It was a slow, awkward week on Saturday Night Live.
Alec Baldwin returned once again to play President Donald Trump in the now-familiar “what happened this week in Washington” cold open format. This time, the show began with Baldwin’s Trump paying a secretive visit to his former campaign manager Paul Manafort (Alex Moffat), who in the sketch was under house arrest. (A series of indictments against Manafort, including conspiracy against the United States, was unsealed on October 30; in real life, he offered earlier on Saturday to post $12 million in assets to avoid house arrest.)
What followed was a bit aimless. Trump told Manafort that the reason he wasn’t on the president’s current trip to Asia is that he’d sent a “convincing look-alike” in his place — a pillow (and a likely reference to the recent “Fake Melania” conspiracy theory), which Melania (Cecily Strong) seemed much happier with than her real husband. (“Who knew by just keeping your mouth shut you could seem so presidential!” she exclaimed.) He praised Manafort’s oriental rugs and said that his proposed tax plan title, the “Cut Cut Cut Act,” came about because he was “having a stroke” when they named it.
Near the end of the sketch, Trump and Manafort got into the shower together to talk privately, where Trump could be sure Manafort wasn’t wearing a wire, and eventually Mike Pence (Beck Bennett) and Jeff Sessions (Kate McKinnon) showed up, too. They suggested to Manafort that the only way he’ll get pardoned is if they dress him up like a turkey and pardon him on Thanksgiving.
As with many of the show’s recent Trump-themed cold opens, the sketch felt limp, devoid of anything approaching satire. But there was one barbed joke, delivered as almost a throwaway line: “What an idiot that Harvey Weinstein is,” Trump remarked to Manafort. “He could have gotten away with all of it if he’d gotten himself elected president.” Both Trump and Weinstein have been accused, in strikingly similar ways, of sexual assault, but Weinstein was fired from his company and kicked out of the film Academy in the wake of the allegations against him being made public, while Trump was elected president.
It was the only effective joke about Weinstein in the show; host Larry David went on in his monologue to lament that several of the men accused of sexual assault in recent weeks are Jews, and then went on to make Holocaust jokes, and the rest of the episode steered clear of Weinstein and the entire matter of sexual assault in show business altogether.
Since the Weinstein story broke on October 5, a month ago, a cascading set of similar allegations have surfaced against powerful men. Saturday Night Live has often seemed at a loss for how to confront the allegations, staying mum on the issue until the October 15 episode.
And Baldwin himself announced earlier on Saturday that he is stepping away from Twitter after making a set of controversial comments about payouts that Weinstein and others have made to keep their accusers quiet, just days after trying to distance himself from his friend and collaborator James Toback, against whom hundreds of women have made accusations ranging from harassment to rape.
So the show seems to have a complicated relationship to the story — which is still the biggest story in Hollywood, particularly with multiple allegations against Kevin Spacey surfacing throughout this week and going entirely unmentioned in this week’s episode. It’s a sensitive subject, and undoubtedly the writers are treading cautiously. But its track record on the topic so far is more miss than hit.