In the sketch, Kenan Thompson plays an arch fashion critic called Angelo Dolphintuna, while Melissa Villaseñor played the director of a network of women’s shelters who was invited “in the spirit of this year’s Golden Globes” and is otherwise ignored by the hosts. “I’m gonna say she looks … empowered?” Rockwell said of Kate Hudson’s Valentino gown. “She definitely looks as good as a man, if not … better?” Thompson added. “Can I say that?”
If you’re picking a target in the #MeToo moment, E! is certainly an easy one to aim at, given how ill-equipped its programming often is for more serious topics. “Before women were brave, this next segment was called Puke or Barf?, but now it’s called I Respect Her Choice!” Strong said, announcing a Fashion Police–like segment. The sketch also worked in some more general criticism of male cluelessness about where to direct their energies in combating Hollywood sexism, with Rockwell’s character loudly booing the news that Eva Longoria’s baby would be a boy. The sense of panic and confusion that pervaded every line-reading (with Rockwell’s performance particularly standing out) enlivened the scene, making it work as both satire and farce.
The E! sketch was an anomaly, though, in a season that’s often felt toothless. Ever since the departure of previous head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, who spearheaded the political coverage of past seasons, SNL’s topical takes have largely fallen flat. Most of last night’s best sketches were the plainly absurd ones, like the rap homage to the career of Stanley Tucci, or the penultimate sketch of the night, which involved some clever visual trickery to make it seem as though Rockwell’s mad-scientist character had transplanted a dog head onto a human body. The only other indirect invocation of the #MeToo movement came in Aidy Bryant’s monologue on Weekend Update, in which she mocked Mark Wahlberg for negotiating a $1.5 million salary for his All the Money in the World reshoots.
The show’s cold open, usually the spot reserved for the most direct political humor, took dual aim at Steve Bannon’s exit from Breitbart and Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, having both characters appear on a parody of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Rather than having anything new to say, the open felt like a tepid recap of the week’s news, leaning instead on the big celebrity cameos that have defined the show of late. A heavily made-up Bill Murray played Bannon and Fred Armisen contributed an impressively accurate Wolff impersonation; both were greeted with wild applause from the audience.
Armisen’s Wolff was pretty good, while Murray seemed to be half-asleep as Bannon. But the comedians are the latest in a long line of superstars and SNL alumni called back to the show to impersonate the biggest newsmakers of the moment, including Bill Hader as Anthony Scaramucci, Larry David as Bernie Sanders, Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer, and, of course, Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump. It’s an ongoing pattern that suggests the show doesn’t have faith in its ensemble to rise to the biggest occasions, without ever giving them a real shot at it. As long as that continues, SNL will probably continue to feel half a step off in a moment where up-to-the-minute satire is still the name of the day.