Saturday Night Live
The White House

Saturday Night Live
The White House

No One in Trump’s Radius is Safe, Though the Degree of Threat They Actually Face From SNL is Debatable


The latest season of Saturday Night Live – its 42nd, for the record – has seen the show’s most consistently high ratings in two decades. If that comes as a shock, then there are too many aspects of the wider world of culture, entertainment and politics you don’t understand for me to even begin to mock you. In fact, if you can’t grasp the reason for this independently then you’re probably just an onion that accidentally rolled onto a keyboard and randomly typed in “Popticon”… whiiiich, to be fair, accounts for about 75% of our monthly traffic, so thanks for the support, I guess.

You’re the real hero. (Meal and a Spiel)

Of course, this considerable bump in viewership is obviously due to the constant stream of new material SNL is able to spin from the unending shitstorm of President Donald Jambalaya Trump, as well as any members of his staff and family the cast feels they can do a decent impression of in a pinch. Yes, much of the content they churn out goes viral on a regular basis but – even in an era where real-time viewership across the board is seeing a steady decline – the ratings share of people watching Saturday Night Live as it actually airs on Saturday night (or on DVR within 48 hours afterwards) are up considerably from the last season.

Being that it’s the largest platform for televised political satire in the country, SNL has seen such a huge uptick in Americans gravitating towards it because it provides such a distinctly liberal enclave of humour for people to revel in as a response to the current state of U.S. politics. Think of it as a necessary sanctuary from the encroaching madness of daily life, like a weekend stripclub retreat, except for people who hate Trump instead of their wife and kids. And, by the way, SNL isn’t the only late night variety program that has experienced a significant rise in ratings, with The Late Show with Stephen Colbert seeing a similar spike in the last few months. This is undoubtedly representative of the way in which people condition their pop cultural input in the modern era, seeking out entertainment that affirms their held beliefs as they might clickbait news articles on Facebook.

This is how you smile when you know that you’re the reason Jimmy Fallon’s crying. (CBS)

Indeed, despite acting as something of a salve against Trump’s lunacy, watching SNL has shifted from a way to distract yourself from the troubles of the world to an effective form of immersing yourself in them. These day, it’s impossible to separate the partisan impulse that drives keeping up with the show, as people latch onto SNL as a form of passive protest (or #resistance) which doubles as an active way to engage in ridiculing the man who is, nominally, their commander-in-chief. All of which makes it kind of a bummer that SNL so rarely takes the opportunity to be properly sharp in its satire, or even particularly funny most of the time.

As I’m sure you’re aware, Trump himself has been famously parodied by a mugging Alec Baldwin at every opportunity over the past six months, played in a grotesque caricature that wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining without the knowledge that it pisses Trump off no end. Meanwhile, the President’s notoriously irritable press secretary Sean Spicer is portrayed by Melissa McCarthy as a vulgar, ignorant and hilariously aggressive toady who can’t keep from attacking the White House press pool (both verbally and physically). The chameleonic Kate McKinnon acts as both chief aide Kellyanne Conway and attorney general Jeff Sessions, playing the former as a manic attention-seeker gradually shedding every scrap of her conscience and the former as… basically, an older, racist Forrest Gump. Cecily Strong does Melania Trump as a pampered hostage, Mikey Day and Alex Moffat are Trump’s sons, the obsequious Donald Jr. and simpleton Eric, respectively, Beck Bennett is a perpetually slimy Putin and, just last week, ScarJo was Ivanka in a perfume ad, where her fragrance was called “Complicit.”

Clever and on point? Well, yeah. Funny? Meeeh. (NBC)

It’s an extensive list, yes, and I would never fault the commitment each of these cast members and occasional guests put into their performances. Still, it bears repeating that there’s often little in the way of fresh perspective or even bite when it comes to all this empty piss-taking. With this approach, SNL‘s chief accomplishments so far are getting Trump riled up on Twitter (and, honestly, what the fuck doesn’t?) and having him fume behind-the scenes over Sean Spicer being portrayed by a woman, something which Trump apparently thought made him “look weak” (ugh, fuck this guy).

Trump’s outrage on that last point is worth mentioning, as the most successful of the show’s parodies has in fact been McCarthy’s work as Spicer (or McSpicer). This is down to both its sheer unpredictability and ingenious expansion of Spicer’s worst impulses: known for talking down to reporters, at one point McSpicer literally uses dolls to explain certain policies, while his tendency for flustered rebuttals leads to the him accosting anyone he so chooses with a supersoaker. Perhaps the most cutting bit of all is McSpicer’s frequent mispronunciations, incorrect information and unchecked rage at those who point out his errors.

No, none of it’s particularly subtle or smart, but McCarthy’s ferociousness is that rare instance of SNL embracing and elevating the absurdity of the subject it’s lampooning, as opposed to meeting its target on their own level and playing it safe. In this vein, more often than not it’s the easiest and most superficial gags that the show goes for: Trump is obsessed with the fact the he lost the popular vote; Putin can hardly contain his excitement at having helped secure the presidency for Trump; Conway inappropriately photobombs with her feet up on the furniture; Sessions is a southern racist (that said, the line “Life is like a box of chocolates – sure are a lot of brown ones in there!” is fucking hilarious).

Needless to say, Leslie Jones wasn’t having any of that shit. (NBC)

What’s stranger still than SNL‘s relatively toothless handling of this administration is how each of the individuals targeted have responded in kind. Trump, as stated, is about as capable of taking a joke as he is achieving an erection (sue me, you gelatinous sack of old ham. I’m kidding, I know he doesn’t read this… or anything). Don Jr. posted a photo of himself eating Cheerios from a ziplock bag after an earlier sketch showed him feeding the same thing to Eric, proving he can at least pretend to have a sense of humour, if not a scrap of moral decency.

Most bizarre, though, were Spicer’s reactions: after having his request to wield a supersoaker in his next press briefing knocked back by Trump, Spicer actually fucking used props in one of his most recent press briefings! No, they weren’t action figures but, during his address on the reformed American Health Care Act, he had a table propped next to his podium and gestured to the two different stacks of paper on top, one large and one small. “This is government”, he said, pointing at the larger stack that represented Obamacare, before pointing at the smaller stack and adding, “This is not.” I’m not fucking kidding, that’s a thing that actually happened.

The SNL writers must have lost their shit. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

We could sit here and debate all day which way the current truly flows, whether it’s Trump’s White House feeding into Saturday Night LiveSNL bleeding into real-world politics and current events or some grim, symbiotic combination of the two, like a double-headed snake that keeps biting at its own cock (or… something). Of course, it only complicates matters to remember that Trump himself has hosted SNL on two separate occasions including in late-2015, several months into his campaign that was fuelled by the xenophobia and general boorishness that SNL now delights in mocking. Clearly – regardless of quality or suitability on either front – these two entities are intractably joined and destined to dance this ghastly waltz for the foreseeable future, a man uniquely ill-prepared to do his job and a show unequivocally convinced that it’s doing well pointing that out to us.

What I’m saying is, maybe we deserve this.

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The White House”

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