It was a foregone conclusion that Alec Baldwin would not appear as former president Donald Trump in the first “Saturday Night Live” cold open of 2021, but the sketch comedy show brought out just about everyone else: Cecily Strong as a gun-toting Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Pete Davidson as a clueless GameStop investor, host John Krasinski as Tom Brady and an exasperated Kate McKinnon – as herself.
Despite this being the first episode to air during the Biden administration, Saturday’s cold open did not directly mention the new president (and featured the show’s new Biden impersonator, Alex Moffat, as Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg). The only reference to the recent transfer of power was the opening sketch itself, which took the form of a talk show called “What Still Works?”
“It’s a new year and we have a new president so some things should work,” McKinnon said. “But do they?”
She concluded government did not work after an unsettling chat with her first guest: Strong’s Greene, who offered the host her handgun in lieu of a handshake and confirmed she believed in a growing list of conspiracy theories. “Those are real things you believe and tell other people about?” McKinnon asked Greene, who replied, “Uh huh.”
“People can Google you and it will say she’s a real member of the U.S. government,” McKinnon noted incredulously.
“That might not be the first thing that comes up,” Strong replied, “but yeah.”
Next up was Davidson as “the new majority shareholder of GameStop.” McKinnon quickly deduced that her guest knew nothing about stocks (except that they’re actually pronounced stonks) and concluded the stock market no longer works.
A visit from Moffat’s Zuckerberg and Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey, played by Mikey Day, highlighted the pitfalls of social media platforms banning Trump and his supporters over rhetoric that encouraged violence.
“It seems to have forced those people onto darker, scarier apps where their delusion and bloodlust can run wild,” Dorsey allowed.
Moffat’s socially awkward Zuckerberg chimed in with a dud: “Fundamentally, Facebook still works. Not only does it help form communities online, it has helped people meet and connect in real life. For example, at the Capitol.” (“SNL” more pointedly lampooned the violent mob who stormed the Capitol in another sketch that found a suburban game night interrupted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Beck Bennett played a man who admitted to being “down in D.C., stopping the steal with my boys.”)
Social media no longer works, McKinnon declared. Ditto for the country’s vaccine rollout, in a bit that found McKinnon asking O.J. Simpson how he got a coronavirus shot before some teachers and people with long-term health conditions had a chance.
“So among the first three percent of all Americans given the vaccine was O.J. Simpson,” McKinnon clarified.
“Hey, guilty as charged,” Simpson said, adding, “about the vaccine.”
McKinnon found temporary hope in her final guest: Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, portrayed by “SNL”‘s guest host (and noted New England Patriots fan) John Krasinski.
“You’re 43 years old, but you look 27,” McKinnon said.
“I haven’t eaten sugar in 15 years,” Brady replied.
“You went to historically one of the worst franchises in football and in your first year you took them all to the championship,” McKinnon said. When Brady protested that it was a team effort, McKinnon stopped him. “Don’t even try it, no one believes there is anyone else on the team.”
“You’re supposed to win football games and you keep winning football games,” McKinnon continued. “You might be the only thing in America that still works.”
“Yeah,” Brady said with a grin.
“So, I guess everyone must be rooting for you?” McKinnon asked.
“Almost no one,” Brady replied.
McKinnon pledged to keep rooting for Brady. “It’s not like you’re some weird Trump guy, right?” she asked.
“Thanks for having me!” Brady, who has been friendly with the former president, quickly replied.
“I’ve been Kate McKinnon as myself, slowly losing my mind along with all of you,” the “SNL” star said before officially opening the show. “Stay strong. Or weak. Weak is a great option, too.”
It was hard to anticipate what “SNL” would do for its cold open just weeks into a new administration, with nothing as reliably chaotic as a Trump news conference to riff on. The talk show format gave the show a chance to unpack the week’s headlines and confront the fact that a mere calendar update can’t change the fractured state of our populace.
It was different than the cold opens we’ve grown used to over the past four years. And you know what? It kind of worked.