After slipping into mediocrity for a few years, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” came back with a bang with their Emmy winning 42nd season. Lead by cast member Kate McKinnon and guest Alec Baldwin’s impressions of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the sketch comedy show launched into the spotlight with cutting political commentary. Nine episodes into season 43, the show is learning that it will have to learn new tricks in order to stay as funny as they want to be.
The season premiere starred Ryan Gosling as host with musical guest Jay-Z, and both were fantastic. Gosling gave a great monologue and was great in the sketches, including saving a few of the poorer bits. Jay-Z was equally great, and since he only puts his music on his streaming service Tidal, his performance was the only chance a lot of viewers had to listen to his music.
But after the first few episodes, one thing was clear: Alec Baldwin’s Trump impression was not going to carry this season as it did the last. Spotlighting in many of the show’s “cold open” bits, the impression of the president simply didn’t carry the same weight as it had in the past. Many of those bits were unclear, and not as funny as the opening bits of the show usually are.
These episodes were still funny, but not for the same reasons. Instead, the shows were carried by characters like Kumail Nanjiani’s customer service rep, or Gal Gadot’s Kendall Jenner. And Colin Jost and Michael Che stayed funny and biting with a mix of Trump jokes and others on”Weekend Update”.
In recent episodes, the show has taken more of this new style, and with great results. In the episode hosted by Tiffany Haddish (the first Black female comic to host the show), “SNL” had a thoroughly strong episode. Their cold open featured Jeff Sessions and Roy Moore, but no Trump. The top sketches showed Haddish as Rihanna and Beyonce in “Tournament Fighter,” and the entire cast doing top notch impressions in “Lion King Auditions”. And the top political sketch of the show was not about Trump or republicans at all. They instead applied their comic genius to a sketch ridiculing the Democratic establishment in “Message From The DNC”.
A week later, the show had their best episode of the season. Host Chance the Rapper delivered a hilarious thanksgiving-themed monologue, and the show just got better from there. One of few people who can host “SNL” without having anything to promote, Chance showed why in the sketches like “sports announcer” and “come back Barak”. The show was topped off with a breathtaking performance from Eminem and Skylar Grey.
Since Chance’s episode, “SNL” has had two more episodes, each one good but not great. The bits continue to get closer to the perfect balance of political and non-political comedy. At the same time, “Weekend Update” continues to strive on biting political commentary. In particular, they have done a great job of staying critical of former cast member Al Franken, who resigned as senator after being accused of repeated sexual misconduct, while keeping the allegations in perspective.
The cast and writers of “SNL” are matched by none. They have clearly taken a turn towards political comedy, and done so for the better. They have continued to have great hosts, great music, and great comedy. As the show evolves, I expect it to keep trending upwards.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS