After last week’s absence of Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, and the comparatively oblique references to the US president-elect himself, you might have thought there was a chance that this week’s Saturday Night Live cold open would have turned to another topic entirely—as sure a sign as any that it’s time to move on.
But who are we kidding? The Electoral College doesn’t vote until Monday, and anyway, this was SNL’s Christmas episode—and in comedy terms at least, the Trump transition is the gift that keeps on giving.
As Bill Hader’s SNL character Stefon would have said, this cold open had it all. There were references to Trump’s curious pick of former Texas governor Rick Perry as US energy secretary (“I saw him on Dancing With the Stars,” Baldwin’s Trump explains. “This guy has so much energy.”) There were jokes about the transition team’s reported difficulty in finding high-profile entertainers to play at the January inauguration festivities (“So many great names here, really. I love them both.”) And there was the practically obligatory reference to the newest word in Trump’s vocabulary, and everyone else’s: Unpresidented.
Other goodies included SNL cast members Beck Bennett as a thickly accented, shirtless Vladimir Putin, who gratefully gifted Trump an Elf on a Shelf (“Is fun, you just put it right here next to your Internet router, and you keep it there all year”); Cecily Strong as a Melania Trump highly skeptical of foreigners who would show up to America and flatter her husband; and Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway, whose reference to her role as Trump’s “master illusionist” leaves hope that this still-brilliant impression will long be a part of the SNL canon, even if Conway herself sounds unlikely to join Trump’s White House in a formal capacity.
Bringing it all home was SNL frequent guest John Goodman as Exxon-Mobil CEO and Trump secretary of state pick Rex Tillerson.
Goodman’s caricature of a prototypical Texas oilman was unrestrained, making his Tillerson sound at times more like Foghorn Leghorn than the coolheaded leader of an enormous, multinational corporation. But as he and Beckett’s Putin exchanged fraternity-brother-like greetings and began talking shop about Russian oilfields, while Baldwin’s Trump was preoccupied with talk of Vanity Fair and Kanye West, the sketch turned from downright hilarious to a more unsettling kind of humor.
SNL airs on NBC. Here’s the Dec. 17 opening sketch in full: