And now, for the moment we’ve all truly been waiting for this election cycle: The premiere of “Saturday Night Live.” Last night, the sketch comedy legend kicked off its 42nd season with an uneven first episode. First-time host Margot Robbie held it down, flexing comedic muscle despite sketches that seemed unwilling to cast her as anything but “hottest person in the room.” But how did it go as a whole? Let’s take a closer look.
Alec Baldwin’s Return
A heavily disguised Michael Che got in a solid burn as presidential debate moderator Lester Holt, reminding the audience that there was “no clapping, no cheering” and “no shirt, no shoes, no service” for Trump supporters during the cold open. Fresh off an Emmy win, Kate McKinnon made her grand entrance as Hillary Clinton, ditching a cane and a cough for a somersault in the key of Gene Wilder. Finally, Alec Baldwin walked onstage as a cartoonishly pouty Donald Trump, his voice mimicry unsettingly accurate as ever, and the season was underway.
This heavily-advertised portion of the premiere went about as well as it could have, painting Trump as a frustrated schoolyard bully and Clinton as a confident maniac. Bits where Trump discussed a tender kiss with Sean Hannity and Clinton described Alicia Machado as “a strong, beautiful political prop” were entertaining, as was Clinton giving Trump the floor to lock up her win. “Just to remind everyone at home,” a baffled Che-as-Holt concluded, “This was the presidential debate!”
Worst Sketch of the Night: “Live Report”
The first sketch of the evening was also its most forgettable. Though the setup was promising — a local news story about downtown Tampa — ultimately, it underdelivered. Kenan’s on the scene as a reporter interviewing locals who watched a sinkhole open in their mall parking lot, and — shocker — they’re a couple. For the next few minutes, the news team debates what would bring together such an attractive woman (Margot Robbie in a black dress) and a broke puppeteer with an undesirable name (new cast member Mikey Day). It also featured an appearance by fellow new cast member Alex Moffat. Welcome aboard, gentlemen.
Most Likely to Go Viral: “The Librarian”
The show moved into a pre-taped bit called “The Librarian,” featuring, you guessed it, Margot Robbie as an attractive librarian. This bit started off poorly (Bobby Moynihan’s character is razzed by his buddies for lusting after Robbie) before making a left turn into the completely insane. Of all the night’s sketches, this one feels most poised to go viral, if only because “SNL” hasn’t been this straight-up strange in a minute.
Best Sketch of the Night: Clinton/Trump Family Feud, Political Edition
Oh, happy day, it’s the return of Darrell Hammond and his sublime Bill Clinton. In addition to Hammond, newcomer Melissa Villaseñor, who nailed her Sarah Silverman impression, Larry David, back again as a wound-up Bernie Sanders, and an emotional Cecily Strong as Lin-Manuel Miranda(!) rounded out Team Clinton. Across the floor, Team Trump boasted confused campaign manager Kellyanne Conway (McKinnon), a hypnotized Ivanka Trump (Margot Robbie, standing in front of a fan), Chris Christie (Moynihan) and Vladimir Putin (Beck Bennett). Our host Kenan did what he does best (“I was out getting my teeth enlarged”), and while it at times felt like the Impression Olympics, the group got in some pretty good zingers.
Best Female Performer: Kate McKinnon
During the “2016 New York Film Festival Actress Roundtable,” we saw more solid impressions and McKinnon as “Debette Goldry.” Debette, a madeup kook ideal for McKinnon’s brand of lunacy, immediately took the roundtable off the rails, getting Robbie (as Keira Knightley) to break with anecdotes about Debette’s life in Hollywood. While Sasheer Zamata’s Lupita Nyong’o calmly called for an end to industry sexism, Debette unleashed a story about how MGM Studios forced her to marry a “homosexual chimpanzee” that eventually ran away with the brooches MGM paid her with in place of actual money. This had a real “ten-to-one” feel to it, but it was not the last sketch of the evening. That honor went to the show’s version of “Mr. Robot.”
Honorary Mention: Margot Robbie, for her commitment. Great moment: Our host exuberantly “fact-checked” her way through the monologue, revealing silly (and fake) facts to the camera with the help of “SNL’s” stars.
Best Male Performer: Beck Bennett
Proving his versatility beyond sketches like “Baby Boss,” Beck Bennett appeared in what felt like nearly everything last night. His shirtless Putin, in particular, was something to behold.
Ten to One
In this “Mr. Robot” parody, Leslie Jones (as herself) brings in Rami Malek doppelganger Pete Davidson to help find out who hacked her photos… And poke fun at the show’s off-balance visual style and Malek’s Emmy-winning performance, in a pretaped sketch that mimics the “Robot” style perfectly. (The Windows 95 jokes were especially choice.)
Best Impressions: Everyone
The cast really brought it this week. Weekend Update hit most of its marks, bolstered by Jost and Che’s signature rapport, discussing the upcoming election, stop and frisk, and Colin Kaepernick. There was a weird turn by Strong as an Undecided Voter, and one by Thompson as David Ortiz, both of which felt slightly out of place during an honest discussion of race relations in America. Also, The Weeknd acknowledged his haircut (“The Weeknd Update”).
Two abrupt sketches followed: “The Hunch Bunch,” an obvious “Scooby-Doo” parody, and “Melania Moments,” a Jack Handey-style interstitial, both of which felt shoehorned in. The Hunch Bunch, featuring Robbie as “Becca-Ashley” — girlfriend to a member of the crime-solving gang — was a brief ode to outsiders throwing off your group’s vibe. But “Melania Moments” had real potential. The pre-taped bit with Cecily Strong could easily become a running gag, if they wanted it to. (Hey, even MacGruber got a movie.)
Noticeably absent from the premiere was cast regular Vanessa Bayer – but what does that mean, exactly? And will we ever be able to tell new male cast members Alex Moffat and Mikey Day apart? Only next week’s episode, hosted by the actual Lin-Manuel Miranda, will help us know for sure. To borrow Michael Che’s description for America, it’s “a rebuilding season.” But, for better or worse, we’re still hopeful.
‘Saturday Night Live’ is back next week with host Lin-Manuel Miranda and musical guest Twenty One Pilots.