Proving or perhaps just reaffirming that it usually takes a few weeks to shake off the long summer nap, “Saturday Night Live” pulled down a bona fide winner Saturday. It included an Alec Baldwin cold open — easily the best of two so far this 43rd season — and a first-rate digital short (“Kellywise”) starring Kate McKinnon reprising both Kellyanne Conway and Hillary Clinton that was funny, sharp, interesting, tough, coldblooded and even a little bit scary. (The short was a parody of “It.”)
Guest host Kumail Nanjiani proved (or perhaps just reaffirmed) that the best guest hosts are professional comedians without movies to shill but who have banked enough goodwill from the good shows they grace (in his case “Silicon Valley” and “Portlandia”) that they could host just about any show on any date.
The third episode of the season also finally caught up with Harvey Weinstein a week after “SNL” studiously ignored the biggest entertainment catastrophe of the year. The Weinstein assault — directed mostly during “Weekend Update” — chiefly relied on ad hominem playground insults (“well-dressed skin tag”) — but at least turned him into the piñata he so richly deserved to finally become on “SNL.”
Everything, in other words, worked well to some degree. Strange: This is “SNL” we’re talking about, after all, where “everything works well” is conditional, aspirational, ultimately unattainable.
The Gal Gadot-hosted episode the week before was almost an impossible feat to begin with, airing seven days after one of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history. That show dropped the cold open and instead began with a powerful Jason Aldean cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” — two tributes wrapped within one. A cloud hung over the rest of the episode. But a week later, “SNL” had moved on along with the rest of the late-night TV industry. You could almost feel the palpable sense of relief, and release, last night.
Baldwin’s cold open — just him at the podium, addressing truckers from that now famous hangar in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — was a particularly efficient monologue that easily covered a dozen different culture war battles, mostly recent ones, and news events, including: Michelle Obama’s healthy foods initiative; the NFL players and the national anthem; Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts; “Liddle” Bob Corker; “Merry Christmas”; Rex Tillerson; morons; same-sex marriage; and even rapper Eminem. It was a free-form, free-association speech that wove one issue into the next without offering a pretense of logic or consistency. Baldwin is at his POTUS best when he mocks his target’s facility for rhetorical persiflage that tends to overshoot its mark. There seemed to have been an unusually high number of such instances the past few weeks.
On giving Vice President Mike Pence’s Ravens tickets to two “lucky fans in Puerto Rico”: “They have to get airline tickets and book into their own hotel, because at some point they have to do things for themselves.”
On Corker: “I know I’m not supposed to use this word any more but he’s a midget.”
On the meaning of “IQ”: “I took a huge IQ test. It came back very positive. I’m the only guy who knows that IQ means in-quedible.”
On citing something called “Double Corinthians”: “My favorite verse is that marriage is between a man and a women, then another woman, and another woman, and another woman if you have it in you.”
Baldwin’s cold open felt like one that was catching up with two weeks of headlines, and in a sense it was. But you’re also left to wonder how “SNL” will manage without him in the weeks and months ahead. Baldwin is now the de facto Trump impersonator, who frames the president in a way that even the other late-night shows can’t begin to attempt to. He’s a cultural phenomenon as much as a late-night one, and there’s now no escaping this phenom, for Baldwin, “SNL” or the president, for that matter.
Why not just name Baldwin a cast member and be done with it already?