If this past election year has taught us anything, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been naughty or nice, you’re still going to get what you want. Donald Trump got his presidency. We got one last turn from Alec Baldwin as the never-dull president-elect.
For Saturday Night Live’s final episode before the holiday break, it wasn’t Santa who came down the chimney for some final comedy gifts of 2016. It’s the man who keeps inserting himself into our personal business in horrifying ways: Vladimir Putin.
From How the Putin Stole the Election to How the Putin Stole Christmas.
Beck Bennett’s shirtless Russian president crashes a conversation between Baldwin’s Trump, Cecily Strong’s Melania Trump, and Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway. (If we no longer have occasion to see McKinnon’s iconic take on Clinton, we’ll take her weary, beleaguered-brilliant spin on Trump’s puppetmaster and master spinner instead.)
Their conversations are a sprint through all the recent truth-is-stranger-than-fiction (and, in the case of SNL, funnier) news concerning Trump and his planned administration. There’s his choice of Rick Perry as energy secretary. “I saw him on Dancing With the Stars,” Baldwin’s Trump says. “He has so much energy.” Heh.
His presumed lack of work ethic—the decision not to attend intelligence briefings, for example—took a jab with Baldwin’s Trump pleading with Conway to only be president three times a week, “like Howard Stern.” Then there was McKinnon’s Conway handing the list of artists willing to perform at the inauguration—a roster of names that fit on a post-it note. “I love both of them,” Baldwin’s Trump says.
But nothing cut to the face-palm exhaustion of the past week’s news cycle more than the show’s giddy spoofing of Putin’s reported influence on the election, which has now been confirmed by the FBI and CIA, and condemned by President Obama.
“I was just in town, you know, hiding in the walls,” Bennett’s Putin laughs, flexing his pectorals as he and Baldwin’s Trumps dance around their close ties to each other. “We think you are the best candidate, the smartest candidate, the Manchurian candidate…” Bennett's Putin tells him, as he places an Elf on the Shelf on Trump’s mantle, “next to the internet router.”
And if Putin sliding down the chimney was one cold open surprise, the entrance of John Goodman as Trump’s Secretary of State pick Rex Tillerson was another. Like Baldwin, Goodman’s in the SNL Hall of Fame of frequent, favorite hosts, making him a delightfully random choice to play someone who’s going to be a major player in the Trump administration.
(Though we expect the show will suffer the same issue it’s now in with Baldwin, who never expected to have to play the president-elect on a weekly basis when he agreed to a handful of fall cameos as Trump seemed certain to lose the election.)
“Pooty!” Goodman’s Tillerson greets Bennett’s Putin. And Putin: “Oh my god! Rexy baby!” They have a secret handshake. They start going over plans to scratch each other’s back, and when Baldwin’s Trump asks what they’re up to he gets promptly dismissed: “Don’t worry about it!”
When the conversation turns to oil, his Trump attempts to interject, “Speaking of black and crude, I know Kanye!” And then, with a fleeting mention to the past week’s childish Vanity Fair controversy, you have Trump News Bingo.
The allusions to all things Trumps were clever, with the added sweetness of Bennett’s take on Putin and an impressively thin John Goodman stopping by.
But the ticking off news items seemed a little rote and obligatory, maybe even joyless—as if the devious pleasure the show’s writers took in taking the wind out of Trump’s sails during the election is gone now that Trump’s wind shows no sign of dying down. It’s one thing to write biting takedowns of a ludicrous hypothetical. It’s another to attempt doing so amid a dejecting reality.
That’s why a later sketch, a music video featuring Kenan Thompson and musical guest Chance the Rapper titled “Last Christmas with Barack Still Here,” seemed to be more buoyant, with the pair encouraging friends and families to savor current holiday luxuries, such as getting married, celebrating with your immigrant neighbors, or opening presents instead of bombs from Iran. Even Jesus showed up to get down.
Mocking nostalgia, it turns out, is more fun that finding humor in dread.
It’s fitting that host Casey Affleck showed up to so perfectly set up the town. No Hollywood curmudgeon has ever been so thirsty for an Oscar, which explains why the self-proclaimed introvert agreed to stand on the stage of a live comedy show surrounded by a ridiculous amount of poinsettias to emcee the storied (and typically heartwarming) holiday episode.
The running joke was that he claimed to love Christmas, but each time a music cue started up to get him singing about it, he put the kibosh on such frivolity. Feigned excitement and strained joy: not only the joke of Affleck’s opening monologue, but a foreshadowing of SNL’s take on Trump in the months to come.