With such instantly quotable lines as “Nobody calls Sean Hannity,” and “I have a winning temperament,” the first presidential debate pitting Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump awarded the Saturday Night Live writers with a wealth of great material for the Season 42 premiere. Heck, SNL didn’t even have to spoof the debate; they could have just run actual footage for the cold open and generated plenty of laughs. But Lorne Michaels already went ahead and hired Alec Baldwin to play Trump now that Taran Killam isn’t around any longer to wear the toupee, so he kind of had to put his temporary employee to use.
Based on his spirited portrayal, Baldwin is more than welcome to be SNL’s full-time Trump impersonator no matter what happens in November. “I’m going to be so calm and presidential that all of you watching are going to cream your jeans,” he informed the nation at the top of the mock-debate. And he kept that promise … for all of two minutes, at which point he was ready to declare victory and leave the stage. “I won the debate. I stayed calm, and it is over.” Sorry, Donny boy — it’s just getting started.
Related: Is ‘SNL’ Helping Trump Get Elected?
As with the actual debate, Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton had a very good night. Making a Willy Wonka-style entrance as a tribute to the dearly departed Gene Wilder, McKinnon perfectly re-created all of the real Clinton’s meme-friendly moments, from the shoulder shimmy to the near-jubilant grin. She also tossed in a few new moves, like casting a line to reel in Baldwin’s increasingly unhinged Trump, who was reduced to spouting wild theories about Hillary and Obama spiriting his microphone away to Kenya. “I think I’m going to be president,” McKinnon said gleefully at one point. Actually, we declare this debate a draw between two exceptional comedian candidates.
After listening to Baldwin’s Trump spout a number of whoppers during the cold open — like how to correctly pronounce “Jhina” (make that “China”) — it’s no wonder that host Margot Robbie felt compelled to fact-check her own monologue. Here’s the reality of that gimmick: it wasn’t that funny, even when the rest of the cast tried to join in. But at least the rest of the night had some highlights.
Best Sketch: “Family Feud”
Until Alec Baldwin came along, Darrell Hammond was SNL’s reigning Trump impersonator. At least he can still lay claim to being the show’s best Bill Clinton, just as Larry David is the show’s quintessential Bernie Sanders. Both guys were part of Team Clinton in this politically themed Feud, standing alongside new featured player Melissa Villaseñor’s Sarah Silverman and Cecily Strong’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. (The real Miranda is hosting the show next week.) Their opponents were Team Trump, best represented by Kate McKinnon’s spot-on interpretation of Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. Seeing McKinnon and David reunited brought back warm memories of last season’s Bernie vs. Hillary debates.
Runner-Up: “Live Report”
Despite being founded on a lame premise — gee, Margot Robbie is so much hotter than her husband! — the sketch proceeded to build on it in amusing ways with the increasingly incredulous reactions of the flabbergasted news team.
Worst Sketch: “2016 New York Film Festival Actress Roundtable”
Tossed in toward the end of the night, this directionless sketch felt like a pale imitation of last season’s alien abduction skit, right down to McKinnon cracking up Robbie in the same way she caused Ryan Gosling to break. We’d be open to seeing more of that character, provided she’s not surrounded by dull impressions like Strong’s Marion Cotillard or Robbie’s Keira Knightley.
Best Use of Margot Robbie: “The Librarian”
Robbie is what you might call distractingly beautiful, and her looks played a big role (perhaps too big a role) in many of the sketches written for her. This one, at least, allowed her to poke fun at her sex symbol status, as a bookworm who lets her hair down … and then rips it off, along with her false teeth and sense of decorum. The use of that vintage ’80s tune “Oh Yeah” provided the proper accompaniment to the debauchery.
Episode MVP: Leslie Jones
Promoted from featured player to series regular, Jones generated many of the night’s biggest laughs. And she deserves even more praise for allowing her own well-documented Twitter travails to be used as the centerpiece for a pretty funny Mr. Robot spoof. Note to anonymous Twitter trolls: This is what bravery looks like.
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:35 p.m. on NBC.