‘SNL’ Hits Hard on Politics to Open 42nd Season

Brian Steinberg

NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” opened its 42nd season with a show that was heavy on political satire, employing Alec Baldwin to do a note-perfect impression of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, while luring both Darrell Hammond and Larry David to return to do their impressions of former President Bill Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders.

The show launched with what seemed almost like a highlight reel of this week’s debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton, played as usual by cast member (and recent Emmy winner) Kate McKinnon. “SNL” didn’t add much extra material, because most of it was found in the candidates’ exchanges and Trump’s sniffing and interrupting that have already become the stuff of ridicule in the digi-sphere. But “SNL” didn’t stop there. Its first half hour also contained a version of “Family Feud” featuring Trump associates and family squaring off against a team of Clinton supporters. McKinnon did an impression of Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway while host Margot Robbie lampooned daughter Ivanka Trump. The sketch also featured the first appearance of new featured player Melissa Villasenor, playing comedienne Sarah Silverman.

The political material shows “Saturday Night Live” trying to make the most of the current election cycle, which will culminate in November. The show is expected to run live four weeks in a row  – one more than the norm – in order to play off a Presidential campaign that has engrossed much of the nation. Baldwin is expected to continue to play Trump through November, as the production repeats a technique it started last year by enlisting Larry David to play Sanders over the course of multiple episodes.

To be certain, SNL” offered more than presidential put-downs. A taped segment featuring Robbie as an attractive librarian stripping down in front of a group of male students drew attention, especially after it was revealed her character was really an acid-dripping alien with no hair and crooked teeth. Three new castmembers – Mikey Day, Alex Moffatt and Villasenor – showed up in the “Family Feud” sketch and in a parody of the old “Scooby Doo” serial.

The program also kicked off a new era for the production of the show. NBC announced earlier this year that “Saturday Night Live” would air this season with two fewer ad breaks, representing a cut of about 30% to the program’s regular commercial ad load. To the casual viewer, the show ran more or less as it always had, thought there were some signs that something was afoot. One segment, featuring cast member Cecily Strong as Melania Trump wondering about the people walking outside Trump Tower, contained just that sketch, sandwiched between two commercial breaks.

“SNL” also appeared to experiment with its last ten minutes, which are normally devoted to material that might be considered avant garde or a little off the beaten path. The show’s last sketch was instead something more tied to recent events, as cast member Leslie Jones turned to the characters of the cult-favorite USA series “Mr. Robot” to help her find out who was behind a recent real-life hacking of her digital files as well as social-media harassment.

Watch the Trump-Clinton cold open from Saturday’s premiere below.

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