While the rest of late night TV had a whole week to go through the five stages of grief following the release of the Mueller report, "Saturday Night Live" had just one night to process it. The world saw the results of that a few hours ago when the show returned after a nearly monthlong hiatus and, predictably, they were muddled and, even worse, stale.
The cold open featured Alec Baldwin as you-know-who, Robert De Niro as you-know-who, Kate McKinnon as you-know-who, and Aidy Bryant as you-know-who — but in the event that you don't know, she portrayed Attorney General William Barr, a first-time impression that was at least visually effective.
"Weekend Update" returned for mop-up operations, while another sketch explored the Kremlin reaction to the report. Best-of-show went to Cecily Strong, back as Jeanine Pirro with a voice that's got "one volume and it's three chardonnays deep at a crowded party."
But except for Strong and a few scattered lines, "SNL" struggled to find that which was funny in that which was so desperately unfunny, at least from a late night comedy perspective — a report effectively absolving the single greatest target in "SNL's" forty-four seasons. With the Mueller report out of the way, and a cloud largely removed at least for the moment, the show's disappointment was nearly palpable.
For all its faults, Baldwin's Trump has been most effective during those times — a sheer plenitude of them — when the president is in a defensive posture. But Baldwin/Trump as gloating tweeter-in-chief, whose every social media utterance promises just one more scandal ("Hashtag, ten more years! Hashtag, FDR but with legs")?
Sorry, but where's the fun in that? It's just another day at the White House.
Likewise, the cold open was more clever than funny, and less funny than a distillation of what actually happened. Robert Mueller releases a 300-page report to Barr who releases a four-page one. Trump tweets.
If memory serves, that's about what really happened.
Deeper in the show, "Kremlin Meeting" explored the acute disappointment from the opposite side of the world. "We look forward to report so much," says one apparatchik in broken English, "so all the world would see power of Russia. We were so excited."
Putin (Beck Bennett): "I know. It would have been wonderful but it is what it is."
Yup, it is what it is, and he is who he is. At least "SNL" has the Mueller report out of the way, and can now look forward to something else. Trump — the real one — isn't going away so that's the good news for "SNL." On the flip side, it's getting harder and harder to find anything funny in this presidency. "SNL" certainly proved that last night.