Alec Baldwin returned to Saturday Night Live this past weekend to reprise his Donald Trump impersonation. You’d think a live comedy show would have done something smart about a perfect, timely topic: the cast of Hamilton expressing its fears and hopes to Vice President-elect Mike Pence at Friday night’s performance, which was followed by the president-elect’s tweets about how “rude” the cast was, and that the theater ought to be a “safe space.” (Really, now who sounds like a whiny college student?)
The Hamilton moment was ripe stuff for SNL, right? Nope: No quick-thinking, on-the-fly writing for this show. It merely proceeded with a sketch portraying Trump as a cynical idiot who’s caving in on all his campaign promises, and shoehorned in a couple of lines about the Hamilton imbroglio. (“I got a free lecture,” said Beck Bennett’s Pence ruefully.)
Every time SNL does Trump and his crew, reality denies the show any sense of accuracy. Kate McKinnon switched from playing Hillary Clinton to the role of Trump aide Kellyanne Conway. When Baldwin-Trump told her, “I wouldn’t be president without you,” McKinnon-Conway sighed miserably, “I think about that every day.” All her lines were about how terrible she feels about having helped put this man where he is, as though Conway has ever shown any such trace of a conscience in this regard. Meanwhile, SNL had its fake-Trump do things like Googling, “What is ISIS?” In SNL-world, Trump is now being slotted into its old George W. Bush-is-dumb cliché. But to satirize Trump as being stupid, rather than, say, maliciously autocratic — as in his Twitter demand for the Hamilton cast to “apologize” to Pence — is not just tin-eared; it’s a dereliction of basic satirical-comic duty.
By Sunday morning, the real-life TV critic Trump had already one-upped SNL, renewing attacks on Hamilton and adding SNL in his target practice. Hamilton, he tweeted, “I hear is highly overrated.” He had a follow-up: “Saturday Night Live … is a totally one-sided, biased show — nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?”
I watched parts of @nbcsnl Saturday Night Live last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show – nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2016
The future president correctly recognized that SNL’s liberals-live-in-a-bubble sketch was very weak stuff indeed, not even denting his rhino hide. But that “equal time for us” thing: How much of that was a question, how much was it imploring to Lorne Michaels, and how much was it a threat?
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. on NBC.