Are You Not Entertained?: Lin-Manuel Miranda Sings His Way Through ‘SNL’

©2016/Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC
Another week, another batch of insane political scandals for SNL to cover — at this point, Trump’s basically delivering the scripts himself. But (evidenced, so far, only by the past two weeks) the show’s making an effort to sidestep obvious punchlines, and it’s exciting to think about all the middle-of-the-road viewers tuning in for predictable parodies, and getting surprisingly scathing and factual takedowns not only of Trump, but his team, and even Hillary, sandwiched between delightfully offbeat and smart sketches.

Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda was an unexpected but completely fitting pick to host the season’s second episode, and it’s pretty exciting that such an objectively cool performer got to lead such a highly visible episode: only a few weeks away from an important election, and following a season premiere that — with over 12 million viewers — was the most watched SNL premiere in 22 years. And this week stayed strong, with the show’s highest Week 2 rating in eight years.

Overall, this was solid episode that hit its target demo — theater kids, mostly — delivering a delightful amount of of Melissa Villasenor, lots of Leslie Jones yelling, and lots of Lin-Manuel Miranda rapping in wigs.

VP Debate Cold Open

Villasenor makes her first of several appearances in this week’s cold open, and it’s a strong one: “I’m the new Hispanic cast member,” she leads, “and tonight I’ll be playing Asian moderator Elaine Quijano, because, baby steps.” Fair enough!

The sketch starts as a replay of last week’s VP debate, with Mikey Day as a smiling Tim Kaine and Beck Bennett as a sinister Mike Pence but, as Pence patiently refutes rumors about what Trump may or may not have said, the broadcast is interrupted by breaking news of the candidates latest profane tirade.

“Are you not entertained?” Baldwin / Trump opens, smirking at CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin (Cecily Strong). He goes on to “apple-gize” — it’s like apologizing, but for fatally stubborn sociopaths who literally cannot ever admit they were wrong. He offers his condolences to those who were sickened by hearing him say the phrase “grab her by the pussy,” while acknowledging the equal number of people who were (according to him) turned on by it.

Cut to Hillary HQ, where Clinton’s partying as she watches her opponent sink his own ship. Sweet angel Kate McKinnon plasters a smile on her face, swigging champagne straight from the bottle while insisting Trump stay in the race (for fairness’ sake). “It is a very sad day for our country and for all women — minus one,” she winks, continuing: “I would like to address all the women out there who heard Trump’s comments and are still voting for him. Uh, my babies — ya brain broke. I love ya but bish, ya cray.” Truth.

Baldwin / Trump, of course, forgets his mic is on and lets loose with some seriously lewd, grabby-handed innuendos (with cameras, unpleasantly, at crotch level). Strong’s reaction to hearing him compare his sexual prowess to a fatal storm is everything — her body language, wide-eyed shock and slouched as far as possible from Trump’s half of the screen, is as instantly and wordlessly judgmental as any of the show’s scripted digs.

Monologue

Lin-Manuel Miranda was a natural host pick, a native New Yorker who’s earned loads of accolades but just recently Made It Big with his multi-award-winning, wildly acclaimed musical, Hamilton. The episode promised lots of theatrical moments from the writer and actor, who’s known for interpreting American history via hip hop, and it started right in the monologue, an SNL-specific take on Hamilton hit “My Shot” that was equal parts an homage to the show and a topical takedown of Trump (as everything must be, for now at least).

As he made a loop through the famed 8H halls, Miranda encountered a puffy-chested Lorne Michaels (who played along with the joke that even he couldn’t score coveted Hamilton tix), and scoped out headshots of past hosts. “Tonight I’m finally earning my spot on this wall in this hall, and I’m gettin’ a piece of it; like Miley, Schumer, Tracey Morgan, and this piece of…” he paused on Trump’s portrait for a brief breakdown — a very jaunty “never gonna be president now,” referencing another Hamilton tune, “The Reynolds Pamphlet”:

It was a perfect monologue for Miranda, playing to his strengths and making all the right references. And, honestly, anyone who can drop a Don Pardo-voiced Laraine Newman shout out in the middle of a wordy rap is an artistic genius, as far as I’m concerned.

