On the season premiere of ‘SNL,’ Taran Killam’s Donald Trump needed work but Hillary Clinton’s Hillary Clinton was terrific.
The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon is leading a new paradigm shift toward increased on-air disposability in NBC late night. It hardly matters what happens for the majority of most Tonight Show episodes as long as Jimmy Fallon has a clip or two ready to, as the kids say, “go viral.” The show is just a delivery mechanism for a couple of breakout stories going online that night or the next morning.
Saturday Night Live has been trending in that direction for a while, but that was rarely more the case than in tonight’s premiere for the show’s 41st season. By early Monday morning, everybody will have watched and passed judgment on the exact same two clips we knew to expect going in and all memory of the rest of the show will have evaporated.
The premiere started with “A Message From Donald and Melania Trump,” as inevitable a cold open as one could have imagined. Sure, you might have predicted a big-stage mockery of the clown-car Republican debates, but Saturday Night Live knew that Donald Trump gets the breakout stories, not Jim Gilmore.
With an entire summer to prepare for lambasting the Republican frontrunner and an entire summer for Taran Killam to practice his impersonation, the result was a slew of predictable non-jokes about Trump’s bombast, his hair and Cecily Strong doing a globe-spanning accent as Melania.
Conventional wisdom seems to be that Donald Trump is such a caricature in his native form that you don’t need to write punchlines about him. But would it have killed the SNL writers to try? Killam, a savvy mimic who often catches unexpected undertones to stars like Brad Pitt or Vin Diesel, made his Trump debut with a performance that was 75 percent lips-and-teeth and 25 percent wig.
A cameo later in the show by Darrell Hammond offered a reminder that SNL has done good Trump work in the past when it mattered significantly less. Whether Trump is a central figure from now until next November (and beyond) or he implodes earlier, we’re going to have to see Killam’s Trump an unimaginable number of times and it would have been nice for the show to stake out a perspective on Trump from the beginning.
As Pete Davidson put it during his Weekend Update visit, he initially found Trump’s candidacy funny. “But that was four months ago, and he’s winning. It’s not funny anymore. I think America needs to stop doing things because it’s funny.”