Tuned In

The Morning After: SNL’s Early Election Returns

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Over the weekend on Saturday Night Live, President Barack Obama stepped aside and was succeeded by President Barack Obama. The show make a deft meta-comment on the casting, having former Obama Fred Armisen introduce Jay Pharoah as the President, quipping, “Wouldn’t want his job, right?”

As was often the case in politics, surface change was easier to achieve than more fundamental change. The first cold open of the Pharoah era showed him up to the job of getting the Prez’s tone, affect and mannerisms (he does indeed say “Uh” a lot, sometimes for uncomfortably long stretches). But after an off period that offered up so much potential material, the portrayals of both Obama and Romney felt generic, producing a sketch that could have aired any week in the campaign.

After the drama of the conventions and the week of political sniping amid the uproar in the Middle East, we got from Jason Sudeikis a picture of Romney as an awkward campaigner, tying himself in knots as he struggled to connect with regular folks. It’s a portrayal with a basis in some of Romney’s more awkward past moments on the campaign trail–and Sudeikis does at least have the candidate’s body language down—but it felt tentative and basic, when there was so much to draw on from the last couple weeks’ campaigning.

As for Pharoah’s Obama, beyond the “Ums” and the intonations, there was at least the germ of an idea. “I’m not worried,” he assured his audience. “I probably should be.” There’s something there, at least, that suggests SNL has a concept for the Pharoah Obama character: an aloof, hard-to-figure guy who can be almost disconcertingly calm, a few bars of “Let’s Stay Together” notwithstanding.

The stronger election bit (online here though I can’t embed it) was an absurdly over-the-top parody of Obama’s Bain attack ads, including a worker who recounts being followed from job to job as Bain buys his companies for the sole purpose of laying him off. (Also, Pharoah’s delivery—”I’m Barack Obama and I approve this message. Uhhhhh, but I’m not real proud of it”—was worth more than the entirety of his cold open.) As for Bill Hader’s “Clint Eastwood and Chair” spot: funny, but it would pretty much be comedy malpractice not to get laughs out of that raw material.

As for the rest of the season premiere, per my usual practice, I Gong Show’ed my way through it watching on DVR, one finger on the fast-forward button. Seth MacFarlane is a good live performer but was a little conspicuous in reading the prompter, and—well, let’s just say I’m glad we got the “Gangnam Style” sketch out of the way. Now I only need to dread the eventual obligatory Glee performance of the song.

SNL viewers: cast your votes in the comments.