With Will Ferrell, a roster of special guests and another full plate of political news to mine for material, “Saturday Night Live” sidestepped another soap-operatic take on the impeachment hearings but saved its sharpest cuts for later.
With Ferrell returning to host for the fifth time, the episode’s cold open kicked things off sluggishly with Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump. Playing on the president’s penchant for shouted news conferences in front of an idling helicopter, the sketch played off the crude Magic Marker notes he was holding during a news conference after the testimony by Ambassador Gordon Sondland. “I know him but I don’t know him know him. I never met him in person,” Baldwin’s Trump said before greeting Sondland in a bald-capped Will Ferrell.
“Right, right,” said a grinning Ferrell. “Keep the quid pro quo on the low-low.”
With Stephen Tobolowsky, Jeffrey Ross and Wallace Shawn among the early names tossed around on Twitter to portray the ambassador after his bombshell testimony, Ferrell if nothing else claimed first dibs.
A short time later, “SNL” returned to familiar ground with a take on the ongoing stream of Democratic debates. Larry David’s Bernie Sanders, Kate McKinnon’s Elizabeth Warren and Rachel Dratch as Amy Klobuchar all returned, as did Maya Rudolph’s Kamala Harris and Woody Harrelson as Joe Biden. A few new wrinkles were added in Klobuchar’s shaky bangs from Wednesday’s debate, and Ferrell pitched in as a glassy-eyed Tom Steyer. Cecily Strong portrayed a particularly villainous Tulsi Gabbard. “I have no interest in those Dalmatian puppies,” she sneered in closing.
A Big Gulp-bearing Fred Armisen turned up as former New York Mayor and new candidate Michael Bloomberg, who touted his own chances: “I’d like to see Trump supporters come up with a conspiracy theory about a Jewish billionaire who owns his own media company,” he said.
But for all the usual impressions, the most striking bit of commentary on the night was also its strangest. Imagining a politically contentious first Thanksgiving, Melissa Villaseñor joined Armisen, Rudolph and Ferrell as Native Americans welcoming Beck Bennett’s John Smith over for dinner. The bulk of the sketch consisted of Ferrell’s elder advocating for “building the wall” and lamenting to his horrified guests about not being able to call white settlers “pale faces” anymore.
In an echo of some conversations set to take place this week, Villaseñor’s Pocahontas insisted her grandfather stop listening to “that crazy old fox” (in the literal sense) while he insisted to her that was “better than that lying peacock you talk to.” The sketch coalesced into a funny look at the absurdity of U.S. anti-immigrant sentiments and political division that felt a little muddled if you thought about it long enough, which was something Ferrell acknowledged at the close.
“If you’re anything like me, you know there’s a lot of problems with this sketch,” Ferrell admitted to the studio audience as the lights dimmed. “White actors playing Native Americans? What is this, 2014?”