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'SNL' Season Premiere Shows What's Right — And Wrong — With Its Political Humor

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If you missed "Saturday Night Live" over the weekend, the first "SNL" since the presidential debate season began, NPR TV critic Eric Deggans is here for you.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: "Suicide Squad's" Margot Robbie was the guest host and star of "Saturday Night Live's" season premiere. But most of "SNL's" pre-show hype focused on Alec Baldwin who was debuting his impression as GOP candidate Donald Trump. And in the night's very first sketch, a spoof of Trump's first presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, Baldwin didn't disappoint.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

ALEC BALDWIN: (Impersonating Donald Trump) My microphone is broken.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: (Impersonating Donald Trump) She broke it with Obama. She and Obama stole my microphone. They took it to Kenya.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: (Impersonating Donald Trump) They took my microphone to Kenya and they broke it. And now it's broken.

DEGGANS: With cast member and recent Emmy winner Kate McKinnon playing Clinton, "SNL" recreated signature moments from the debate, including the times when Trump interrupted Clinton during her answers.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

KATE MCKINNON: (Impersonating Hillary Clinton) He hasn't released his tax returns, which mean he's either not that rich...

BALDWIN: (Impersonating Donald Trump) Wrong.

MCKINNON: (Impersonating Hillary Clinton) ...Not that charitable...

MCKINNON: (Impersonating Donald Trump) Wrong.

MCKINNON: (Impersonating Donald Trump) ...Or he's never payed taxes in his life.

BALDWIN: (Impersonating Donald Trump) Warmer.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: This was what "SNL" does best, capturing the absurdity of a political moment with outsized impressions of the candidates. Baldwin in particular, impressed as Trump, outfitted with gigantic eyebrows and a huge wig. The show even featured his makeup process in a promotional video released before the program.

But Saturday's show also highlighted an ongoing problem at "SNL." Few of its current cast members have created memorable impressions of the candidates. For example, former cast member and announcer Darrell Hammond played Bill Clinton in a sketch.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

DARRELL HAMMOND: (Impersonating Bill Clinton) Believe you, me, I fricken (ph) love the White House.

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND: (Impersonating Bill Clinton) I mean, you know, I could hang out there, you know, no presidential stuff to do.

DEGGANS: And former writer, Larry David, returned with his spot-on Bernie Sanders impersonation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

LARRY DAVID: (Impersonating Bernie Sanders) Senator Clinton is the prune juice of this election. She might not seem that appetizing. But if you don't take her now, you're going to be clogged with crap for a very long time.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: At this rate, they might have to bring back just released cast member Jay Pharoah to play President Obama again. It seems the days when "SNL" could define an election with its satire are gone. There's too much competition from other shows. And the reality we see is often more absurd than any parody.

Perhaps that's why some of the night's strongest satire didn't come from an impression of a politician. It came from Cecily Strong's take on an unhinged, undecided voter slurring her words while talking about Hillary Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

CECILY STRONG: (Slurring words) I mean, did you see her at the convention? Come on. What the hell kind of nerd life do you have to live, where you're 70 years old and you are that excited to see a balloon, and you're not a junkie?

DEGGANS: Overall, Saturday's "SNL" was a good start for the season and a triumph for Alec Baldwin. But it was also an indication that the show needs to groom some of its younger cast to step up and take the baton from its superstar alums. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 3, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this Web summary said Saturday Night Live hired its first Latina cast member this season. In fact, the show has had at least one Latina cast member before.