It’s strange how even the smallest of things can derail a television institution like “Saturday Night Live.” Little things like a host that only appears on stage — not even on screen, actually just on stage, even counting the furious waving and thank-yous of the good-nights portion of the show — for less than fifteen minutes. Variety estimates that last night’s controversial host, Donald Trump (hereafter referred to as “Flippy McToupee,” because does this guy really need to see his name in print anymore? Doesn’t he have the hotels for that?), appeared on screen for only 12 minutes, my own stop-watching holds it to be around 14:30 minutes, still far less than any recent host (Variety estimates that recent host Amy Schumer was on for about 25 minutes, and when you hack away at commercials, two musical performances and “Weekend Update,” which doesn’t typically include the week’s host, that’s a very healthy number).
McToupee wasn’t on for very long, but the effect of his presence was felt in every corner of last night’s “Saturday Night Live,” a mostly lifeless and certainly toothless entry that everyone just seemed to want to get through, even Flippy himself.
Few people will argue that Trump (sorry, there it is again) is some great comedic talent, even his biggest fans and supporters. He doesn’t quite have the right rhythm for joke-telling, his timing stinks and he doesn’t seem to be that interested in sharing the stage with others. A good “Saturday Night Live” host slips right into the cast — and this isn’t just the kind of thing that is only workable by comedians like Amy Schumer or former cast members like Tracy Morgan, who have headlined this season’s best work, but by actors willing to get on the ground and get into it, like Martin Freeman, who unexpectedly turned in one of last season’s best hosting turns. Flippy McToupee was simply never going to do that, both because of his personality and his notoriety. This was never going to be a “good” episode of “SNL,” but did it really have to be this bad?
The Two Best Sketches: “Hotline Bling Parody” and “Weekend Update” (Drunk Uncle Only)
You know things are bad when a pre-taped send-up of a Drake video is the best thing a show has to offer. Admittedly, this is still a good sketch, one that allows Jay Pharoah to take center stage, pulls Martin Short out of “SNL” retirement to do a little Ed Grimley and basically requires the rest of the male cast members to dance purposely terribly. On any other show, this would likely scan as a middle-of-the-road palate cleanser between otherwise frisky (and more original) live sketches. Here, it’s the best thing, made even more obvious by the lone McToupee-pearance that doesn’t otherwise sink the joke. In fact, “Hotline Bling Parody” featured our host at his seemingly loosest and goofiest, actually adding to the mirth of a sketch that was meant to be about awkward things. It didn’t always need to be political, and it was better when it wasn’t, albeit ever-so-briefly.
The show’s other great standout — a Bobby Moynihan-starring appearance as Drunk Uncle on “Weekend Update” — was also the highlight of an otherwise limp “Weekend Update.” How limp was it? Even a visit from Leslie Jones, trotting out her always-hilarious “flirt with Colin Jost until he looks like he needs to lie down” schtick, fell flat, a low point in an otherwise low-key wonderful recurring bit. Moynihan’s Drunk Uncle has only gotten better with time, and if we imagine that it was all building up to this take on McToupee, well, it’s almost worth it. “It’s like I’m running for president!,” Drunk Uncle happily giggled, before whiplashing into glass-breaking and a series of racist jokes. Yes, Drunk Uncle, it really is just like that.
The Worst Sketch: “White House 2018”
An absolutely interminable four minutes that required the audience to continually, ceaselessly wonder, “what is the joke here?” — a question only finally, finally answered by the realization that there was none. The sketch didn’t even have the guts to carry out his initial set-up — that’s it’s 2018 and McToupee is president and everything is going great — until folding into some weird pageant of the women in McToupee’s life, from his wife Melania to his actual daughter Ivanka to Omarosa (Omarosa!? is it 2004?! if so, can we still warn everyone of the political horrors to come?). And, still, no joke, no upshot. A gag about the building of a wall between Mexico. Something about laws being tweeted. A lone child, screaming out in the night.
And then, finally, the punchline: Melania Trump is really hot, so this is a political ad about how cool it would be if she was First Lady. The end. No, really, it’s the end.
Best Male Performer: Beck Bennett
Much like his fellow Good Neighbor performer Kyle Mooney (who ended up being the male superstar of the Schumer show), Bennett turned in one of his best overall shows in a mostly unexpected setting (and this is a guy whose signature character is a just man-baby, a gag that we’re willing to bet only he could pull off, and pull off well). Bennett was all over this episode, from the viral-ready “Bad Girls” to the just-okay “Rock Show,” but he really shown in the bizarre “Mr. Crocker.”
Because life is full of disappointments (and also copyright issues with re-producing songs), “Mr. Crocker” is not online, but the sketch — which features Bennett as a seemingly normal dad who apparently dabbles in recording terrible covers of contemporary pop songs at the behest of a megalomaniacal manager, un-shockingly played by McToupee — is vintage Bennett, kitted out with funny enough signposts to appeal to a wide audience (“Kesha! He’s singing Kesha!”) and weird enough to tickle the funny bones of even his most off-kilter fanbase.
Honorable Mention: Larry “You’re Racist!” David
Best Female Performer: Kate McKinnon
Even on a night like last night, it’s comforting that we can always rely on Kate McKinnon to show up and just do good work. Although McKinnon didn’t get too much in the way of splashy appearances — though, the way she is steadily and cleverly evolving her take on Hillary Clinton is a thing to behold — she held the line on plenty of sketches that needed a good gussying up, like “Rock Show” and the terribly unfunny “Live Tweeting” (another sketch that begged the audience to pretend that the joke, that McToupee tweets horrible, awful, nasty things, is somehow a joke and not a thing that happens in reality all of the time). May Kate have something better to work with next week. May we all have something better to work with next week.
Honorable Mention: Aidy Bryant
Sketch Most Likely to Go Viral: “Bad Girls”
The current crop of ladies on “Saturday Night Live” have already turned in some banging jams, including the instant classic “(Do It On My) Twin Bed” and its slightly less snappy followup, “Back Home Ballers,” and while “Bad Girls” can’t match the charms of either of those offerings, it’s still catchy enough to earn plenty of Internet love. The concept itself is kind of great, that so-called “bad girls” are really just wreaking havoc on the world through tiny, itsy-bitsy aggressions, like lying about an entire party being present in order to get seated at a restaurant (relatable) and stomping down the garbage so it doesn’t need to be taken out (honestly, almost too relatable), and although the music video-y portion doesn’t coalesce as it has in the past, who cares, Kate McKinnon firing a gun! Aidy Bryant firing a gun! Everyone firing a gun! Glory to the bad girls!
Best Impression: Taran Killam as Donald Trump in “Donald Trump Monologue”
He did it to his face, and his tie has never looked shinier and his “greats” were never so well-pronounced. Great great great.
Character Most Likely to Become a Franchise: Larry David as Bernie Sanders in “MSNBC Forum Cold Open”
Congratulations to Larry David for making the jump from “Best Impression” (which he earned during the Tracy Morgan-hosted episode at the end of October) to our own franchise wish list. David’s take on presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is a rarity, the kind of impression that makes an audience actually chuckle (“yup, that’s him, that totally seems like him!”) and view the actual person at hand in a new light (“Bernie Sanders doesn’t like anyone, I also do not like anyone, maybe I should vote for this guy?”). At the very least, there’s got to be some kind of Larry Sanders joke to be had in here somewhere, and it’s always nice to see a special guest star so willing to dive into a character and then also appear visibly disgusted by the time good-nights roll around. Keep on coming back, Larry.
“Saturday Night Live” returns November 14 with host Elizabeth Banks and musical guest Disclosure.