Campfire

Married couple Strong and Miranda meet two very close, very enthusiastically musical siblings at a campsite (Kyle Mooney and Vanessa Bayer — who was completely absent from last week’s episode, incidentally). When Mooney and Bayer showcase their shouted renditions of “Footloose” and “Highway to the Danger Zone,” asking for honest feedback, Strong balks at their hand holding (“It’s cool, cool as hell!” insists Mooney) and Miranda gets invested, offering sincere critiques. This feels like a sketch that wrote itself at 3am when someone started yelling Kenny Loggins songs, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Crucible Cast Party

This pre-taped musical sketch (along with Miranda’s Hamilton fan-baiting mono rap) will surely be one of the episode’s lingering standouts, aimed squarely at proud theater nerds and earning praise from some huge admitted drama kids, like Golden Globe winner Rachel Bloom and actress Emmy Rossum.

An anthem for the “horniest event in town” — the school play cast afterparty, teeming with massage trains and pancake makeup-faced teens high on the most minor of successes — this sketch has everything: McKinnon busting out choreography from Chicago on the dance floor, girls pretending all the gay guys have crushes on them, close-ups of Miranda’s (braces filled) mouth. A Rent reference. Everything, for people who relate to that kind of thing.

Substitute Teacher

“What up, fam?” asks fun substitute teacher Miranda, and when the entire classroom — led by Kenan Thompson, Sasheer Zamata, and Pete Davidson — rolls its eyes in response, we’re off on a journey through too-spirited sub Dale’s downward spiral. The students are one step ahead as he recounts his grueling seven week stint in LA, to nobody’s surprise. “I’m quiet because I’m stunned and embarrassed for you,” Villasenor sums up.

A Day Off

Continuing to target beleaguered Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway (because, hey, she makes it so easy), SNL imagines what one of her days off looks like. As she’s constantly interrupted (making breakfast, doing yoga, painting a huge portrait of herself next to a horse, you know, normal lady stuff) to give unclear clarifications of Trump statements, McKinnon’s Conway melts into zero-fucks mode, eventually admitting “he’s crazy, he’s the worst person I’ve ever known.”

Weekend Update

Update gives its take on the Trump audio leak, of course, with co-host Michael Che packaging things up in a particularly accurate and biting quote: “You started your campaign accusing Mexcans of being rapists, now you’re on tape explaining how you sexually assault women. The only way it could be more hypocritical is if you said it in Spanish.”

Che and Colin Jost give old white men advice (“always assume you’re being recorded”), promo an upcoming Clown Lives Matter rally (unfortunately a real thing), and cover Kim Kardashian’s stolen diamonds.

Then, a truly uplifting cameo from former Update co-anchors Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon — as undecided female voters from suburban Philadelphia — and it is so good to see their faces behind that desk, even if they’re half covered in bad shaggy wigs and broken into accidental giggles most of the time.

Almost immediately, Fey brings up Fallon’s recent mini-controversy: the fact that, instead of asking Trump “why are you so batshit crazy” during a recent interview, Fallon playfully tousled his wheaty web of hair in what was interpreted as a tacit endorsement. “Whatever, you love Trump,” sighed Fey, “stop acting like you do. Everyone thinks you love Trump,” as she mimed the tousling. “I did it one time,” replies Fallon. “Get off my bra strap, cool police.” Not the best rebuttal, but fine.

Anyways, Fallon keeps repeating “Jost, we brought you some hoagies” in an unidentifiable accent every time he starts to break (twice), while Fey likens Trump to the boob-honking clown brigade at the annual Philadelphia Mother’s Parade (another clown reference! Help!) Conclusion: America needs to be more like Halloween Wars — working together to make something creepy.

Finally, Pete Davidson manages to fit a few funny moments into an otherwise lukewarm bit about Propecia (for some reason, maybe because of a study on opioids, which seems unrelated, but okay!).

