'Saturday Night Live' needs to be sharper, as Jimmy Fallon-hosted edition shows

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Seriously, Alec Baldwin, can you get off stage so I and other SNL cast members can shine? That's what we imagine Beck Bennett (right) is thinking here Screen capture

Cast members must be fuming at Alec Baldwin’s continuing hijacking of Saturday Night Live with his cartoonish Donald Trump impression. In this week’s cold open, SNL‘s requisite tackling of the most prominent political headline requires them to create a sketch around chief strategist Steve Bannon’s falling out with Trump.

The only biting subversive act in the cold open — let’s face it: mocking Trump is mainstream play — is the (repeated) portrayal of Bannon as a demonic reaper. Regulating the sketch to mediocrity is including the sycophantic mugging of Jimmy Fallon as Jared Kushner. Blah, blah, pause for laughter, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night.”

Clearly, I think Saturday Night Live can do better — and it has a responsibility to be always on-point as the cultural touchstone of the moment. We get it: Alec Baldwin’s impression pisses off Trump… so what? With record ratings and media breathlessly reporting on every sketch, the need to push the show’s subversive humour is key to embed the show’s influence with meaning.

There is some hope, however, in small moments.

Melissa McCarthy’s return as the hapless White House press secretary Sean Spicer may have started as another play at the obvious — mostly a rambling monologue with offensive Jewish history analogies to parody Spicer’s idiotic Holocaust references during a press conference earlier that week — but finally hit the mark at the end with the too-quick punchline: “Happy Easter everybody — and by the way, the President’s probably going to bomb North Korea tonight.”

Melissa McCarthy as White House press secretary Sean Spicer continues to be an 'SNL' highlight
Melissa McCarthy as White House press secretary Sean Spicer continues to be an ‘SNL’ highlight Screen capture

The audience had a brief delay in their laughter, not quite knowing whether to laugh. They finally did, with a few ohhhs. But the killer tag, as McCarthy drove into the Presidential seal in a broken Easter egg kart, was to “just eat as much candy as as you want, ’cause this is probably our last Easter on earth.”

Genius. That’s exactly the tone SNL needs to hit. Edgy, but mainstream. Parody with a message.

The other moment that struck the appropriate comedy nerve was during Weekend Update, with anchor Colin Jost addressing the United Airlines overbooking fiasco. There were the necessary, ironic “fly the friendly sky” moments, all of which finally hit the zeitgeist at the end. (There’s a common thread here, with the best lines sneaking in at the end.)

I’ll say, after all this, I will never fly United ever again.
Unless they have a cheap flight to wherever I’m going.
In which case, I’ll definitely fly United.

The audience laughed and then Jost held a judgmental post to camera just a little too long.

Get it? When companies treat people badly, your money is the only thing that makes them think twice
Get it? When companies treat people badly, your money is the only thing that makes them think twice Screen capture

As people clued into the joke, after an uncomfortable moment, there was a release of “I-get-it” laughter.

This is what Saturday Night Live needs to be more often. When it returns in May sweeps with host Chris Pine on May 6th, let’s hope it picks up the baton.

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