The ongoing problem with Saturday Night Live in the Donald Trump era is that it is required to treat the president as a joke rather than the serious threat he is. Early on, during Trump’s candidacy, Alec Baldwin started playing Trump as a stupid windbag — this fit the SNL tradition, going back to Chevy Chase impersonating Gerald Ford as a clumsy dolt. But once Trump was elected, it was no longer possible to reduce him to a foolish pop-culture phenomenon. Yet this is what SNL persists with, and so bringing the real-life Stormy Daniels onto Saturday’s Donald Glover-hosted show was almost inevitable.
To make more of a splash, the show crammed a cavalcade of stars into the opening sketch: In addition to Baldwin, Ben Stiller played Trump attorney Michael Cohen; Martin Short was Trump’s Dr. Bornstein; Scarlett Johansson played Ivanka Trump to Jimmy Fallon’s squeaky-voiced Jared Kushner. There was a joke made about Trump’s “new chief of staff Kanye West” — I wonder how hard the show’s writers tried to persuade Glover to play Kanye, without success. And finally there was Stormy Daniels herself, at ease in front of the cameras (no surprise there) if a little wooden in her line readings (no surprise there either).
The sketch was one big dud. Everyone yammered the lines, which weren’t so much jokes as bullet points taken from the news (Bornstein’s office raided by Trump goons; Rudy Giuliani saying he’d lay off Ivanka but let Jared twist in the wind). Since Trump took office, SNL hasn’t been able to come up with comic situations that are any more overblown than what the president and his administration has done in real life. And just as the Stormy Daniels case is, more or less, a distraction from the serious stuff taking place around the Robert Mueller investigation and Trump’s attempts to derail it, so did the Stormy SNL skit seem like a low-stakes morsel of prechewed political commentary. The most pointed line of the sketch was uttered by Daniels, who, when asked what she wanted, didn’t say money but rather “a resignation.” There was a smattering of applause from the audience at that — not because the majority of a New York City crowd probably agreed with that sentiment but because everyone has heard so many different, probably futile ways Trump could possibly be removed from office, none of them even seem worth encouraging with applause anymore.
The rest of the show — the stuff that included Glover prominently — was a lot better. Loved that Migos spoof.