Brow Beat

Matt Damon Kicks Off Saturday Night Live’s New Season With a Surprise Appearance as Brett Kavanaugh

Matt Damon, as Brett Kavanaugh, sits at the hearing table weeping.
Embarrassed in front of Alyssa Milano!
NBC

Saturday Night Live returned for its 44th season this week, but fans hoping NBC’s venerable sketch show would get out of the celebrity-cameo rut it settled into last year were in for a Matt-Damon-sized disappointment. The show kicked off with a Brett Kavanaugh cold open that either promised a thrilling return to form or indulged all of SNL’s laziest comedic instincts, depending on how you felt about last year. As Kavanaugh, Damon joined Robert De Niro, Scarlett Johansson, Ben Stiller, and Stormy Daniels in the long list of A-listers and Stormy Daniels who’ve cameoed on SNL as bit players in Trump’s orbit. Meanwhile, Rachel Dratch popped up as Senator Amy Klobuchar, a reassuring reminder that we can expect plenty of surprise appearances from former cast members, regardless of Fred Armisen’s availability. And although this wasn’t the first time Kate McKinnon played Lindsey Graham—check out this 2016 Republican debate sketch for a trip back to the pre-Baldwin days—her brief appearance makes it clear that the makeup department has laid in plenty of prosthetic jowls for the long winter ahead. Continuity with change:

But whatever work the cold open is doing to set Saturday Night Live’s tone, it doesn’t accomplish anywhere near as much as a satire, probably because Kavanaugh is his own caricature. The writers pick up the paranoid style in Kavanaugh’s thinking by giving Damon this line:

I’m here tonight because of a sham. A political con job orchestrated by the Clintons and George Soros and Kathy Griffin and Mr. Ronan Sinatra. 

But that is actually less paranoid than what Kavanaugh said. Damon’s Kavanaugh names actual people who he alleges have done specific, verifiable things, while the genuine Kavanaugh blames dark, shadowy forces:

This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.

That’s just unimprovable. Damon’s best moments come when he gets weepy remembering workout sessions with Mark Judge, P.J., Squi, Donkey-Dong Doug, Handsy Hank, and Gang Rape Greg, but even here, he has the same basic problem with the source material. A Supreme Court nominee named “Brett” who had friends nicknamed “Squi” and “PJ” when they were all in prep school together is not the kind of gag that can be improved by adding “Donkey-Dong Doug” to the mix. Kavanaugh, like Trump himself, is a cruel but perfect joke the universe is making about America. No one can make this any funnier than it already is.