Anybody who thought “Saturday Night Live” might choose sensitivity in the wake of President Trump being diagnosed with COVID-19 was proven wrong immediately during the show’s uncomfortable Season 46 premiere.
“The following is a rebroadcast of Tuesday’s presidential debate,” said a narrator during the cold open. “Even though Tuesday feels like 100 years ago. Because it might be the only presidential debate.”
Was the awkwardness of sending up a 74-year-old man who is hospitalized with a deadly new virus worth it? Hardly.
While it was a happy relief to see “SNL” back in the famed Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center with a real, laughing audience, this was one of the show’s worst presidential debate sketches in years — bringing to mind to the lame Mitt Romney bits no one can quote now.
As Trump, Alec Baldwin returned yet again to do his predictable mugging, so-so impression and landing no punchlines. The actor lacked energy. But the headline grabber was that Jim Carrey signed on to play Joe Biden. With the help of hairline-altering makeup, Carrey nailed the physicality and voice of the former vice president, but the script didn’t latch onto any of the Biden traits voters are all too familiar with.
Where was Creepy Uncle Joe? What happened to the Joe who mixes up words like a Shakespearean clown? Carrey wore “Top Gun” sunglasses and tried to make the guy as cool as Danny Zuko. Huh? We know “SNL” wants Biden to win, but that doesn’t mean his lines can’t still be biting and hilarious.
Kicking off the debate, Carrey said: “I’m holdin’ my bladder, let’s get at her.” Not funny. Later he paused Trump with a remote control and said it was nice “just not to hear his voice for a single G–damned second.” Bombed.
“Saturday Night Live” is usually at its best and most relevant during election cycles, and its debate sketches are the stuff of legend. Remember Jon Lovitz’s diminutive Michael Dukakis saying, “I can’t believe I’m losin’ to this guy!” to Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush? Or when Darrell Hammond as an Eeyore-like Al Gore rambled on about his strategy of hiding national secrets in a private “lockbox”? Those skits helped define how Americans came to see these politicians. They were that good.
However, despite the edginess of ignoring that the commander in chief is currently working from a bed in Walter Reed, Saturday’s eye-roll-worthy material was wearing a safety mask. Even the excellent Maya Rudolph couldn’t pump things up. She came on for a moment as Kamala Harris to say some T-shirt ready slogans: “Let Mama-la go to work” and “If there is one thing we learned tonight, it’s that America needs a WAP: Woman As President.” With Washington, DC, overflowing with gigantic characters, sanitized zingers are the best we can do?
OK, let’s forget the bland beginning. Time for a palate cleanser, right? Wrong. Host Chris Rock’s monologue’s was dumb, too. “President Trump’s in the hospital with COVID,” Rock said. “And I just want to say my heart goes out to COVID.” Yuck.