If ever there was a time for Saturday Night Live to have a go at Bill O’Reilly, this was the week to start snarking. With 60-plus advertisers yanking their ads from The O’Reilly Factor after the New York Times piece on charges of sexual harassment by O’Reilly — and with O’Reilly topping the bestseller lists with a brand-new book, Old School — the topic could not be more timely. Yet over the weekend, SNL failed its audience yet again. The show presented two awful sketches that featured Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump. The opening sketch, featuring Trump talking to a bunch of coal-country Trump supporters, was just routinely awful. But the second one, in which Baldwin played both the president and Bill O’Reilly, was amazingly lazy and bad.
You’d think that Baldwin, an ardent liberal who has spent a good portion of his celebrity criticizing right-wing media, would have watched enough of Fox News to be able to mount a credible, slashing O’Reilly impersonation. But every syllable Baldwin uttered as O’Reilly was off — inaccurate and slapdash. Baldwin couldn’t even be bothered to recite O’Reilly’s signature opening — the arm-waving cry, “Caution! You are about the enter the No-Spin Zone!” — with accuracy. In full O’Reilly makeup, Baldwin did what O’Reilly never does: He grinned eagerly at the camera. O’Reilly, by contrast, is never more uncomfortable than when he’s required to smile — it’s one of the things he has in common with his great defender, the president of the United States. O’Reilly’s brief smiles always look as though he’s been hit with an abdominal gas attack. It just goes to show SNL really could not care less about attacking its targets with precision — the show thinks it’s enough to offer a sneer of a sketch, knowing that its cheering audience will congratulate the performers and itself, no matter how lame the material may be.
When the sketch went to split-screen, with Baldwin-O’Reilly talking to Baldwin-Trump, things only got worse. The point of the bit was to slice and dice O’Reilly’s reputation as a sexual harasser, along with Trump’s out-of-nowhere support for the Factor host, as expressed in a non sequitur in a New York Times interview last week. One searched in vain for punchlines in this sketch; what we heard instead were mere paraphrasings of things Trump and O’Reilly have actually said.
The sketch ended with Baldwin-O’Reilly holding up a copy of O’Reilly’s Old School, mocking the host’s book as having “great morals and values, and could not have come at a better time.” If that’s SNL’s idea of withering satire, the joke’s on them. The show ended up giving O’Reilly’s book a huge commercial plug. Instead of increasing the odds that O’Reilly might be censured or worse by public opinion and his network, Saturday Night Live and Baldwin just gave the Fox News host a pat on the back. Why, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, on Monday night’s Factor, the real Bill O’Reilly thanks SNL for boosting his visibility and sales.
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. on NBC. The O’Reilly Factor airs weeknights at 8 p.m. on Fox News.
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