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Cockburn Television

Has Saturday Night Live finally found its feet in the Trump era?

Skip the political cold-open every week

May 5, 2019

3:34 PM

5 May 2019

3:34 PM

The trouble with Trumpworld is it’s so often beyond parody. How could a comedian ratchet up the president ordering Big Macs for a visiting championship football team to make the moment funnier than it already is? It’s a problem which has plunged late-night comedy writing into an identity crisis, one that has blighted America’s flagship sketch show Saturday Night Live.

The Trump era has seen SNL bag Emmys and reach record audiences. But it’s achieved this through polarization: hitting the same tired Trump tropes each week and playing to their coastal-elite base. Its viewers have noticed: 39 percent of them surveyed by The Hollywood Reporter said the show had become too political.

The strongest shows of the current 44th season are those which have largely ignored the bad orange man in the White House: the March 2 episode hosted by John Mulaney, and Adam Sandler’s effort last night.

Saturday’s show didn’t begin with a political ‘cold-open’. There was no Alec Baldwin doing his now-tired Trump impression, no Robert de Niro blowing his lines while impersonating Robert Mueller, no parody of the elder Trump sons in which Eric is portrayed as the dumb one (seriously, how can anyone think Eric is the dumb one?) Instead, proceedings kicked off with a special edition of Family Feud, where Game of Thrones characters faced off against the cast of Avengers: Endgame.

The political jokes were instead relegated to the Weekend Update section, where Kate McKinnon did a star turn impersonating Elizabeth Warren.

Cockburn notes how here for once, the show’s biases worked in its favor. Usually SNL just goes in on Donald Trump and the Republicans, but now the race for the nomination is under way, Democrats are fair game too. McKinnon-as-Warren kicks off by bludgeoning most of the field for not tabling any real policies:

‘I guess, you know, I’m setting myself apart from the other candidates by saying what I’m gonna do and how I’m gonna do it…whoa! What a crackpot idea.’

Then she gets specific:

‘Look, Colin, I mean, what a frickin’ clown car I’ve found myself in, right? I’m over here, workin’ round the clock to give you free college, but- oh, lookie there! Beto O’Dork did parkour in a Starbucks, wowwwww! Whoops, I just figured out universal pre-K, but- what’s that over there? Mayor Pete Bu-ju-ju-judy-jutes playin’ piano and speakin’ fluent Klingon…I know as a Democrat I’m not supposed to say this, but speak English! Frick!’

Before turning on the front-runner:

‘Ah yeah, great. Everybody make way for good ol’ Joe the Amtrak masseuse! What a hero he is…look, if I lose, I’m still gonna be fightin’ in the US Senate. And where will ol’ Joe be? Sitting on Rehoboth Beach, readin’ a Tom Clancy novel, pickin’ saltwater taffy out of his veneers.’

Cockburn can’t be alone in wanting to see the real Warren bring this kind of ‘fight’ to the Democratic primary…and in hoping the SNL writers keep up this trend of punching left, right and center.

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