By Avi Selk / The Washington Post
It’s the job of “Saturday Night Live” to parody the happenings of the previous week. Was that even possible Saturday night, or was parody defeated by the cumulative surreality of Oprah’s political explosion, Steve Bannon’s implosion and President Donald Trump’s spelunking trip into the English vernacular?
“SNL” at least tried.
The week’s news was dominated by reports that Trump, in an Oval Office meeting with senators, called Haiti, El Salvador and the entirety of Africa “shithole countries.”
On “SNL’s” “Weekend Update” segment, Colin Jost didn’t even attempt to lampoon the incident and instead made fun of NBC’s censorship standards in the age of Trump.
“Trump attacked protections for immigrants from African countries, which he called ‘s holes,’ ” Josh said from his fake news anchor desk. “That’s what NBC asked us to say, by the way, ‘S hole,’ even though the president can say ‘shithole.’ Oops.”
“SNL,” which evidently had to wrestle with the same censorship conundrum as major news organizations after Trump’s remark went public, didn’t actually bleep Jost’s use of the word. Elsewhere in the episode, some viewers noticed, the network let an f-bomb through, too.
Some have condemned Trump’s remarks as racist, and Michael Che, co-anchor of “Weekend Update,” picked the theme up.
“When someone asked me, ‘Did you hear what Donald Trump called Haiti and Africa?’ I was like, oh boy, did it start with an N?” Che, who is black, said. “But then I heard what he said, and I was like, that’s it? My job is to make fun of the news, but Trump saying something racist isn’t exactly news anymore.”
Che also mixed a history lesson into his routine. “Donald, you do realize how rich these places are in resources, right?” he said. “They’re in bad shape because they’ve been robbed and exploited for centuries by Western powers. So the president of the United States calling Africa a ‘shithole’ is like telling a kid you molested, ‘Boy, did you grow up to be weird.’”
“Weekend Update” left talk of holes behind to take up the week’s political B story – feverish speculation that Oprah Winfrey might run for president in the wake of her well-received Golden Globes speech about sexism.
“I’m tired of all these fun ideas for president,” Che grumbled. “Can’t we just have a regular one for a while? Just a regular boring old white dude president that smiles and shapeshifts into a lizard at night?”
Nope. He was soon joined at the anchor desk by an ebuliant Oprah (Leslie Jones) and her longtime partner Stedman Graham (Chris Redd), who merely parroted everything she said.
“Why would you ever do this?” Jost asked Jones-as-Oprah.
“I’ll tell you, Colin,” Jones replied. “I need to get white women back on track.”
“Get them back on track, white women,” Redd echoed.
“Ever since I’ve been off the air, they’ve gotten out of control,” Jones said. “They voted for Trump. They voted for Roy Moore. They kept 12 different shows about flipping houses on air. It’s a mess.”
“It’s a mess,” Redd said.
“Someone needs to look these women in the eye and say you deserve my three favorite things,” Jones said. “Love, respect and a new panini maker!”
She pointed at the audience and channeled one of Oprah’s most famous stunts, in which she gave everyone in her talk show audience a free car.
“You get a panini!” Jones cried. “You get a panini! You get a panini!”
“At least three of y’all get paninis,” Redd agreed.
Jones also played Oprah in the episode’s cold open. But the star of the segment was probably “SNL” alum Bill Murray, who played Bannon, the White House and Breitbart News alum.
At the height of Bannon’s power last year, when he was one of Trump’s chief advisers, “SNL” used to have Mikey Day play him in a grim-reaper mask. But Bannon was kicked out of the White House a few months ago. Then he criticized Trump’s son in a book interview, angered the president and abruptly left his job at the right-wing website Breitbart News last week.
So “SNL’s” version of Bannon finally took his cowl off last night, to reveal a disheveled and puffy Bill Murray.
“My God, Steve, I always though you looked like death, but this is death warmed over,” said Mika Brzezinski, played by Kate McKinnon on the show’s version of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Murray’s Bannon insisted that his best days were ahead of him.
“The Bannon magic is still out there,” he said. “Steve Bannon, the Bannon cannon, magic, magic, magic, magic. King of kingmakers. Ozymandias. The Bannon dynasty is dawning!”
“Uh huh. And, uh, what are you doing now?” McKinnon asked.
“I’m working on a web series for Crackle,” Murray said. ” ‘Cucks and Cars.’ “
Murray was joined by Michael Wolff (Fred Armisen), who in real life authored the book that got Bannon in trouble with Trump.
But “SNL’s” Wolff was sympathetic. He seemed to believe that Bannon could make a political comeback. He was, after all, the ruthless political operator who helped lead Trump to the White House.
“You know, Steve, I have to admit it – you did something amazing,” Armisen said. “You took the biggest long shot in history and you got him elected, and you unleashed this monster of biblical proportions upon the universe.”
“Michael Wolff, that’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me,” Murray-as-Bannon said. “Thank you.”