Sunday, May 23, 2021

The SNL Cast of the trump Years Did It Their Way

I've written before about Saturday Night Live, a long-running weekly skit / music show and its' impact on our nation's cultural norms and political views.

It's a show that has the occasional bad night, due to a weak guest host - usually a hot marquee name coming off a blockbuster hit movie or TV show that turns out to be too one-note or bad at comedic timing - or just a bad time of current events where there's not much to make mockery of. It's been running for a loooooong time, which has brought up accusations that the show is outdated, out-of-touch, unnecessary... usually by people who wonder why Adam Sandler or Bill Murray still aren't on the show.

And yet, the show can catch a moment - a pitch-perfect skit, or jumping atop a political moment deserving of a sledgehammer blow - and put out amazing nights of comedy AND political commentary. The 2017 show with Kristen Stewart - with Melissa McCarthy cameoing as an enraged Sean Spicer - for example is arguably one of the greatest nights SNL ever had, and I will fight you over that if I have to.

Why I am bringing this up now is that last night with Anya Taylor-Joy was the finale for the 2020-21 season, where a lot of emphasis was placed on the main cast in various stages of saying their farewells... not just for the year but maybe for good as SNL Players:

If you hadn't noticed, SNL goes through a rotation of core cast members - due to most acting contracts set between three to five years - which adds to the uneven nature of the show's history (some cast groups like the original Not-Ready guys from 1975-1979 or the late 80s-early 90s were epic crews that loom large over all the ones who follow them). You might remember them through the actors/actresses who were/are clearly the "glue" character-types keeping up with the A-list caliber types holding everyone's attention (Eddie Murphy in the early 80s, although his fellow castmates of that era weren't slouches and still occasionally annoyed how Eddie sucked up all the attention and glory). 

For the current tenure, the main Players were inarguably Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, and Kenan Thompson (who had honestly been there so long he's a core player to three different eras). That the four of them stood together for the Cold Open as seen above on that YouTube clip signals big time that those four are ready to move on.

Granted, this comes up EVERY season finale - the OMG online chatter of who's gonna stay and who's gonna move on to their own TV show or three-movie contract with Paramount - but this year it seems like it might finally happen with the core crew... because in the Real World, things have finally changed.

In that I mean, trump is out of office.

If we go back to the craziness of the 2015-2016 SNL Season (Number 42, oh ye Gods Douglas Adams knew!) the show's mandate to skewer current events went into hyperdrive (no, worse, LUDICROUS SPEED) as the trump campaign hurtled our nation (no, the entire world) down the Darkest Timeline ("Stop me before I subreference again!" - Dennis Miller before he went mad). The SNL cast was game enough to try and document all of the atrocities that the 2016 election year was throwing at us, save for the moment when the show's producers decided to let trump himself host an episode - a moment the show has been apologizing for ever since - but when the Electoral College results meant goddamned donald trump was going to the White House everything suddenly imploded.

McKinnon's Cold Open tribute to Leonard Cohen - who had died earlier that week - wasn't just a memorial to a passing musician, it was a funeral dirge for half of a nation - and for most of the planet - sideswiped by an unwanted and fear-driven "victory" for one of the worst human beings in modern history. McKinnon was doing it dressed as Hillary Clinton - whom she had effectively parodied on the show - but this time was all serious and reflective, realizing that we were all going into at least four years' worth of madness, corruption, and anger. "I'm not giving up, and neither should you," McKinnon said - as herself as much as faux-Hillary - and that's pretty much what she did.

And so for four years, SNL has skewered, mocked, belittled the trump regime with a darker, more strident tone than any previous Presidential era that preceded this. Saturday Night - notoriously Liberal most often, at best Center-Left - had been hard on Presidents - even Liberal-leaning ones like Carter, Clinton, and Obama - from time to time, but often displayed a side of empathy that allowed for pathos to underline their criticisms of the Commander-in-Chiefs. Dana Carvey's turn as Bush the Elder is a perfect example of that empathic display. Not so with trump, Loser of the Popular Vote, whose ignorant, greedy, bullying habits were on full display every time guest-star Alec Baldwin had to put on the wig and fake nose (Baldwin himself was begging by 2017 (!) to stop playing him because even pretending to be trump was soul-draining).

For four years, roughly the same SNL crew had to carry the psyche of a battered United States through this Darkest Timeline, dreading every possibility that somehow trump and the Republicans could make it worse (see the following YouTube clip):

There have been notable departures - Leslie Jones in particular left in 2019 - but it felt as though most of the cast who came in at the turn of the decade were sticking around longer than expected because in some respects the job - Surviving trump - hadn't been finished.

And then the COVID-19 Pandemic hit. All of sudden, everything was put on hold. Oh, the show kept running - using home recordings, Zoom chats, long-distance connections - but as the world went into lockdown so too did SNL, reflecting the anxiety, sorrow, and yearning we all carried with us through 2020 to now.

There were a lot of tears watching this one because it felt like this was a farewell episode for too many of the cast at the end of Season 45:

It was actually a surprise that the entire 2019-2020 cast returned for this season. Again, probably due to the sense of "unfinished business." But now it's Biden in the White House, the vaccination of America has half the nation safe to unwind again, and there's this tiny sliver of relief letting us all know we can go back into the world now. So now, we're finally going to say farewell.

I'm mentioning how emotional a farewell can be to watch SNL cast members go, especially for the eras you can just tell are going to end, mostly because these actors - and often the characters they portray - become beloved during their tenures.

But this one - if this is indeed the farewell for many of the Players who kept us laughing and crying since 2016 - is going to hit harder than before.

These Players were the comedians and performers who did their best to keep most everyone else sane during the craziest years of our lives. The combination of trumpian madness and pandemic anxiety has hit a lot of us hard emotionally. Watching SNL was like trauma therapy, helping us through crisis after crisis as we crawled into 2020-21 and onto the shores of a calmer, happier future... 

(Michael Gaetz does something ridiculous and criminal off-stage)


Alas, he may be gone next year (unless they have him do a cameo Cold Open standing in a jail cell whining "Attica! Attica!" with Kate McKinnon as a jailed Rudy asking "You talking about the prison?" with Jost/Gaetz replying back "Nah, it's this high schooler I was gonna hook up with for the Halloween dance!")

To this crew, I salute you: You did it your way.

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