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Hillary Rodham Clinton plays Val, the bartender, on 'Saturday Night Live': Review

Hillary Clinton, a candidate for the Democrat

Hillary Clinton, a candidate for the Democrat presidential nomination on Oct. 3, 2015. Credit: AP / Jose Luis Magana

Hillary Rodham Clinton's starring role on the season premiere of "Saturday Night Live," as usual, comes down to the same old question: Did she do herself any favors? "I've had a hard couple of 22 years," her double, Kate McKinnon, told the real-life presidential candidate. A hard couple of 22 months as well.

What was unique about Clinton's role on "SNL" was in fact that it was a role, Val, the bartender. Usually, the idea is just to play a funnier, nicer, more human and more ironic version of one's self.

If at all possible.

Instead, we got Val.

Clinton locked eyes with the TelePrompTer more than with McKinnon. At least the question about her future job as a professional actress was easily settled. She, or Val, even tried impersonating Donald Trump, and it's fair to say most viewers had seen or heard better -- most notably Taran Killam who launched his new Trump impersonation in the show's opening sketch just moments earlier. But that didn't mean the skit didn't work for Clinton. It actually did because it broke down a standard go-to joke, of having the politician come face to face with their alternate-universe "SNL" version. That's almost always guaranteed a quick laugh. Not much else. Recall Tina Fey and Sarah Palin, or Amy Poehler and Clinton.

And turning the joke, however very gently back on Clinton -- as someone late to her convictions on issues such as gay marriage or even the Keystone XL pipeline -- didn't hurt her, either.

Viewers got to see Clinton laugh, too. They don't see that often, either. There hasn't been a lot to laugh about. "I wish you could be president," said the Hillary-McKinnon character. "Me too," said Hillary-Val the bartender.

Critics will argue that Clinton got a free campaign commercial (they won't be wrong). Or that she diminished her stature as a serious candidate (wrong -- many politicians eventually find their way to Studio 8H, including President Barack Obama in 2012).

"Millennial pandering" was the rap she got recently from a Salon columnist for doing an interview with Lena Dunham and her "Lennyletter" newsletter. (But don't all politicians pander?) She even introduced Miley Cyrus -- who was on her best behavior Saturday for the occasion -- for the show's first musical performance.

OK, pandering.

These coveted "SNL" appearances don't always have the advantage of transforming a troubled candidate into a golden candidate, whose image is instantly inverted, and whose flaws are magically erased. Even a generous "SNL" sketch can't perform miracles.

Al Gore hosted "SNL" on Dec. 14, 2002. On Dec. 17, 2002, he officially announced that he would not run again for president.

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