Elsewhere on the show, however, SNL betrayed its own duality, revealing a large gulf between the show as it is and how its writers imagine it to be.
It all came down to how the show covered the anti-climactic conclusion of the Mueller report saga. The cold open seemed about par for the course. Robert DeNiro as Mueller drops the report, using pointedly non-exculpatory language, and Alec Baldwin as Trump interprets the mere fact that he’s not immediately going to jail as total exoneration. In other words, it’s a barely exaggerated version of exactly what happened, but with celebrity guests. Later down the line, however, comes the far more interesting–and telling–sketch in a similar vein.
“Kremlin Meeting” depicts news of the Mueller report landing in Russia, with Putin’s minions anxious about its conclusions. They’re not worried about their clandestine operation being exposed, though, or relieved that they’ve dodged a bullet; instead, they are sad and disillusioned when Putin (Beck Bennett, wearing a suit this time, in contrast to the role’s trademark shirtlessness) meekly admits that Trump wasn’t a Russian asset after all.
“How could this be? For two year [sic] now, every American newspaper and TV comedian has said Trump work for Russia,” one official (Mikey Day) laments.
“We look forward to report so much, it was going to be Mueller Time, baby. All the world would see the power of Russia, and we were so excited,” another (Cecily Strong) concurs.
Making a Venn diagram of Russian officials and American liberals is a funny leftist premise for a joke. The past two years will be remembered as a historically bizarre moment when many U.S. citizens were stoked for the big reveal of rubles in Trump’s bank account, with visions of a presidential perp walk dancing in their heads. Putting some Krassenstein-style catchphrases in Russian mouthpieces (“Mueller Time, baby”) is a solid gag, taking a lib version of Horseshoe Theory to an unexpected place.
But do you know who shouldn’t be the ones making this gag? Saturday Night Live. The credibility gap isn’t quite as glaring as if Rachel Maddow–name-checked pejoratively in the sketch–made the joke herself, but it’s in the same ballpark.
When that Russian official mentions “every American newspaper and TV comedian” hyping the Trump-Russia connection, the SNL writers are either very subtly taking some ownership, or heavily projecting. My guess is the latter. I’m not sure why these writers seem to think they’ve been cranking out the Chapo Trap House Sketch Hour for the past two years, but what they’ve actually been making is one cold open after another where a shirtless Putin assures Trump that their secret plan is going great, while Daddy Mueller lays in wait, ready to disinfect their dealings with daylight.
Because audiences apparently lapped up the Trump/Russia sketches (SNL earned some stellar ratings in 2018), it stands to reason that a good portion of them were those true believers that this sketch is making fun of. Even if it is right and just for some show to make fun of those people’s Russian fervor, it shouldn’t be one of the shows that stoked and profited off that fervor. To borrow a metaphor from SNL history, it’s like William Shatner telling Star Trek nerds to get a life, but if he’d done so at the peak of Star Trek’s popularity, rather than after years of enduring its exhausting after-effects.
SNL has a history of amnesia when it comes to its former actions. This whole time Alec Baldwin has been portraying Trump in a (deservedly!) mocking light follows the moment SNL let Trump host the show in late 2015, after he’d already telegraphed in many ways what kind of president he would ultimately prove to be. It’s almost as if the show that offered Trump its platform crawled up to the surface world, switched places with its Tethered show, and then immediately forgot that it ever happened.