If the reason fans rabidly demanded Rosie O’Donnell appear on SNL last week was to make Donald Trump mad, it’s very likely they got their wish–even if Rosie was not involved.
Up until recently, POTUS’s thoughts on the long-running late-night comedy show were reliably available in tweet-form each Sunday morning. Recently, however, some member of the menagerie of Iagos surrounding Trump at all times must have whispered in his ear that doing so was not especially presidential. You know, unlike all of the other things he does? In any case, instead of tweets, the American public got the crucial information of what its leader thought about a sketch comedy show from a Politico report, which said of Melissa McCarthy’s eviscerating turn as apoplectic press secretary Sean Spicer, “It was Spicer’s portrayal by a woman that was most problematic in the president’s eyes.” Once this report circulated, a grassroots movement arose demanding more women play members of Trump’s cabinet on the show–specifically, Rosie O’Donnell as Steve Bannon. While the beloved Trump foe was demonstrably game to appear on the show, it was not meant to be. However, those clamoring for a she-Bannon were likely glad to see a few other members of Trump’s circle feminized on this week’s episode–an episode that pulled in SNL‘s highest ratings in six years, besting those of a certain commander in chief when he hosted in 2015.
The episode began with the welcome return of McCarthy as Sean Spicer. Perhaps the writers are trying to get as much mileage out of this casting coup as possible before Spicer is sacked. While the impact was somewhat diluted this time around by the absence of surprise, McCarthy’s instantly iconic take on Spicer was nearly as devastating as before. The image of him herding up reporters like cattle on a Segway-powered podium, all while referring to himself in third-person as “Spicy,” can never be erased.
Elsewhere, the eight-minute cold open also introduced Kate McKinnon’s take on newly minted Attorney General Jeff Sessions. While Sessions’s mannerisms aren’t apparent enough for a proper caricature yet–we basically just know he’s an alleged racist Southern-fried Keebler elf–the casting of McKinnon seemed like a pointed jab at Trump’s misogynistic sensibilities. It turned out to only be a warm-up for what followed, though.
Later on, after Alec Baldwin’s inevitable turn as Trump in a People’s Court sketch that was nicely telegraphed during the cold open, someone else took over the role: Leslie Jones.
The conceit of the sketch was post-modern. Leslie Jones plays herself, pondering the future of Baldwin’s signature impersonation. Surely, she muses, the actor will get tired of returning each week at some point over the next four years–or until Trump’s much hoped-for impeachment. At that point, someone else will have to take over the role. Why not her? Jones throws her hat in the ring, donning the requisite bushy blonde eyebrows in an attempt to play the 45th President of the United States. She doesn’t exactly blend into the role, but it sure is fun to watch her character try–especially with the added metadata of knowing just who will be watching this sketch down in Mar-a-Lago.
So, SNL denied its audience the pleasure of seeing Rosie O’Donnell play Steve Bannon, but it didn’t leave viewers hanging entirely. There were more than enough performers in drag while dragging the administration. The writers and Lorne Michaels likely did not call on Rosie for a couple of reasons. First of all, Steve Bannon has been represented on the show in recent episodes as Death itself. Rather than put cast members in carbuncular cosmetics to portray the shadowy figure in earnest, the show went the surreal route to emphasize Bannon’s status as an existential threat to humanity. It was a smart, edgy decision that has paid off in laughs so far. Furthermore, Lorne Michaels probably did not want to be seen as doing fan service. If he and the head writers had come up with the idea to have Rosie play Bannon before it became a whole thing on the Internet, nothing would have prevented it from happening. But once a show starts taking requests, the requests would never stop. Twitter would become one big Snakes on a Plane-style petition to get Emma Stone as Kellyanne Conway or whatever.
Rabid Rosie fans may not have gotten exactly what they wanted, but they should still feel heard. Saturday Night Live has yet to fully figure out how to atone for giving Trump a platform during his campaign, but it least they’re experimenting with new and creative ways to make him mad.