Back in 2008, Saturday Night Live staged a comeback as a major player in TV political satire thanks to its celebrated parodies of that year’s historic presidential election. The unquestioned MVP of that era, certainly, was longtime SNL veteran Tina Fey, whose uncanny impression of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was a consistent scene-stealing highlight. Fey was so memorable in the role some political pundits credited SNL’s brutal deconstruction of the former Alaska governor (and, by association, the campaign of running mate John McCain) with helping sway the contentious election in favor of current President Barack Obama.
But when Palin re-emerged last week to endorse controversial Republican front-runner Donald Trump ahead of the important Iowa Caucus, it was seen as only a matter of time before Fey would be pressed back into service — and she did not disappoint. Fey returned for the cold open to Saturday’s Ronda Rousey-hosted new episode and brought the house down with a merciless comic shredding of the real Palin’s already famously bizarre endorsement speech.
The actual speech had become fodder for pundits and political comedians for days, with various media calling it “rambling” and “incoherent.” The onetime vice presidential hopeful was ostensibly on hand to encourage support for Trump’s candidacy, but spent much of her speech directing invective and signature “Palinisms” against the current president, the mainstream media, and multiple other targets. Palin said:
“How ’bout the rest of us? Right wingin’, bitter clingin’, proud clingers of our guns, our God, and our religions, and our Constitution. Tell us that we’re not red enough? Yeah, coming from the establishment. Right.”
While some, like Late Show host Stephen Colbert, had already joked about Palin’s unusual manner of speaking, Fey’s parody went in a different direction. The comedienne delivered a sound-alike monologue laced with implications that Palin did not actually care about the Iowa Caucus or Trump’s position therein, but rather was on hand in order to re-insert herself into the pop-culture narrative — and to distract attention from the arrest of her son on a domestic violence charge one day earlier.
While ahead of his Republican rivals in most polls, Trump (a real-estate mogul and onetime SNL host himself) has emerged as one of the most controversial figures in modern American politics. His angry attacks on the credibility of other candidates and widely criticized statements on issues like immigration and race have led some political observers to refer to him as a “demagogue” or even a “fascist.” While it is yet unclear how much the Palin endorsement has helped (or hurt) his case — or if SNL parodies like this have the same impact they were thought to have had in 2008 — Fey’s return was certainly a big help to the show, with many TV critics citing the opening sketch as the highlight of the evening.
Saturday Night Live returns with host Larry David and musical guest The 1975 on February 6, 2016.