I’ll be the first to say it…I was wrong about Donald Trump. When he made his “controversial” (read: bigoted and insane) comments, I thought that he was done as a presidential candidate. “Who could support someone who makes wild, inflammatory generalizations about an entire group of people?!” I thought. Turns out a lot of people can, as Trump remains to be one of the top polling Republicans in the presidential race. His comments were not without consequences, as he lost sponsorships and his relationships with at least three television networks.
It is election season and no television program distills the candidates down to their very essence like Saturday Night Live. This past weekend, Donald Trump was “Live From New York” as the host of SNL. This in and of itself is no grand news, as The Donald had hosted in 2004. But this time was different. The Donald was returning to NBC after a fairly profound rift. The episode ended up being intensely mediocre– again, not really big news– but this time, despite the desperate unfunniness, the night marked a pretty big win for the long-running late night show.
Here’s a reminder of how we got to this point. Way back in the day, all the way back in JUNE, this happened:
“Due to the recent derogatory statements by Donald Trump regarding immigrants, NBCUniversal is ending its business relationship with Mr. Trump. […] At NBC, respect and dignity for all people are cornerstones of our values.”
Strong words, amirite? NBCUniveral and its sister network, Univision, famously pulled the plug on airing the Miss Universe pageant and ixnayed Trump from his gig hosting “The Celebrity Apprentice”, née “The Apprentice”. The move to separate Trump from “The Apprentice” was big; the show and his catchphrase, “You’re Fired”, were almost synonymous with Trump’s name. But in the world of the internet, June is practically eons ago.
So when Saturday Night Live announced that Trump would be hosting, I was unsurprised that NBC backed off from its previously pretty hardline stance. The Trump “phenomenon” had taken on a life of its own and a network is no network at all if it doesn’t go ALL IN for ratings. The gamble on Trump paid off as SNL delivered the highest overnight ratings of the season— beating out the season opener episode featuring the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton and the human ratings boost, Miley Cyrus.
The show was painful to watch. The efforts to make Donald seem cute and irreverent fell flat and I have never seen the entire cast look so painfully self-conscious. There were a couple of high points, Larry David back in the cold open as Bernie Sanders, Larry David calling Donald a racist from the sidelines…basically, the high point of the show was Larry David. During a show that rarely caused me to approach considering cracking a smile, the writers managed to get one Trump-adjacent snort out of me. Drake’s “Hotline Bling” is the very stuff that memes, gifs and comedy shows are made of and an appearance by the inimitable Martin Short pushed this sketch to the head of the class. A class full of D students, but head of the class nonetheless.
Jay Pharoh led the show’s high point with the spot-on “Hotline Bling” parody.
NBC’s decision to kiss and makeup with Trump garnered huge ratings for a show that failed to deliver in almost every other way. We’ll see if the controversy bump continues to boost the ratings– otherwise, the weak material reminded millions of viewers why they stopped watching years ago.