Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays, 11:30pm on NBC.
By Ryan O’Connell
I’m a firm believer that in life, the key is knowing when to pick your spots. You either pick your spot to be present, make an impact or you pick your spot to sit a play out. For Saturday Night Live, I think they are facing a pivotal “pick your spot” moment in time and it involves Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of Donald Trump. It was smart to bring him in and play Trump, now it’d smart to shelve it for a while.
Baldwin first played Trump in the fall of 2016, getting the gig because it never made sense for Taran Killam to play Trump and Darrell Hammond’s impersonation wasn’t cartoonish enough. Baldwin’s Trump was fun of a couple levels – fun because it was Baldwin doing it, fun because of how he was able to push the absurdity of the situation, and fun because of how he was able to amplify the more ridiculous aspects of Trump’s personality. It was also fun because no one thought it would last.
But of course it has lasted because of course Trump won and Trump is president. Saturday Night Live had to then bring Baldwin back this season because not only had we come to expect him playing Trump, who else was going to do it? Kate McKinnon can’t do everything. (At least that’s what we tell ourselves; she totally can.) Once the election was over, the Trump sketches had taken a turn, had a different vibe to them. Baldwin’s Trump increasingly became the least funny part of the sketch, with either McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway or the Grim Reaper Bannon stealing the show. Also, they kind of never had Trump do anything. He was either standing in the Oval Office or standing behind a podium, which I suppose is the trade off for having Baldwin play the part. He’s probably not going to make rehearsals. They had to make it as easy as possible for him.
This has since continued throughout the first few episodes of season 43. They did Trump’s rally in Phoenix and then they did him in the Oval Office, talking to the major of San Juan. In Oval Office spots, he now plays off Aidy Bryant’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders as opposed to McKinnon’s Conway, who is apparently preoccupied. The sketches have been okay – good, not great, but overall they’ve been fine. If they’re not there, you miss them and I suppose that counts for something.
However, watching a cold open this year, which featured Baldwin addressing Trump supporters, directing Mike Pence walk-outs and responding to Eminem’s brilliant anti-Trump freestyle, it finally felt different, as if a tipping point had been reached. Instead of enjoying it, I kind of just wanted it to be over.
I don’t want to laugh at Trump anymore, no matter what kind of absurd, ridiculous things Baldwin says or does. We had come off of a week where Trump made moves to dismantle Obamacare, effectively kicking millions off of health insurance, announced a tax plan that would benefit him more than anyone us, continued to taunt North Korea, backed out of the Iran deal, and said Puerto Rico can’t expect the government to be with them all the way through the recovery and rebuilding of the island after Hurricane Maria. He continued to attack NFL players who choose to kneel for the anthem, as well as Jemele Hill, an ESPN anchor who was suspended for suggesting a boycott of advertiser’s products is the only way to get NFL owners to listen (even though she followed that tweet up with another, saying she wasn’t advocating for a boycott.)
It took George W. Bush at least five or six years to reach a point where his actions and words weren’t funny anymore, no matter how you spun it. Trump has reached that point in less than one year.
What Trump is doing on a daily basis is disgusting, hateful, tragic and sad. He’s creating divisions within our country and hurting our standing in the world, doing damage that could take years to repair. I feel bad for the president who will follow him because they will have their work cut out for them. Of course, seeing as how up to this point, all he has done is sign executive orders, on one hand, undoing what’s he done will be easy, but on the other hand, once the dust settles, it’s going to be a process.
I just don’t want to laugh about what Trump is doing anymore. I want to be sad about it, I want to be mad and angry. I am sad, mad and angry and because of that, I can’t even laugh about it. I suppose the difference was that a few weeks ago, I wanted to find a way to laugh about it, to find solace in humor and the absurdity of it all. But those days are gone. The humor is dead. We’re no longer laughing at someone else, we’re laughing at ourselves because this is our problem, Trump is our problem.
Distractions are good and thank God we have ways to escape the depressing reality of our current situation, but those distractions work because they don’t involve what we’re trying to get away from. You know what I enjoyed on Saturday Night Live that episode? I liked Kumail Nanjiani’s monologue. The Kellyanne/IT mashup skit was hilarious and clever, but even that had a slight tinge of pain because she’s become a destructive force as well. Her lies and her spin aren’t funny anymore. Thankfully Kate McKinnon is always funny.
Saturday Night Live probably won’t give Baldwin’s Trump impression a break because of the attention it gets and how it owns the Internet in the hours that follow it, but man I wish they would. I don’t enjoy them anymore and would even consider skipping them and getting right to the monologue. But if they don’t, maybe they could get creative and find other ways to address what Trump has done recently. They could do sketches in the Oval Office with an empty chair representing Trump or have a baby sitting behind the desk. Maybe a golden retriever could play Trump? Or I don’t know, have Leslie Jones play Trump and blow the whole damn thing up.
Or they could just ignore him. If they want to get under his skin, that would certainly do the trick.
Whatever they ultimately decide to do, and I’d have to imagine they’ll have to address this at some point because Baldwin probably doesn’t want to do this for four (or two) years, limiting Trump sketches to maybe one a month might be the best play. We need a break once Saturday night rolls around.
Or once Tuesday night rolls around, depending on the week.