At long last, Mr. President, here is your post-Emmy victory lap. Fresh off collecting his statue for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy — one of nine awards Saturday Night Live received for its record-setting 42nd year on the air — Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump was unsurprisingly front and center for the season premiere. “Welcome back from Bedminster, Mr. President,” Aidy Bryant’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in her real-world counterpart’s measured drone of a voice.
It wasn’t exactly the smoothest homecoming for either Trump or SNL. The cold open alternated between sharp comic jabs and listlessly penned topical references as it ran through a list of the headlines from the past few days, starting with the Puerto Rico fracas that began that morning. Speaking on the phone with the San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz (Melissa Villaseñor), Baldwin more or less repeated Trump’s actual quotes about islands and big water and tossed in a “Despacito” shout-out for no real reason. On the other hand, the line “That woman was so nasty” — a callback to 2016’s leading hashtag — was slipped in with just the right amount of comic calculation.
Fortunately, the great Kate (as in McKinnon) showed up to rescue the sketch by reprising her expert “Jeff Sessions as demented elf” take on the attorney general. “I might look adorable, but I’m frightening,” McKinnon said, as her already slanted grin threatened to slide completely off her face. Sessions was still plenty beautiful to Trump, and cuddled up in the president’s lap until fellow New Yorker Chuck Schumer (Alex Moffat) walked through the Oval Office door. At that point, the POTUS dropped his AG faster than his falling approval ratings. The countdown to the real Trump’s tweet critique of the SNL season premiere starts … now.
Best sketch: Papyrus
This one goes out to all you font-lovers. In a Times New Roman world, this sketch is Comic (Gold) Sans.
Runner-up: Italian Restaurant
The “It’s not delivery, it’s Digiorno” approach to hawking pizza is taken to its illogical but amusing conclusion. A closing punch line revealing it was a Domino’s ad all along provides the perfect topping.
Worst sketch: Henrietta and the Fugitive
The sight of poor Bryant in a chicken suit more or less guaranteed this sketch was going to be trouble. Like the pro she is, Bryant gave it her all, but her all couldn’t overcome the WTF.
Best use of Ryan Gosling: Opening Monologue
La La Land may be so 2016, but the “Ryan Gosling saved jazz” jokes will never get old. In fact, the actor’s digs at his own movie may be the best of the bunch. The monologue also gifted him the chance to smolder with a cigarette and break into laughter for the first of many times that night. Basically, it’s peak Gosling.
Most satisfying sequel: Another Close Encounter
“Close Encounter” wasn’t even the funniest sketch to air during Gosling’s inaugural hosting stint last year, but it’s the one everyone remembers because the star cracked up on air. He broke again this time around, and all it took was McKinnon burying her face in his butt.
Best Weekend Update joke: Angela Merkel
Speaking of McKinnon, she easily owned Update with her bit of business wherein German Chancellor Angela Merkel tries to quit former POTUS Barack Obama once and for all by rifling through a keepsake box from their time together. The nothing-but-Creed mix CD was funnier than anything Colin Jost or Michael Che had in their own box of one-liners.
Episode MVP: Kate McKinnon
Whether playing world leaders or hawking Levi Woke jeans, McKinnon is still SNL‘s resident superstar. Memo to Lorne Michaels: Pay her whatever she wants to stick around at least one more season rather than make another Rough Night.
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. on NBC.
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