Yes, there was plenty of Donald Trump material on last night’s Saturday Night Live season premiere. (Its 45th, if you’re keeping track.) And while Alec Baldwin fiendishly refused to follow through on his widely reported desire to ditch what’s always been a crude cartoon of a Trump, and a Democratic town hall sketch reveled in great guest stars and pointlessly toothless quick-hit impressions, the third try was the charm. Even if its entertainment value came nearly as much from one of those on-air, live TV catastrophes SNL is occasionally prone to as from some fine character work from Kenan Thompson as the one media pundit who remains skeptical that all this “blackmail Ukraine into helping him get elected” thing is going to be what finally brings Trump down.
“Ain’t nothing going to happen,” was the refrain from Thompson’s bow-tie-sporting talking head, Quincy Maddox, as he surveyed his co-panelists’ barely contained glee over the thought that the Republican Party just has to come to its senses now that there’s incontestable proof that the president has done something that so egregiously violates his oath of office. Brushing off the cajoling of counterparts Cecily Strong, Woody Harrelson, and Inside The Beltway host Aidy Bryant, Thompson nimbly walked a line between scorn and pity that the white panelists around him still had faith in American institutions’ and politicians’ moral courage. Shown having pulled a tub of popcorn out of nowhere to listen in mock-suspense at one pundit’s confident explanation of how things are going to go, Kenan’s Maddox echoed the beleaguered spirit of those who’ve watched Trump and company trample over every norm, check, and balance in sight without facing the music.
Funny (if queasily possible) stuff, although what enjoyment the audience was getting from the carefully crafted satire had to contend with the comic timing of one unfortunately premature wardrobe person. Seen coming in to do a flashback quick-change of Bryant’s clothes about three agonizing beats too soon, the poor woman was gently but desperately waved off by Bryant before staring out to realize she’d just made her national television debut. And when the sketch cut back from old clips of her pronouncing Trump doom after [long ugly list of Trump offenses], Bryant, pro that she is, pretty adorably struggled to keep it together. And failed. As did everyone else, on screen and off, with the possible exception of the wardrobe person. (And seriously, Lorne Michaels, if you fire that lady, everyone will know it’s because she got the biggest laugh of the night.)