What Saturday Night Live’s Finale Says About SNL’s Trump Problem

Saturday Night Live closed out their forty-third season last night. The episode, which was hosted by Tina Fey and featured Nicki Minaj as the musical guest, was emblematic of the variety show’s entire season. The SNL finale placed politics and cameos in the forefront of its show for yet another episode. They doubled down on mediocre material that was a desperate attempt to put a lasting political stamp on the season. It was almost as if SNL was openly admitting that they cannot help themselves: they have a Trump problem.  

SNL Season 43 Finale: Cameos And Trump

Tina Fey was solid last night, joining Tiffany Haddish, Sterling K. Brown, Gal Gadot, and John Mulaney as one of the better hosts of Season 43. Fey was certainly not alone in the finale. Jerry Seinfeld, Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock, Donald Glover, Fred Armisen, Anne Hathaway, Robert De Niro, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Stiller, John Goodman, Lin Manuel-Miranda, and Jeff Richmond (Fey’s husband) all dropped in at some point in the episode.

Most of the cameos were utilized in Fey’s opening monologue. There is something timeless about the “Wow, that’s Jerry Seinfeld” reaction that will never grow stale. Like almost every finale and Christmas episode of SNL, the overwhelming number of celebrities dropping by can be fun. There is inherent value in those appearances.

Tina Fey’s SNL Monologue: 

Outside of the cameos and the funny “Chicago Improv” and “Royal Wedding” sketches, the SNL finale was nothing special.

It almost does not matter who is hosting SNL. Politics was the first thing on the docket this year and a heavily focused aspect of almost every episode.

The SNL Finale’s Political Sketches

During Weekend Update, Michael Che and Colin Jost cleared an alleged backlog of jokes that were “too offensive” to air. The episode also featured three political sketches. It was almost if the SNL finale was devoted to dusting off a pile of unused material.

De Niro, Stiller, Alec Baldwin, and Kate McKinnon were present for a Sopranos-themed cold open. The bit used the Holston’s Diner premise of the HBO show’s famous finale. Much like the Sopranos finale, the SNL scene ended without a climax. The point to the sketch was De Niro’s Robert Mueller giving Baldwin’s Donald Trump an “I’m watching you” gesture.

SNL Sopranos.png
(L-R, Robert De Niro, Mikey Day, and Alec Baldwin in the SNL Sopranos sketch)

The Sopranos concept initially seemed promising. Odds are that if SNL was going to allude to one of the most famous television scenes ever that this sketch had to be good. Ultimately, the sketch came off as actors weakly wagging their finger at Donald Trump.

SNL also ran a Morning Joe sketch that mocked MSNBC’s ineffective A.M. chat show. The segment featured Aidy Bryant as Meghan McCain and Tina Fey as a Russian lawyer. The sketch was good, but the repetition of Trump-themed comedy allowed the jokes to lose their edge.

SNL’s “Morning Joe” sketch: 

The third political sketch of the night saw Fey reprise her famous impression of Sarah Palin. Fred Armisen and John Goodman added cameos as former figures in Trump’s life, Michael Wolff and Rex Tillerson. The sketch, “Sarah Palin Advice,” was a musical number that saw the characters mourn “what I did for Trump.”

SNL’s “Sarah Palin Advice” Sketch: 

It was bizarre and it was tired. It was more angry than funny. Is was emblematic of Season 43. SNL can’t quit Trump.

SNL’s Trump Problem

In Michelle Wolf’s much-discussed White House Press Correspondents Dinner roast, the take-no-prisoners comedian noted that many media figures in the room were guilty of spending too much time discussing the president:

“There’s a ton of news right now, a lot is going on, and we have all these 24-hour news networks, and we could be covering everything. Instead, we’re covering three topics. Every hour is Trump, Russia, Hillary, and a panel full of people that remind you why you don’t go home for Thanksgiving. Milk comes from nuts now all because of the gays.

You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric, but he has helped you. He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him. If you’re going to profit off of Trump, you should at least give him some money, because he doesn’t have any.”

Wolf’s criticism feels especially on-point with SNL. The show allowed Donald Trump to host during the early stages of his presidential campaign in November 2015. Meanwhile, SNL finds Trump’s politics so abhorrent that they cannot stop talking about him.

SNL Can Learn From Last Week Tonight

This is not the first time that I have felt this way about SNL. In January, I wrote that the show was spending too much time on politics. They were not balancing Washington with the rest of the world. Not much has changed since then.

Episodes like the SNL finale are like watching Game of Thrones. At some point we get that a character is being tortured, abused, or is traveling. You do not have to dedicate three episodes to each story. We get it.

This is not to say that SNL should not mock Donald Trump. No one is providing more  material for SNL than Trump himself. He is a big boy and the president does not require “fairness” from a troupe of improv actors. I do not care if the show leans left or right. Just please lean elsewhere.

SNL could learn from Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver

SNL can use John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight as a template for how to tackle Trump through comedy. Oliver discusses the White House, but seems more than happy to move on from Trump and talk about Venezuela’s deteriorating economics and buy Russell Crowe’s Cinderella Man jock strap.

Trump usually gets a few minutes from John Oliver and that is it. There is more to his show than one man. Last Week Tonight frequently implements a refreshing and sharp use of satire that SNL has not come close to equaling since the 2016 election.

This is an open plea to SNL. For the love of comedy, please make fun of something else next year. The hyper-focus on one man kills your show’s ingenuity. You are supposed to be the most inventive variety show on television. Season 43 was nothing special. You spent so much time mocking the beltway that you forgot how to be funny. Bring the variety back next year.


www.flatcircleblog.com is a Philadelphia pop-culture blog that covers television, music, podcasts, and movies. Follow along on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, or subscribe by e-mail to catch all posts. 




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