In its cold open for the penultimate episode of “SNL,” Michael Che had the line that best summed up every political event Season 42 has parodied.
“Nothing matters? Absolutely nothing matters anymore? All right.”
Playing “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt on “Saturday Night Live,” Che spoofed the interview the real Holt did with Donald Trump earlier in the week. When Trump (played as always by Alec Baldwin) admitted to firing FBI Director James Comey because of the FBI’s investigation into the Trump presidential campaign’s ties with Russia (just like real Trump kind of did), Che’s reaction was perfect. “Wait, did I get him? Is it over?” Che’s Holt asked, before putting a finger to his earpiece as if receiving information from an off-screen NBC producer. “No, I didn’t? Nothing matters? Absolutely nothing matters anymore? All right.”
All season, “Saturday Night Live” has gained major ratings by taking down Trump, but just as often as the sketch show has been on point in highlighting his ridiculous behavior, it has fallen flat — because his behavior is already so ridiculous. “SNL” often can’t wring more comedy out of what Trump is actually doing. For instance, in one sketch, Trump is constantly retweeting random Americans during his work day, putting his name behind words any other politician would have spent a whole news cycle desperately disavowing. As the sketch pointed out, that was a thing that really happened.
The joke — “yes, this really is our president” — was something everyone in America had already lived through.
That’s why “SNL” should give Trump a break in its final episode of Season 42. Instead of hammering Trump, the sketch comedy show would be more effective turning its sights on everyone else.
One of the most poignant sketches of the season is “TBD,” which presents a fictional trailer for an upcoming Hollywood movie celebrating the Republican who finally stood up to Trump. Of course, no Republican has actually stepped into the role — resulting in the trailer obscuring the face of its star and his heroic moments because they’re still “TBD.”
“TBD” represents some largely untapped potential in Season 42. It’s a moment when the show turns its attention away from Trump (admittedly very difficult to do) to skewer a few of the other people who definitely deserve skewering. There are a whole lot of them, and as much as Trump has single-handedly created a ludicrous, laughing stock of a presidency, he’s not the only one responsible for it.
For its final episode, “SNL” should take on all the people enabling and downplaying Trump’s antics. At this point, that group includes the entire Republican Party and a fair chunk of the mainstream media.
It’s easy to find tweets from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan all calling out Hillary Clinton for doing the very things Trump has done and continues to do. And there’s no end of moments of Republicans like John McCain giving wishy-washy answers about whether they think Trump’s conduct is okay, or whether they’ll actually do anything about it.
There are also the media to account for, and “Saturday Night Live” could take them to task as well. Fox News, for a start, has evaded pretty much any scrutiny from the show, outside its dragging of former host Bill O’Reilly mid-sexual assault scandal. “SNL” hasn’t engaged at all with the fact that Fox News has spent most of the last 115 or so days excusing Trump’s behavior, or downplaying it, or providing him answers for the reasons behind it.
“SNL” doesn’t have to just go after conservatives, though. Before the election, the show deployed a “Westworld”-inspired gag against CNN’s talking heads for taking advantage of kicking up the same drama over and over. That joke and more can still be applied to a media feasting off the scraps of the Trump circus.
The one thing “SNL” has done exceedingly well all season is ensure people they’re not alone in their bewilderment about the state of the nation or its leaders. Every Saturday was a great reminder that no, you’re not imagining it, and yes, this is all extremely, unprecedentedly bizarre. It’s weird that Spicer yells at the press, that Trump seems to tweet more than he reads, and that Ivanka Trump was considered a possible feminist balance to her father. It’s weird that a purported white supremacist has the ear of the president, that every appointee comes from the very corporations they’re meant to regulate and curtail, and that Trump orders missile strikes over dessert.
“SNL” in Season 42 has been a sorely needed sanity check, and its best stuff has come from that perspective.
But as the season comes to an end, especially after last week’s Trump grilling in the Holt interview send-up, “SNL” should perform that sanity check beyond Pennsylvania Avenue. All season, the show has made clear where Trump stands, even as things get more and more unbelievable. Hitting him one last time isn’t going to add much to a season of similar send-ups and takedowns.
As he has been all season, Trump as played by Baldwin was written with the same say-anything reckless abandon the president shows everything, from sexual assault to ethical concerns to wasting taxpayer money golfing every weekend to protecting U.S. intelligence. It’s really fun and even the right amount of bitter and mean most of the time.
But the news coming out of the White House hasn’t lacked for absurdity since Saturday night. The Washington Post reported on Monday Trump had divulged classified information to Russia during a meeting with its ambassador last week. White House staff denied it. Then Trump said he did do it, on Twitter. It was the Holt sketch all over again, unfolding in real time. How could the show hope to top that again? More important, why should it try?
With the last episode, “SNL” has a chance to hold a few other feet to the fire. There are a lot of people in the government and beyond who’ve made the Saturday sanity check necessary. They deserve a few jokes at their expense, too.