Melissa McCarthy‘s Saturday Night Live legacy was already cemented before she started impersonating Sean Spicer this season. But ever since, that reputation has gone into the stratosphere. Rewatching that initial press conference sketch, you can hear the crowd slowly, surely, then ecstatically greet the choice to have McCarthy embody this role. Not having her on the full-time cast has caused some problems, but little has dampened that initial impact.
As the newest member of the Five-Timers Club (after being officially inducted by Steve Martin during the show’s farewell segment), McCarthy demonstrated once again why she’s one of a handful of performers that the show should have host on a yearly basis. Each episode brings out the best in the writers and performers. While this show itself had a few lulls, overall it was one of the strongest installments all season. There were many highlights, but here are the three sketches people will be talking about until the season finale next week.
The weekly selection process here isn’t about the “best” sketches: the mandate is “sketches you have to see.” There’s a difference. Often times, the best/funniest sketches comprise the ones we discuss here, but that’s not always the case. I thought about including the Amazon Echo Silver in place of this one, as pound-for-pound it probably had better jokes. But are people going to be talking about that over “Melissa McCarthy putting on another masterclass of physical comedy on live TV”? Highly doubtful. So this gets the nod.
Game show sketches are one of the staples in the show’s history, behind perhaps only “talk shows” in terms of the number of times SNL has set a scene inside a certain venue. This Press Your Luck-style show doesn’t have any overt rules, save those that all but guarantee that McCarthy’s hapless contestant will get something edible slammed into her face. It’s as anti-intellectual as a premise can get, but the absolute commitment McCarthy brings elevates the proceedings to amazing heights.
Honestly, if you want to create a short demo reel of the types of things that make up an ideal SNL host, include McCarthy desperately trying to hose cake, pie, frosting, and other items from her face using an array of in-podium water hoses. It’s as if her character has spent days in the desert and has finally found an oasis. It’s simple, effective, universal, and above all demonstrates the commitment she brings each and every time she hosts the show.
Lester Holt Cold Open
Alec Baldwin’s performance as Donald Trump hasn’t waned since his initial appearance in the role, but there has been less of a novelty around it the further the season has progressed. But pairing him up here with Michael Ché brought back some of the initial energy, as the two sparred in a parody of this week’s NBC interview.
Perhaps parody isn’t the right word: When reality is stranger/weirder than anything a writer can come up with, where can a sketch like this go? Ché’s Holt gets at this early, after Trump fully admits that he’s broken the law. “Did I get him? Is this all over?” he eagerly asks his producer through his earpiece before becoming deflated. “No, I didn’t. Nothing matters. Absolutely nothing matters anymore.” It’s both a funny punchline and a meta-commentary on how difficult it is for SNL or other comedy outlets to tackle the current state of affairs.
For his part, after a slightly rough start in which he mangled a few punchlines, Baldwin connected on joke after joke as the SNL writers methodically incorporated the seemingly dozens of hot-button issues that have arisen since the last episode. The biggest laughs came at the expense of Kellyanne Conway, whom the show parodied last week as AWOL and then suddenly appeared on-air with Anderson Cooper just a few days later. While not every political cold opener in 2017 has worked, this one truly connected.
Sean Spicer Returns
Following the existing template for the previous press conference sketches would have been the easy way to go. And indeed, once we realize it’s not going to be Aidy Bryant’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders for the entire running time, things more or less follow previous iterations down to the letter. That’s not a criticism: The beats are reliably funny, whether it’s Spicer physically abusing reporters (with fire extinguishers and pillars) or having overly-elaborate props (in this case, Russian nesting dolls, which is funny on multiple layers, literally) in order to convey his points.
But then the sketch takes a sharp left turn, in which the reporters (and by extension SNL) shows Spicer a surprising amount of sympathy. The press corps suggest to Spicer that Trump might be lying to him, which prompts a long teleprompter ride to New York City to ascertain the truth. The silliness of McCarthy-as-Spicer fades, as the live sketch transitions into a Simon and Garfunkel-scored pre-taped film. Spicer’s plaintive cries into the New York sky like “I promise I’ll talk better!” actually evoke something akin to pathos. It’s a fairly brilliant move, one that manages to serve as a retrofitted end of this spring’s multi-episode Spicer narrative.
It’s unclear if McCarthy will continue to portray Spicer in the future. But if not, this was a fitting send-off for one of the more surprisingly indelible aspects of this season.