Melissa McCarthy and Alec Baldwin might now be dueling it out to see which of them grabs the most headlines after their political impersonations air on “Saturday Night Live.” On last night’s show, McCarthy reprised her role as the feisty “Spicey,” aka Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, while Baldwin made a return appearance as President Donald Trump — a role that has saved his acting career.
None of this means the show overall has succeeded. It’s blatantly doing what it has always done: playing like crazy to its liberal audience. Since the November 2016 election, it’s also working its hardest to diminish the stature of President Trump as much as it possibly can.
The cold open of the show featured a play on NBC News anchor Lester Holt’s interview with the president this week — yes, the one in which Holt repeatedly interrupted Trump. But when Holt, played by Michael Che, asked about the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Baldwin’s “Trump” answered that he didn’t fire Comey because he was investigating him — he fired him for investigating Russia.
Che’s character took on a befuddled look. “Is that it? Did I get him?” Then he bent forward, as if trying to listen better: “Oh, what’s that — nothing matters anymore?”
After that awkward exchange, Baldwin’s “Trump” then mentioned he likes two scoops of ice cream. The crowd burst into silly laughter — which may be the most emblematic gag of this season. It typified the lazy nature of the work on “SNL” these days and the easy, instant acceptance by its audience of anything it serves up. There was no new light shed on the subject, no insight on the content. The deep ridicule CNN deserved for running such a non-story this past week about the president’s enjoyment of ice cream, based on an interview by Time magazine — with the silly headline, “Trump gets 2 scoops of ice cream, everyone else gets 1” — never arrived.
The show merely repeated a line and provoked claps of approval, as it has all season.
Melissa McCarthy got her chance to play her desirable version of Spicer. When the skit shared the announcement that Sarah Huckabee Sanders would be filling in on that day’s press briefing, “SNL” showed McCarthy’s “Spicey” hiding in the bushes outside, a worried look on his face. Then the character came in and took over the briefing. In her fashion, McCarthy delivered in the role — and her “Spicer” delivered venom toward New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush.
But then the show lost momentum. The Spicer character was told he’s had to lie for Trump and might be fired — so he took off in his podium through the streets of New York, in search of the president. An indication of how Baldwin’s Trump has been a drag on the show was seen when the the two portrayals meet in an office — and the entire gag ground to a halt.
The overall takeaway was of wanting more — and better.
The “Weekend Update” portion gave light work to the big events of the days before. It was said that Comey’s firing led the administration to offer up “excuses like a husband with glitter on the collar.” Once again the apocryphal action of Spicer “ducking in the bushes” was brought up — and that amounted to the bulk of the coverage. The remaining items were of light importance and light humor content.
As has been the the consistent pattern this year on “SNL,” the most notable component of the show was the missed opportunities. In a week rich with potential material from the political arena, there were only the easy targets — and a tepid effort made in going after those targets. The overall takeaway was of wanting more — and better.
This is pretty much the same impression of the season as a whole.