Last Saturday, the day after Robert Mueller released the report detailing his team’s findings about whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, Saturday Night Live was wrapping up a three-week-long hiatus. There was no show, then, to offer an immediate reaction to the completion of the years-in-the-making assessment from the special counsel.
The delay that resulted could’ve been a liability for a show premised on quick reactions to a dizzying news cycle; in this case, however, the schedule-enforced slowness was an asset. Quinta Jurecic noted this week in The Atlantic that the Mueller report and its aftermath can evoke the feeling of living in a state of suspended animation, with nothing fully decided or confirmed, despite the report’s official conclusion. SNL used its return to lean into the chaos and explore the consequences of that feeling—and to find humor in the ways the report has lived in American politics in the week since it was delivered to Congress. The episode was an uneven effort, but at its best it led to nuanced treatments of the Mueller report as a cultural phenomenon—aided by the fantastic guest host, Sandra Oh.
The show’s cold open played pretty much as you’d expect: Robert De Niro reprised his role as a jaded and prosthetically square-jawed version of Robert Mueller; Alec Baldwin appeared once again as a simpering, pucker-mouthed Donald Trump; Aidy Bryant played William Barr, the newly appointed United States attorney general who, in his capacity as the nation’s top lawyer, last Sunday provided a four-page-long summary of Mueller’s 300-plus-page report. (That her characterization in this case was notably bland offered its own commentary on Barr as a public official.) SNL, making use of split screens, took aim at the absurdities of the report-condensation process itself—a game of telephone, the show suggested, only with the muddled messaging coming not as the result of accidental mishearings but rather of political strategy.