Saturday Night Live has a lot to atone for. Specifically, the show has had a hard time living down Donald Trump’s hosting stint in late 2015, as well as the number of jokes its writers produced during the election whose punchline was “Hillary’s got this.” It’s hard to credibly punch up at a political figure you helped raise up. It’s tempting to write the show off as permanently tainted, but it’s also impossible for any true fan of political satire to do that right now. As we know from his tweets, Donald Trump is a regular viewer. Watching the show now carries an extra electric charge of knowing that the writers are aware of their most ardent critic and are writing with his reaction in mind. They skewered him with a sketch about the president-elect tweeting at the expense of his other responsibilities, and sure enough he took the bait and tweeted about it. (That he hasn’t tweeted about the show since is a signal that his cabal of advisors may have intervened, again.) In the final episode of 2016, though, SNL spreads the political commentary around to give everyone a moment in the spotlight.
As teased by Alec Baldwin’s Twitter account, the actor and Trump impressionist returned to the show after a week away with fire in his belly. Calling out Trump’s instantly infamous “unpresidented” gaffe was the least savage part of a Christmas sketch that found Putin climbing down Trump’s chimney to do business with John Goodman’s Rex Tillerson (while Trump declares war on Vanity Fair.) As news of Secretary of State pick Tillerson’s Bahamas-based US-Russia oil firm leaked out on Sunday, the sketch only felt more relevant, if that’s possible.
It’s the last Christmas that Barack Obama will be president, and now we have a perfect jam to commemorate the moment. “Jingle Barack” is a parody of Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis,” in which musical guest Chance the Rapper busts out some old school Daryl McDaniels glasses and fully looks the part. It’s a celebration of our outgoing first black president that should be every bit as sad as it is funny to everyone who voted for him.
Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton returned in a digital short sending up the most famous scene in Love, Actually. It’s the scene in which the future Rick Grimes creepily pledges his love to his best friend’s wife using a series of INXS video-like signs. The twist here is that it’s Clinton trying to convince the electors to revolt against Donald Trump on December 19. It’s comforting to see McKinnon back in her signature political role rather than playing Kellyanne Conway, whom she seems decidedly less joyful emulating. It also doesn’t hurt that Cecily Strong does a pitch perfect imitation of Keira Knightley’s reaction shots from the original scene. In many ways this feels like a more appropriate goodbye (for now) to Hillary Clinton on SNL than the post-election piano tribute to Tom Waits, which was too on-the-nose to be as poignant as it aimed for.
Finally, there was also a non-political sketch about Bostonians’ particular affinity for Dunkin Donuts, featuring host Casey Affleck.
Donald Trump may not have tweeted about the episode, thanks to the valiant restraining efforts of his advisors, but you know he hated it. As far as SNL’s atonement goes, that’s a good start.