Brow Beat

Robert De Niro Returns to Saturday Night Live as Robert Mueller and It’s Terrible

Robert De Niro and Alex Moffat laughing on Saturday Night Live.
“No matter what happens, America is going to be just fine!”

About three minutes into this week’s Saturday Night Live cold open, all of the bad decisions the show has made during the Trump presidency slowly swung into perfect, awful alignment. Watch in horror as a once-in-a-lifetime harmonic convergence between the show’s love of celebrity cameos, their weakness for reassuring their audience that everything will be okay, and their apparently difficult-to-read cue cards unleashes gravitational forces that tear the cold open to pieces:

It can be fun to watch a Saturday Night Live sketch fall apart, but only if it’s falling apart because it’s going better than anyone hoped and the actors are breaking. That is not what happened here. Mikey Day and Alex Moffat’s Trump boys are absolutely genius in their “Weekend Update” bits, which are as much about the unconvincing ways stupid people try to project intelligence as they are about Trump’s sons. Outside of that context, though, they can be hit or miss, and this was mostly a miss (although the expressions playing over Mikey Day’s face as Moffat uses “indict” in a sentence—“There’s no sugar indict Coke”—are worth paying attention to.) But Day and Moffat are just a little flat, not a disaster.

Whatever was going on with Robert De Niro is a disaster. He rarely makes eye contact with Moffat, staring instead at what must be the cue cards, he delivers jokes like he’s reading them for the first time, and at one point it seems like he either skipped some lines or a last-minute edit rendered the dialogue nonsensical, because he answers, “That depends on how much you want to visit your family,” in answer to a question no one asked. But the great convergence happens when SNL tries to be reassuring. De Niro is supposed to deliver the following lines, both of which are apparently meant sincerely and both of which are transparently false:

But Eric, I just came here to let you know that no matter what happens America is going to be just fine. This is a country full of good people. 

It seems like, from De Niro’s strange pause, nod, and stutter on “no matter what happens” that a cue card didn’t get changed when it was supposed to. It’s live TV, these things happen, people keep going. But this time it happened while one of the celebrities SNL has cast as a Trump crony was delivering lines he didn’t seem to have seen before in a tone that made them sound sarcastic while not making eye contact with the person he was supposedly talking to. The result is hard to watch, but weirdly, it ends up being more honest than the sketch would have been if they’d executed it flawlessly. There are a lot of people going around spreading the message that America is going to be just fine despite Donald Trump, because America is full of good people. But to look someone in the eye and say that you believe that things are going to turn out okay because of the essential goodness of the same people who elected Donald Trump—well. You’d have to be a better actor than Robert De Niro.