character as president: Donald Trump. Trump has, if nothing else, very little sense of humor about himself or the odd way he won (he lost the popular vote). So what does SNL do with that?

Never before have we experienced such contention between the sitting president and SNL. Typically it’s a non-issue (presumably past presidents have had more important concerns), but with Trump, you know he’s watching every week — and not in a fun, relatable way. 

SNL has experienced a surge in relevance thanks to this fact: With every tweet about how “really bad” the show is, Trump only makes it worse for himself and makes a case for the show’s important role. The past three hosts — Aziz Ansari, Kristen Stewart and Alec Baldwin — all chose to do the show despite not having big projects to promote, bringing in some major talent.

Which brings us to Baldwin’s episode last Saturday. Halfway through he’d yet to do his impression of the Donald, and I thought what a statement it would make to take the A-list actor, who has famously been portraying Trump since the premiere of this season, peg him as host and never even mention the president. Imagine Trump’s misguided aggression when Baldwin doesn’t even end up mentioning him! The sweet irony! Of course, at that moment, The People’s Court skit opened with Baldwin’s breathy, puckered Trump suing federal judges on the reality show.

That was on top of Melissa McCarthy’s return as the intemperate Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary; Kate McKinnon’s portrayal of Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway as a stalker and her Gollum-esque turn as Attorney General Jeff Sessions; and some Trump jokes during the “Weekend Update” segment.

Despite what the president might tweet about this show sinking, Saturday’s episode brought in major ratings — the most watched since Jim Carrey hosted in 2011.

The next episode airs March 4 — new episodes are few and far between lately — with an interesting first-time host: Hidden Figures Octavia Spencer.

Whether you think SNL is poised to regain its past glory, needs to push the envelope further or “just stick to jokes” instead, the country’s crazy current events only cement SNL’s spot in popular culture. 

Picks of the Week

Portlandia (10 p.m. Thursday, IFC) – Portland secedes! Fred and Carrie help the city with that process while the eco-terrorists win an award for best protest.

Britney Ever After (8 p.m. Saturday, Lifetime) – Ms. Spears gets the Lifetime Original Movie treatment, shaved head and all. 

Planet Earth II (Season Premiere, 9 p.m., Saturday, BBC America) – Breathtaking nature footage takes viewers up close and personal with creatures across the globe. First up: island inhabitants, featuring a battle between a baby iguana and slithering snakes. 

Big Little Lies (Miniseries Premiere, 9 p.m. Sunday, HBO) – A suspicious death at an elementary school fundraiser changes the dynamic in a group of affluent neighborhood moms. Based on the novel by best-selling author Liane Moriarty, this anticipated miniseries boasts a big-name cast, including Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman. 

Crashing (Series Premiere, 10:30 p.m. Sunday, HBO) – Pete Holmes stars in this new comedy about a guy who turns to the New York stand-up scene after catching his wife in an affair.


CONTACT JAC KERN: @jackern

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