One reason the Saturday Night Live opening sketches with Alec Baldwin playing Donald Trump remain so unfunny is that our new president does so many appalling things in the course of a week that the SNL writing staff doesn’t have time to add coherent punch lines to the real-life events. That, and the fact that SNL continues to think Trump ought to be treated the way SNL has always treated presidents — as a bumbler who make mistakes. Trump’s no bumbler: As the dialogue uttered by Baldwin this past week reminded us, the president really doesn’t know who Frederick Douglass is, and truly is interested in the ratings for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Celebrity Apprentice.
Recently, SNL has begun a campaign to promote Steve Bannon, former editor of the racist Breitbart News, as a new figure of fun for SNL’s millions of viewers. The show thinks it’s amusing to depict Bannon as a skeleton in black robes — a sort of Grim Reaper crossed with Satan and Skeletor — urging Trump to do what the show calls “crazy” things. SNL picked up on the internet’s sudden, too-late realization last week that Bannon is the power behind the throne (and I use that phrase intentionally — Trump’s idea of being president is to act like a king). And so this week’s sketch concluded with Bannon/Satan sitting at the president’s desk, while relegating Trump to a little boy’s desk.
Can anyone tell me what’s funny about SNL’s treatment of Trump’s ignorance of Douglass, his insulting phone call to Australia, his remarks on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Kellyanne Conway’s made-up Bowling Green massacre — all topics of merriment on SNL? One joke early on may have seemed mild, but struck me as particularly pathetic — the line about how Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner keep Trump from doing “anything too crazy.” That we are talking about these two lordly opportunists as the sane ones — to suggest that they keep a president who does and says hostile, unhinged things tethered to reality — is grotesque. Although SNL likes to put Bannon in a Halloween devil costume to make him look scary, that image of Bannon as all-powerful evil was just a sober reminder that SNL is content to keep its audience laughing all the way into hell.
Oh, and the Melissa-McCarthy-as-Sean-Spicer sketch? McCarthy’s makeup is better than Baldwin’s, and SNL was shrewd in depicting a CNN reporter as being jailed: That’s an image CNN will be playing and replaying endlessly for the next week, patting itself on the back for being tough on the president. Trump, SNL, and CNN have something in common: Publicity is more important than anything else.
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:35 p.m. on NBC. Watch clips and full episodes of SNL for free on Yahoo View.