Brow Beat

Saturday Night Live Returns and It’s (Almost) All About Impeachment

Alec Baldwin, as Donald Trump, talks to Kate McKinnon as Rudy Giuliani, in a split screen image from Saturday Night Live.
They’re back! NBC

It’s been a tumultuous summer for the world, a tumultuous month for Saturday Night Live, and a really shitty week for Donald Trump. And when there’s only one story in the news cycle that isn’t about your sketch comedy show hiring and then firing a comedian who uses racial slurs, there’s really only one premise for your sketch comedy show’s sketches. The season premiere of Saturday Night Live aired eight sketches this Saturday, and three of them were about the impeachment of Donald Trump. The impeachment comedy began with the cold open, a classic SNL parade of impersonations in which Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump attempts to hire actor Liev Schreiber to fix his mess, mistakenly believing that Ray Donovan is a real person, rather than a fictional fixer Schreiber plays on the Showtime series Ray Donovan. It doesn’t play much better in the event, but Cecily Strong’s Jeanine Pirro impression remains one of the best things on the show, and watching her give Trump a pep talk—“Who’s my special, beautiful boy?”—is worth a little Baldwin. Pay attention to the backgrounds: Either there was a green screen screwup, or Mike Pence is hanging out at Kanye West’s place.

The show used its second sketch, ostensibly an impeachment roundtable, as a proxy for the Democratic primary debates, which meant that Andrew Yang, the first Asian-American to seek the Democratic party’s presidential nomination since 1972, was played by Bowen Yang, the first fully Asian-American comedian to be cast on Saturday Night Live since—well, since ever, although Fred Armisen is a quarter Korean. Chloe Fineman, the other new cast member who didn’t get fired for using racial slurs, shows off a killer Marianne Williamson impression, and Harrelson steps in for frequent guest Jason Sudeikis to play Joe Biden. The highlight here is Maya Rudolph, swinging by to absolutely demolish Kamala Harris by demonstrating that her debate delivery owes a lot to basic cable.

Weekend Update, naturally, was mostly about Donald Trump’s impeachment, and arguably so was the sketch in which host Woody Harrelson played the proprietor of a museum dedicated to displaying the world’s largest Cheeto. (It seemed like a pretty impressive Cheeto, but it crumbled to dust the second a fan was turned on.) But the show’s strongest and funniest take on the country’s political chaos was a cross between the 2016 Election Night sketch in which Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle watch Trump win and the 2016 sketch in which Trump’s scandals throw guests on Anderson Cooper 360 into a malfunctioning infinite commentary loop like Westworld robots. It’s a good premise and good execution, but it’s only after someone in wardrobe jumps her cue that the sketch turns into something sublime:

Amnesiac pundits singing chorus after chorus of “Ah! Well. Nevertheless,” as Donald Trump wriggles out of one jam after another is a recurring and depressing feature of the age, and if that were all Saturday Night Live ended up skewering, “Inside the Beltway” would have been funny and sharp. (If the only joke had been that a show called Inside the Beltway booked its guests exclusively from Texas, it would have been funny and sharp.) But Aidy Bryant’s complete failure to make it through the sentence “I believe that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” without laughing so hard she cries is truth at 29.97 frames per second, a portrait of the media, the country, and the human material that is no less funny or vicious for being accidental. So on a night that featured two new SNL cast members, a roster of A-list guest stars, the same deep bench of comedy talent that’s kept the show going for years, and Woody Harrelson, the most valuable comedy player turned out to be a member of the wardrobe department who jumped the gun. Does the cast have any recent openings?