Wells Fargo Wagon

Another semi-musical sketch, this one offering a very current twist on The Music Man. The cast imagines the unknown exotic treasures an approaching Wells Fargo wagon might contain — a box of maple sugar! Grapefruit from Tampa! A “flute, or whatever!” — ’til they’re greeted by a sleazy banker (Miranda), handing out bank accounts and “exploding mortgages” to every child, dog, and mailbox in town. (Okay, I had to do some light research to fully grasp the context here, but now I get it and it is biting, I assure you).

Diego Calls His Mom

Written by the hilarious Julio Torres, this dreamily shot, borderline bizarre pre-taped sketch illustrates an exchange (?) student’s call home. Diego (Miranda) reflects on his life in North Dakota, describing newfound wonders to his mother in mixed Spanish and English: he marvels at marshmallow salads, snack cakes, “big mounds of yellow and orange foods” and, mostly, at his blue-eyed bff, Preston (Alex Moffat).

Visually, the sketch is stunning; the dimly lit phone booth in the middle of a cornfield, and the vintage convertible parked on a sea of carpet, were truly beautiful touches.

Stranger Things

Because you know eventually someone would find something about Stranger Things to complain about, Netflix presents a preview of the sci-fi show’s second season. Creators the Duffer Brothers (Alex Moffatt and Day as Left Duffer and Right Duffer, respectively) promise answers to some lingering questions, like, “where is that black kid’s family?” Jones and Thompson are the wide-eyed straight men to the beloved kids’ wide-eyed wonder, calling out the plot’s crazy rules and Winona Ryder’s poor parenting (with a spot-on, babbling Villasenor). McKinnon’s Eleven is surprisingly identical to Millie Bobby Brown’s, and she looked like she had a lot of fun eating all those Eggos at the end.

Melania Moments #2

Glad these dreamy, “Deep Thoughts”-y quick hits at mute sidekick Melania Trump are now a recurring thing. In this installment, Melania ponders the fate of her replacement. (Btw, did you see that she wore a pink silk Gucci pussy-bow shirt to the debate Sunday night? She knows what she’s doing.)

WWII Scene

In a scene from classic war film A Degree of Valor, dying soldier Brooklyn (Davidson) begs his best friend (Miranda) to do him one last favor: say goodbye to his grieving girlfriend (who he loves, even though she’s a Sox fan, because Brooklyn). Oh, and also get rid of his butt plug, notebook full of stomach-turning “boogie woogie” tunes (“spread your jazz, spread it thick as tuna tonight”) and his cache of sassy selfies.

Etc

– This week, in a great piece on female comics who don’t love Hillary, New York Times editor Jason Zinoman noted that, “while Trump jokes on Saturday Night Live have been outmatched by the flamboyance of their subject, Kate McKinnon’s caricature of Mrs. Clinton found a pleasingly goofy physical language to reveal the rusted gears of political calculation churning inside her head.” This is true: Baldwin’s adolescent Trump exists to make the predictable, required references to whatever dumb shit he said this week. But it’s a temporary role, because let’s be honest — this man is not going to be this relevant for the next four years. So it’s worth noting as, with each episode, McKinnon endows her Hillary with enough immediate charm to paint her as the obvious current choice — while also gifting her enough wild-eyed entitlement to set her up as a longtime (lord willing) target.

– Twenty One Pilots make me feel super old, but they seem like really nice guys! One of them freaked out over Kyle Mooney during the goodbyes and it was cuuuuute.

– Jimmy Fallon’s fake nails were insane. He was wearing a full set of French manicured claws that clearly took longer than the sketch he was in to apply. I could not stop staring.

– Since the show, Miranda’s been Tweeting a bunch of behind the scenes photos and facts, like:

He posted a bad Baldwin selfie, and, thrillingly, a great Jason Mantzoukas one. He’s a Comedy Bang Bang fan!!

He also mentioned running into Steve Martin backstage, and gave a peek at an unaired sketch. Check out his feed for more.

Aaaand, see you after next week’s episode, with host Emily Blunt and musical guest Bruno Mars!

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