With only two days to go until the general election, last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live teetered on the edge of a question most media outlets have been asking themselves for the past few weeks, if not months: how much political content can we put in front of people’s fragile eyeballs without running the risk of everyone turning off their screens and hiding inside the nearest pint of Talenti gelato?
On Monday night, NBC will air “The 2016 ‘SNL’ Election Special,” featuring highlights of its campaign season coverage, but the brevity of last night’s political skits was a testament to peak election fatigue.
The cold open began with Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton facing off against Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump and his spectacular tongue gyrations. There were some spot-on jokes, my favorite being when the fictitious Hillary starting listing off everything that Donald Trump has ruined: kindness, decency, Tic Tacs, Skittles, taco bowls, the color orange, father-daughter dances, buses, bright red hats, the word “great,” men.
But somewhat unexpectedly, Alec Baldwin broke the fourth wall. He stopped in the middle of a Trump tirade and turned to Kate, admitting that he felt badly yelling all this stuff at her.
“I just feel gross all the time,” he said. And then, turning to the audience, “Don’t you guys feel gross all the time about this?”
Baldwin and McKinnon then proceeded to completely break character and run off set. The camera panned to them skipping into the middle of Times Square, holding hands, embracing their political enemies, splitting a soft pretzel, giving each other piggyback rides and consuming large fistfuls of cotton candy.
It’s pretty telling that SNL — kingdom of no-holds-barred election snark — felt compelled to ditch the cynicism and appeal to people’s humanity. Instead of ending its election coverage with a viral moment or eviscerating punchline, the writers opted for pure, cathartic silliness. And it wasn’t gross at all.
After the opening, viewers were treated to a very lengthy political respite. Last night’s host, Benedict Cumberbatch, participated in a game show sketch entitled “Why Is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot,” during which he conceded that he looks like a hammerhead shark, a sexy lizard-man and the sloth from the Ice Age movies. Lol.
The best and possibly weirdest skit of the evening was a surprise bachelorette party for an 83-year-old grandmother a.k.a. Aidy Bryant in a wig, who “dies” of shock about 30 seconds in without anyone noticing. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a male stripper who gamely jostles dead Granny’s head with his crotch and plucks a maraschino cherry from her mouth with his own teeth. Three Chicago Cubs made a guest appearance and joined in on the dead granny grinding. The humor was dark, but it worked.
It also effectively cushioned the blow for the next round of election material during the “Weekend Update” segment. Hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che didn’t waste time going after Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, but Che was also quick to point out the double standard at play: “Just the mystery of what Hillary could be hiding in those deleted emails is somehow worse than what we’ve actually heard Trump say.” Colin Jost countered with the funny tidbit that Hillary has already booked an election night fireworks display over the Hudson River, “either to celebrate her victory or to visually demonstrate how her campaign exploded.” They also went after Melania Trump for her recent campaign speech, where she said that as first lady she would fight against bullying on social media. (*Cue quick scroll through Donal Trump’s twitter feed and collective eye roll*).
Like the cold open, this segment ended on a note of unexpected sincerity couched in silliness. Che soliloquized, “No matter who wins this election we can’t let political parties and the media divide us. Okay, we’re not different. We’re all the same. We have basic needs, we have the same basic wants, we all want respect, we all own a sweater that we never wear but will never throw away.”
But he neglected to mention what I would consider an even more significant point of common ground: We all turned back our clocks for daylight savings last night, which means we all had to endure an extra hour of this election cycle, Democrats and Republicans alike. Heartwarming, eh?
Photo by Dana Edelsen/NBC