For a minute anyway, the 2016 “presidential election,” as represented by “Saturday Night Live,” turned nice — or perhaps the word is “civil” — when Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon broke character (you know which ones) on last night’s edition, then charged on to the streets of midtown.
After declaring himself tired of yelling mean things at McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton — it’s just so “gross” — Baldwin un-pouted his lips, and softened his face, and turned to hug “Hillary.” Then, to chords of Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up,” both left the studio still out of character, to find passersby who — perhaps a little too conveniently — represent the type of constituent whom both real-life candidates had either alienated (Latinos) or repelled (anyone who wears a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap), and then proceeded to hug them, too.
The bit was pretaped (of course), but also sought an emotional middle ground that has been eschewed by American television’s pre-eminent live late-night institution, and the very electorate itself this political season: Goodwill and harmony.
Baldwin and McKinnon then closed the cold open with an appeal to vote — not for whom, but rather for “what,” or in McKinnon’s words, as paraphrased: The kind of country we want to live in and to be.
That too was highly unusual, because while these cold opens the last couple of months have been particularly effective, they’ve hardly played the role of civic hall monitor. In a way, this one did last night, while the timing — and tone — were perfect.
And with this particular Saturday edition ends “SNL’s” 2016 political season — an iffy one that struggled to find a tone, and even a “Trump,” before finally settling on an Emmy Award winner with a taste for blood (Trump’s) and a well-established reputation for incendiary remarks of what might be called the “progressive” variety. As Baldwin himself astutely noted when his Trump run began, his impersonation wouldn’t have an effect on Trump supporters anyway because “they already despise me,” or accurate words to that effect.
Trump himself declared the impersonation horrible — perhaps the single greatest compliment Baldwin got — and it even appeared to turn brother against brother. When asked what he thought of the impression, Stephen Baldwin declared it unfunny “just because this election isn’t funny.” That gave Alec an opening two weeks ago, when as Trump, he said: “I’ve got the cream of the crop. I’ve got Sarah Palin, I’ve got Chachi, and — get this — I’ve even got the best Baldwin brother: Stephen Baldwin.”
Meanwhile, McKinnon’s Clinton impression this season officially entered the “SNL” hall of fame — memorable, funny and red (very red pantsuits, for the most part). She didn’t impersonate Clinton as much as channel her: The wonkiness, TV stiffness, robotics, awkwardness and attempts to cast herself in folksy terms, which always came out otherwise: “Aren’t we such a fun approachable dynasty?”
But her Hillary was also located — or trapped — in a “Twilight Zone” episode where no matter what her opponent said or did, all anybody really wanted to ask about was why she was so bad at emailing. But McKinnon’s impression was funny and sympathetic. For the most part, Baldwin’s Trump was savage.
Over the years, there have been other memorable Hillary impressions and impressionists: Vanessa Bayer, Jan Hooks, Ana Gasteyer and especially Amy Poehler.
But McKinnon’s — please pardon the expression — trumps them all.