SNL November 7, 2015 Recap: Donald Trump/Sia

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SNL: Sia, Kate McKinnon (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

It is hard to recommend this episode. Some of it was well-written, but Trump’s presence soured just about everything.

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in November 2015.

Donald Trump might be a bigot, or he might just be shamelessly aping the rhetoric of bigots to win over their support. Which is worse? Either way, one would assume he is a terrible fit to host a comedy show that many believe has the responsibility of holding the powerful accountable. Thus, the petitions to reverse the Trump booking or calls to disrupt the episode have made for one of the most controversial episodes in decades before it has even aired. In a way, Trump’s appearance actually turning out to be a funny episode would be troublesome, because of the fear that it could legitimize a rather objectionable person. Politics (or cynically misshapen facsimile of politics) aside, Trump is also a terrible actor. That issue can be overcome with strong writing, which this episode features plenty of, but it is hard to fully embrace it when Trump’s mere presence is so hard to digest.

Democratic Candidates Forum – The latest not-really-a-debate in the 2016 election cycle is used as fodder for a not-really-a-fully-formed-sketch. While it lacks in the inspired premise department, it does allow Kate McKinnon and Larry David plenty of room to mess around with their already beloved Hillary and Bernie impressions. They both find new notes in their expected beats. This is not an all-time high, but there is plenty left worth exploring in these roles. Structurally, good on this sketch for keeping up with the gag of uncomfortable close-ups of black people. B

Donald Trump’s Monologue – The problem with the way the Donald makes fun of himself here is that even though he admits his foibles, he in no way apologizes for them. He may indeed come off like a jerk by supposedly confusing Aidy Bryant for Rosie O’Donnell, but he still continues to insult Rosie in the process. There are a few moments of fun to be had (Darrell Hammond dropping in, for example), but Trump’s presence just leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Any concerns that this appearance would legitimize his candidacy, though, are reversed, as he straight up admits, “I really have nothing better to do” (he is referring to hosting, but really he is referring to everything he does). D+

White House 2018 – This snapshot of the country 2 years into Trump’s theoretical presidency contends that every one of his proposed policies will have been implemented and everyone will love them for it as he much as he claims they will. The material of this sketch does not go beyond that. Thus, the message being delivered is that all of Trump’s ideas are one big joke. It is cool to see him tacitly admit that, even though the joke probably goes over his head. Too bad the sketch that provides this message is rather flat. C-

Bad Girls – The ladies of “SNL” debut their latest music video, and it is an homage to a 3-year-old clip that was never even that popular in the first place. M.I.A.’s original is pretty great, so that datedness is not a demerit. This ode to mildly offensive behavior has the right amount of righteous energy to counterpoint its low-key defiance. B

Italian Honeymoon Dinner – This bare-bones sketch in which the real premise is Trump live-tweeting insults about the cast is shamelessly mean-spirited and might just be the definition of punching down. But setting aside its message for a moment, how does it stand in terms of comedic structure? The insults that Trump has lobbed against his opponents are transplanted here to apply to the “SNL” team. Why? There is no particular reason to highlight Cecily Strong as “not a nice person.” It is a lazy approach, which is actually disappointing because the form-expanding nature of this sketch could be promising. C-

Drake – Knocking Drizzy for his dance moves in his latest music video probably misses the point. That is okay, though, as missing the point – intentionally or unintentionally – is a staple of comedy. The bigger issue is the contention that his swaying and sliding resembles the moves of a middle-aged man is a fairly simple observation.  The high production values allow that shortcoming to be less of an issue, and Martin Short’s efficient cameo as Ed Grimley (“Drizzy Drake, you stole my moves, and that’s no lie”) turns it up to a more satisfying level. B

Sia – “Alive” – Sia continues her strategy of obscuring her face and bringing along an interpretive dancer for her live performances. This time, she also has a backing choir. She sounds great, the accompaniment is great, but the direction causes some issues for the home audience. Presumably the dancer is dancing the whole time, but she is not always on camera. This is the sort of performance that demands that the whole stage be continuously in frame. B+

