Saturday Night Live returned for its 42nd season this weekend (Oct. 1), and with it came a new impression of Donald Trump, courtesy of Emmy-winning actor Alec Baldwin. Baldwin’s impersonation of the businessman-turned-US-presidential-candidate was so uncanny that it’s hard to even call it parody. To put it another way: If Hollywood were to make a serious film about the 2016 presidential election, Baldwin could play Trump with pretty much the same imitation he used on SNL.
In the episode’s cold open, Baldwin and Kate McKinnon (an Emmy winner in her own right), who plays Hillary Clinton on the NBC show, lampooned the first presidential debate (Michael Che portrayed moderator Lester Holt). Baldwin completely nailed Trump’s look, voice, and mannerisms, including his notorious hand gestures, facial contortions, and bombastic speech pattern:
“Our jobs are fleeing this country. They’re going to Mexico, they’re going to China,” Baldwin aped, making “China” sound like the second syllable of a certain part of the female anatomy. “I will stop that. If Hillary knew how, she would have done it already. Period. End of story. I won the debate. I stayed calm, just like I promised.”
Some comedians have argued that Trump’s magniloquent demeanor and unconventional campaign are difficult to satirize. “When the politicians are providing us with the fiction there’s no place for people like me,” Armando Iannucci, the creator of HBO’s political comedy Veep, told CNN last month. While Baldwin did exaggerate some of Trump’s features, like the candidate’s pursed lips, he didn’t say or do anything that could actually shock anyone at this point if Trump himself actually said or did it.
NBC brought in Baldwin, a 16-time host of SNL, specifically to play Trump this season. The role had been portrayed by Taran Killam, who left the show in August, and alum Darrell Hammond, who returned this weekend to perform another one of his impressions, former US president Bill Clinton.
The real debate, which was watched by a record 84 million people on television, appears to have helped SNL reach a record audience of its own. Saturday night’s premiere episode hit an eight-year high, according to overnight data, up 29% over last year’s season premiere. The episode was hosted by Margot Robbie, star of Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.