Since Donald Trump entered the political scene, political satire has become almost synonymous with Saturday Night Live. If anything, Trump's presidency has revitalized the sketch comedy show and enabled it to re-emerge on the pop-culture scene. Some of the show’s most popular skits show Alec Baldwin as the sitting president. And who could forget Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of Sean Spicer, which has reached nearly 32 million views since it first aired in February 2017?
Since the press has been so focused on the recent hearings concerning sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, SNL inevitably featured a sketch on the subject. The cold open transitioned from a Fox News report to a courtroom filled with the show’s regular actors. The scene began directly after the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and research psychologist at Stanford.
Enter Matt Damon as Brett Kavanaugh, who was met with just as much excitement as he was surprise from the audience, and that is to say quite a bit of both. His portrayal of the Supreme Court nominee gave off the "frat boy" attitude with which anyone who has spent time on a college campus is all too familiar.
When asked if he was ready to begin, Damon’s Kavanaugh replied, “Oh, hell yeah!” He then stated that he was “gonna start at an 11” and was “gonna take it to a 15 real quick.” Add a few “bros,” a “Saturdays Are For The Boys” flag, and someone shotgunning a Natty Light, and I could have been watching a video on Barstool.
There are several other references to college “frat boy” culture throughout the Kavanaugh Hearing Cold Open. Damon’s character talks about how much he drank, even discussing it with Senator John Kennedy—played by Kyle Mooney—as well as keeping a calendar of when he worked out (annoyingly often). In comparison, during the actual hearings, the real Kavanaugh, when asked about his drinking habits while in school, said, “I drank beer with my friends. Almost everyone did. Sometimes I had too many beers. I liked beer. I still like beer.”
Undoubtedly, Damon’s portrayal isn’t entirely representative of Kavanaugh’s behavior at the hearing. In reality, Kavanaugh said, “I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this political process. You’ve tried hard. You’ve given it your all. No one can question your effort. But your coordinated and well-funded effort to destroy my good name and destroy my family will not drive me out.”
Some may even say that SNL goes too far when Damon’s character says to the committee, “I’m not backing down, you sons of bitches. I don’t know the meaning of the word stop,” a play on words referring to the sexual assault allegations.
This potential overstep brings up the argument that, maybe, Saturday Night Live is not as funny as it used to be. Or, perhaps, it is overusing political satire a little bit too much. Obviously, it is no Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer swallowing gum and taking names, but some question if it is humorous at all.
Mark Harris at Vulture writes that he does “not envy anyone [...] whose assignment is to make comic hay out of something that is based so deeply on the pain of a woman putting herself on the line and of the millions of women watching her do it.”
Todd VanDerWerff at Vox argues that he “found the show’s satire of [Trump’s] administration to be functionally without a center, more invested in lampooning the way the president moves and talks than in saying anything meaningful about him.”
“Yet,” admits VanDerWerff, “I both enjoyed myself and was reminded of one of Saturday Night Live’s primary keys to success: Sometimes, all that matters is that the show noticed all of the things you noticed, and then made jokes about them.”
Regardless, many found the show as entertaining as ever, and it is almost certain that SNL will continue on with the same political commentary that has, arguably, brought it back into popular culture and the mainstream media.