The fevered lead-up to Donald Trump’s “Saturday Night Live” episode turned out to be more exciting than the edition of the show he hosted.
Most of the sketches involving Trump were weak, timid or predictable, and we have Drake to thank for one of the few moments that worked.
Turns out Trump doing goofy “Hotline Bling” dad-dancing was far more humorous than jokes about his Twitter account and his hyperactive ego. Ed Grimley (a.k.a. Martin Short) turned up in the “Hotline Bling” sketch, and another old hand was on stage during Trump’s monologue — clad in Trump-appropriate red tie and whipped-cream hair, Taran Killam did a dueling Trump impression along with Darrell Hammond. (Hammond may be a better Trump than Trump.)
Larry David provided one of the few real moments of spontaneity in Saturday’s episode. After doing a spot-on Bernie Sanders in the Trump-free cold open, David stood to the side of the stage during the monologue and shouted “Trump’s a racist!”
There were no true interruptions by hecklers — a concern given the protests that surrounded Trump’s appearance and the controversy that has followed various racially charged comments he has made. But there was clearly an effort made to limit Trump’s screen time, given the many questions raised in recent weeks about how equal-time rules would apply to the appearance of a presidential candidate.
To keep him away from the cameras, in one seemingly endless sketch set in an Italian restaurant, an off-screen Trump’s Twitter insults popped up on the screen. Cast members wondered what he was writing, and to no one’s surprise, Trump was tweeting pointedly nasty comments about them (“total loser,” “born stupid,” Kenan Thompson’s birth certificate was a fraud, etc.). Of course the jibes were all in good fun. If only they’d been funny, too.
An early sketch took place in a future Trump White House, where Omarosa Manigault from “The Apprentice” reported that Trump’s comments about Putin had made the Russian leader cry. The Syria problem had been solved by giving refugees jobs in a Damascus casino owned by Trump. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, turned up to report on White House renovations, and Cecily Strong played Trump’s wife, Melania.
It’s pretty standard for a host to read most of his lines off cue cards, as Trump did stiffly in all his scenes, but when the rest of the cast appears ill at ease and many of the jokes fail to land, the sketches can seem interminable. And when the funniest joke in a particular sketch has Trump thanking the president of Mexico for turning Telemundo into an English-language network, something has gone awry.
An episode that failed to sustain much energy petered out noticeably by the end (the Donald playing a laser harp solo is less interesting than it sounds). A couple of lively moments occurred during Weekend Update, despite the fact that Colin Jost and Michael Che are one of the most low-energy duos to ever share the Update desk.
Che mocked Trump’s nostalgic urges: “Whenever rich old white guys start bringing up the good old days, my Negro senses start tingling,” Che sighed. “After all these years of progress, Trump’s really going to go with, ‘I think we had it right the first time?’”
One of the few moments in the entire broadcast that worked was Bobby Moynihan’s Drunk Uncle bit during Weekend Update. It’s somehow not a surprise to learn that Drunk Uncle would be thrilled at the prospect of a President Trump. He and Trump have so much in common, Drunk Uncle pointed out: “We both love white Russians. His wife is named Melania, and that’s what my doctor said this mole is.”
If nothing else, Drunk Uncle has fully grasped the goal of Trump’s candidacy. With slurring adoration, he mumbled, “He’s going make America grapes again.”