Weekend Update (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – While several sketches in this episode demonstrate a willingness to take on Trump, they all carry a sense of his interference. Behind the desk is the one place where the host’s hands do not appear to be all over. Che is fed up with him (“And I’m talking about the guy hosting the show”) and the other ridiculous Republican candidate (the first black man in history to refuse an alibi), and he has got the chops to express that rage without cracking himself up. Colin is fine, but this is Michael’s show tonight. Michael and Colin’s Grade: A-
Weekend Update: Leslie Jones – Che solidifies this episode as his MVP night by providing the punctuation for this segment (“That was about gender roles”). Leslie veers wildly off course as usual, and her rant against effeminate men is a little hard to swallow. Comedy is about presenting a perspective, and it is not always one that everyone will go along for, and that is okay, but it does not go down so easy when that perspective is exclusionary. So that corrective from Che is a big help. C+
Weekend Update: Drunk Uncle – Bobby Moynihan’s signature character is in emeritus status now: he is only employed when he is really needed. And tonight, we really, really need him. “Trump’s #1 Fan” has never been more essential. “SNL” must hold up a mirror for itself, and while it does not excuse the booking of a nasty opportunist, Drunk Uncle’s presence does go a long way. His racism, sexism, and transphobia (“Her name is Bruce!”) are in full force, and it distressingly really does feel like he is the one running for president. A-

Bar Band – “SNL” has a weird fetish for sketches about esoteric bands in dive bars introducing themselves. They rarely garner much laughter (unless Fred Armisen is the ringleader), though they do have some curiosity value. This edition is a natural fit for Trump to give his most uninspired performance of the night. While the role of Gene Breads on laser harp does call on him to lack motivation, it seems unlikely that an enthusiastic character would have garnered much of an effort from him either. C-

Mr. Crocker – Scasey Steve, the unscrupulous head of Startraxxx Productions, is Trump’s strongest role of the night, though it would have been interesting to see the weird ways it could have been taken by someone else – like, say, Kyle Mooney (this is a Good Neighbor piece after all). Luckily, the focus is on Beck Bennett as an embarrassing middle-aged father who is just as trapped as his family is in the soundscape of his off-key covers of recent pop hits. This premise could have been Awkward Dad Comedy, but it is instead Awkward Dad Horror (which is actually a form of comedy). B+

Toots – “SNL” hardly ever interrupts its musical guest introductions, but when it does, it is generally memorable. Nobody has been calling for a reference to the band from the last time Trump hosted (in 2004), but Toots and the Maytals are such a curiosity that, once conceived, this concept is hard to pass up. They are indeed a reggae group, but the joke still would have worked even if Kenan’s performance had purposely misidentified their genre. B

Sia – “Bird Set Free” – The interpretive dancing is easier to objectively describe this time around (goofy faces and thrashing on the floor), but no less difficult to ascribe meaning to, as is the nature of interpretive dance. Sia’s lyrics include “I don’t care if I sing off key,” which is an unnecessary concern, as she sounds great. She might throw her notes around a bit, but it is totally unintentional and aurally pleasing. B+

Trump 2016 – Drunk Uncle’s is the Donald Trump endorsement we needed, while the ex-porn stars’ is the one we did not realize we needed, but maybe should have seen coming. With Bobby joining in on the action as low-rent Trump stand-in “Ronald McDonald McTrump” (and Trump himself only making a token appearance at the end), there is a gonzo energy here that could have been used to make this entire episode palatable. B+

Notes & Quotes:
-According to its Twitter, the Deport Racism PAC, as promised, will actually be awarding Larry David $5000 for calling Trump a racist during the monologue. It may have been staged, and Trump may have felt like he got off unscathed, but there is a good chance Larry believed what he was saying.
-Hillary Clinton does not understand the phrase “I’m good either way.”
-Bernie Sanders does not like many people, but he does love his adorable grandchildren, including the youngest, who just turned 40.
-Any celebrity cameo is usually cause for rapturous applause from the live audience, but Ivanka Trump is met with dead silence in the White House 2018 sketch.
-Do people remember Omarosa?
-Colin Jost was crying like a bitch in his office this week. Then he found out the Mets lost.
-“Why do you still think porn has music in it?”
-“I cannot believe Taco Bell has executives.”
-“Is this Apple Watch gender neutral?”
-Don’t forget: next December 25, vote for Donald Tramp for Santa Claus!


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