NBC

If NBC News believed the outset of the impeachment hearings “lacked the pizzazz” necessary to hold people’s attention, Saturday Night Live served up an unwieldy remedy with its cold open this week. Last night, “Days of Our Impeachment” transformed the ongoing American political maelstrom into a soap opera, drawing on all of the genre’s melodramatic tropes to underscore the tangled nature of the testimony.

For a sketch built around the premise that “the only thing at stake is democracy,” SNL’s messy version of Days of Our Lives lacked focus, arguably the most crucial component in an era when even many politicians seem to lack the wherewithal—be that time or interest—to properly examine the evidence against President Donald Trump. As a result, the opening sketch appealed to the very thing it was ostensibly trying to mock: short attention spans.  

Where other congested cold opens this season—like those lampooning the crowded Democratic stage—have handled the throng by doling out one-liners to supporting players and emphasizing strong character work (Kate McKinnon’s Elizabeth Warren and even Woody Harrelson’s Joe Biden), Saturday’s sketch overwhelmed its point. The open began with the hearings’ “stars” delivering an intro that recalled the Real Housewives series. “Why did Trump come after me?” asked former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch (played by Cecily Strong), a provocative wind startling her blouse. “I committed the ultimate sin—I was good at my job.” Representative Jim Jordan (Mikey Day), introduced as suffering from a brain injury, claimed, “My job is yelling at a woman.”

The writing was full of one-liners meant to have some bite, but each lacked teeth. “I don’t just kiss and tell,” says Ambassador Bill Taylor (special guest Jon Hamm). “I kiss and tell and I take notes.” Later, he proves that point by sharing a steamy moment with “telenovela sensation” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Melissa Villaseñor) who says, “Here’s a Red New Deal: It’s my lips.”

The sketch drew parallels between the hearings and the hackneyed plot points that have long kept soap operas spinning. There was Ocasio-Cortez and Taylor’s strange kiss, but also Ambassador Gordon Sondland (Kyle Mooney) claiming to have amnesia to explain why he added new information about an alleged quid pro quo in Trump’s dealings with the Ukrainian government. There was Rudy Giuliani (Kate McKinnon), wearing an eyepatch so that Yovanovitch mistook him for an evil twin brother, and, confusingly, recently suspended Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (Kenan Thompson) showing up because Trump had pardoned him for using his helmet as a weapon. The sketch tried tying together the unrelenting news cycle (including the fact that Days of Our Lives will go on hiatus at the end of this month after its cast and crew were let out of their contracts) with tired soap-opera arcs.

Not only did “Days of Our Impeachment” lean into the spectacle of the hearings, but it also highlighted how concurrent revelations about Trump’s boorish behavior have failed to elicit any lasting consequences for the president. Pete Davidson returned as lawyer Michael Avenatti (after playing him last season during a flatlined cold open about white-collar criminals), and tried to testify that Trump had had an affair with a porn star. That’s the bigger problem the sketch tries to diagnose: In addition to—or partly because of—people’s apparent inability to pay attention, nothing sticks to Trump. “Yeah, bud, we know,” says Strong as Yovanovitch. “No one seems to care.”  

Elsewhere in the episode, Harry Styles became the latest star to pull double duty as host and musical guest. Last night marked his first time leading the show, and he did the job dutifully, with turns as an eager British intern offering to pick up lunch at Popeyes, a supporting player to aging child star “Baby Faye,” and a threesome-obsessed social-media coordinator working at the wholesome consumer-goods brand Sara Lee. Styles’s standout moment came in “Joan,” a Millennial-pink-soaked ode to pet ownership. Aidy Bryant played the titular character who confesses her love for her dog, Doug. When Doug suddenly becomes human for an hour, Styles leans into the absurdity of the sketch by declaring his love for Joan in between eating from her garbage can and admitting to his deep-seated fear of vacuums.

When Styles served as the musical guest in 2017 (to host Jimmy Fallon), he did an eerily spot-on impression of Mick Jagger and played a captured southern Civil War soldier who knows how to write a sick bridge. Last night’s episode allowed him to expand on those comedic instincts, and Styles gamely committed to each character. His strong presence solidified an otherwise sloppy start to the episode in a season in which SNL hasn’t yet lived up to the political punch of its past. But in an era when the 24-hour news cycle can hardly keep up with the onslaught of headlines, perhaps asking for the focus necessary to satirize the severity of the moment is too much.

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