Well, that happened.
Oft-busted plutocrat, reality show laughingstock, loudmouthed misogynist and bigot, and bafflingly viable Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hosted SNL. You know, despite being a legitimate and regular target of the show’s often watery political humor for decades, and despite the fact that, mere months ago, his “controversial” (meaning reprehensible) campaign rhetoric got him banned from NBC entirely. Since his booking was announced—and met with unsurprising outrage from people not reprehensible—I spent a lot of time wondering how SNL would navigate this seemingly no-win situation.
In the end, it did the worst it could possibly do.
I’ve already spent way too much time thinking and writing about this episode, and this man. Here’s and excerpt from the first AV Club piece I did, in advance of the show.
But that’s not to say that SNL should be more conservative than it is. In his career, Michaels has been shown to be as left-leaning as a pampered multi-millionaire mogul can be, and while SNL was never the bastion of radicalism conservative critics or rose-colored hindsight would have it be, it’s hardly a haven for right-wingers. The show’s humor consistently veers left. Why that traditionally remains true of most good comedy is a fight for another day, but SNL has remained successful for so long because it seeks the heat wherever it lives that week. But if the hot target is of the left, the tone of the comedy is different than if, say, a Republican presidential candidate comes out and states that Mexican people coming to America are “criminals, drug dealers, [and] rapists,” or mentions immigrants within the same breath as the statement “tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border.” (Just a tip for political candidates: If you start a statement like “Mexicans are…” and end with anything but “…from Mexico,” you’re saying something racist.) A public figure saying something racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic—that’s when SNL, for all its often-tepid social satire, will traditionally hold up that person for scorn. Donald Trump is guilty of all of those things. Whether he truly believes them or is saying them to pick up votes from those who do (and which is worse?) is beside the point when the show is giving him a platform.
And here’s a chunk of the review itself, which bore out literally every horrible suspicion I had about how SNL would approach this mess.
After the first third of the show revealed just how irrelevantly sycophantic the episode was going to be to the Republican front-runner (who was disavowed by NBC as recently as June), I recall thinking that, if the show were going to engage in any meaningful satire, or, indeed, do anything but allow Donald Trump to preen and brag for 90 minutes (minus commercials and two soporifically similar Sia songs), then the stand would be made there. Look, it’s obvious that the guy reviewing this episode is not a fan of this particular host, but if Saturday Night Live is going to remain a player in televised political satire, then it has to take advantage of the opportunities it’s presented. And having a front-running Republican candidate in their own house was the biggest opportunity the show would have to show it still meant… anything. Instead, apart from Michael Che—who looked like he would rather be anywhere else, to his credit—jabbing Trump’s history as a “birther,” and a line about conservatives longing for “the good old days” which predated any and all civil rights reforms, Weekend Update was essentially a checklist of Trump targets. Ben Carson slams—four. Jeb Bush slams—two. President Obama slam, China slam, Iran slam—one each (plus a stereotypical “Asians are good at math” extra credit joke for good measure). Tina Fey has talked about her disdain for perhaps-even-worse SNL host Paris Hilton’s desire to use the show to make fun of her “enemies,” and it’s like Trump (and his people) presented the writers with a similar checklist of targets to pick from. (Notably absent from that list—Donald Trump.)
I took precisely no pleasure in being proved 100% right, by the way. No show has been a part of my life as vitally as has SNL. This just sucked all over.