The night didn’t prove to be a comedic peak for the show, which has had its ups and downs this year. Even so, Fey gave her fans reason to tune in, dusting off her Sarah Palin impression, taking questions from a number of A-list celebrities during her monologue, and tapping her improv roots for a swing at NBC’s prime-time lineup.
As Palin, she opens the sketch with a message to those in Donald Trump’s orbit, based on her experience as a vice presidential candidate in 2008. “Enjoy your moment,” she says. “Who knows how long it will last?” Several Trump figures then take the stage one by one as Palin kicks off a spoof rendition of “What I Did For Love” from A Chorus Line. John Goodman brings Texas-sized energy to his Rex Tillerson, marveling about his tumultuous tenure as Secretary of State. “Trump was the biggest mess I ever dealt with,” he says. “And I worked for ExxonMobil!”
For her monologue, Fey said that because she recently celebrated a birthday (she’s 48), the show’s producers gave her a blank check in terms of how to open the show. She said she wanted to take questions from the audience. Thus began the second celeb-packed segment of the show’s opening minutes, following the cold open featuring Alec Baldwin, Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro. The immediately recognizable faces of Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Bendict Cumberbatch and some others got screen time, with many stars joking about the recent direction of SNL. “Do you think the show has too many celebrity cameos these days?” wondered Seinfeld. “I’m just worried the cast isn’t getting a chance to grow.” Fair question.
After a blitz of broadcast network upfronts last week, which was kicked off by NBC announcing its new all-Dick Wolf-produced “Chicago” night on Wednesday, SNL helpfully did its part to help network development. It proposed Chicago Improv, a made-up show with the tagline, “Life doesn’t ask for a suggestion.”