“Saturday Night Live” returned last night after a two-week stretch that yielded enough real-world material to keep a late-night show in business for a month: gaffes, missteps and monumental screw-ups of historic proportions. And that was just the Oscars.
Then, there was everything else, or at least everything within the fraught confines of the Washington Beltway.
But with all that material — all that pure gold — “SNL” still couldn’t achieve liftoff. The cold open reached back to ancient history to capture certainly the most obvious, most easily ridiculed event of the past 72 hours, by yoking “Forrest Gump” to Attorney General Jeff Sessions — played by Kate McKinnon. “Weekend Update” knocked out everything else (Michael Che: “Uh oh, grandpa got into Twitter again ...”)
One highlight of the night — maybe THE highlight — wasn’t funny as much as reflective, bordering on morose: A commercial for a forthcoming movie, called “The TBD Story,” about “One Republican who decided enough was enough, a patriot who put country over party, who finally stood up for nation’s founding ...” You learned soon enough that this person hasn’t been located just quite yet (hence the “TBD”), but he will eventually be played by “Bradley Whitford, probably.”
After a ferocious February news cycle where we — the average viewer or reader or bystander — have already seen it all, and endured it all, “SNL” had to come back to make us see it all over again in a new, fresh, funny way. But two weeks aren’t just two weeks any longer, but a near eternity. Too much material, too much time. It showed last night.
At least McKinnon did (pretty much as always) reassert herself as the show’s most valuable cast member and utility player. Whether she came even remotely close to capturing Sessions is for you to decide. She did do a helluva Gump, however.
The movie is nearly a quarter-century old, but its image, structure and meaning are so embedded in American culture that mistaking the comparisons were impossible — unless viewers were less than a quarter-century old. (Most “SNL” viewers are, incidentally.) “Gump” was about the generosity of the American spirit, and especially the resilience of the American spirit, set in contrast to the historic record itself, of war, racism, inequality. Sessions as Gump on paper must have seemed funny. On screen, the idea broke down. Gump was the embodiment of the film’s message. Sessions and the “recusal” are just more chattel in the relentless news cycle.
“Life is like a box of chocolates,” McKinnon/Sessions said, sitting on that famous bench, next to Leslie Jones. “Sure are a lot of brown ones in here.”
“I never talked to any Russians.” The bus rolls by, then the next scene: “I talked to Russians.”
“His name is (Russian Ambassador) Sergey Kislyak. I remember any name with ‘gay’ ‘kiss’ in it.”
Beck Bennett’s shirtless Vladimir Putin arrives a bus or two later.
Bennett/Putin: “This meeting never happened.”
McKinnon/Sessions: “I wasn’t gonna remember it, anyway.”
Octavia Spencer, co-star of the Oscar-nominated “Hidden Figures,” hosted her first “SNL” and it was left to her to make the references to the Oscars’ fiasco (“ ... How insane was that, how crazy was it that I didn’t win?”) and the now obligatory “Hidden Fences” joke.
First this: “I played a nurse 16 times. I did it so many times that when I played a maid they gave me an Oscar. I guess I had what Hollywood calls ‘arrested nurse face ...”
Cut to all those shows as nurse, like “Red Band Society.”
Then, on to “Hidden Fences.”
“People have been so kind to me about that movie. So many have come up to me and said, ‘I love “Hidden Fences.” ’ And I say, ‘No, it was “Hidden Figures.” ’ I get it. There were three black movies at the Oscars this year. That’s a lot for America. So, if you’re gonna get confused, I may as well make the money off of it. That’s why I produced “Hidden Fences Light.” It’s the story of three black women who sent an introspective gay boy to build a fence on the moon.”
Not bad at all.
Meanwhile, here’s to hoping “SNL” doesn’t take two weeks off the rest of the season. The real world’s not gonna wait around for it, either.