Saturday Night Live has spent most of its political capital since 2016 on skewering the Trump administration — which it did again in their cold open last night. But, the show also finally turned its eyes to the crop of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls and gave us a look at what we’re likely to be seeing a lot of as primary season unfolds — and which candidates they think make the most compelling characters.
The sketch opened up with jabs at some of the candidates with low polling numbers: Beto O’Rourke (Alex Moffat) asked if he could say a few words in “eighth grade Spanish,” a nod to his performance in the June debate, and Andrew Yang (Bowen Yang) marveled that he’s in sixth place despite his plan to give large sums of money to American families at random. Cory Booker (Chris Redd), who was only given five words due to low polling numbers, declared, “Impeach Trump now because...trouble.” Newcomer Chloe Fineman joined the town hall as Marianne Williamson, astral-projecting from space to offer up a crystal-slash-yoni egg, poking fun at Williamson’s metaphysical approach to politics.
After this, we met the “actual candidates” — Elizabeth Warren (Kate McKinnon), Kamala Harris (Maya Rudolph), Bernie Sanders (Larry David), and Joe Biden (host Woody Harrelson). Despite the excellence of McKinnon’s impression, which she has honed over the last few seasons, Warren’s treatment as a candidate felt off. McKinnon’s concluding joke about “$800 from an immigrant and stay-at-home-mom named Melania,” however, was a funny line. It’s possible that there’s not much to laugh about when it comes to Warren, who has been steadily rising in the polls, but the sketch didn’t treat her like the frontrunner in the race — which she’s becoming.
David nailed his role reprisal. As the oldest candidate in the race, Sanders joked that it takes him 40 minutes to turn on the TV — “and if I accidentally hit input, that’s a whole day.” Ultimately, he reminded us that he’s more in touch with younger voters than the moderate Biden, quipping that “this guy makes me look like Drake.”
The sketch marked Harrelson’s first performance as Biden. Since he joined the race, Biden has been a frontrunner in the polls, and we knew SNL would have to find someone to play him — so, are we going to see a recurring role for Harrelson this season? He hit on many of the critiques of the former vice president: his heavy reliance on his bromance with former President Barack Obama, his dubious and long-winded stories, and his record on race. (Yes, there was even a Corn Pop reference.)
As Harris, Rudolph took her role to the next level. Not only was she funny, but she didn’t waste time getting to the parts of Harris’ campaign that have given voters the most pause: namely, her controversial past as a prosecutor. “I’m America’s cool aunt, a fun aunt. I call that a funt,” she said. “The kind of funt that will give you weed but then arrest you for that weed.” (Harris, for what it's worth, generally approved of Rudolph's performance.)
It’s clear where the Democratic candidates stand with SNL, especially when we look at polling numbers. Williamson is barely in the picture anymore, and though Fineman’s impression was brilliant, they chose to highlight her instead of Julián Castro or Amy Klobuchar, who are both polling above 1%. Also, though Strong reiterated that Warren, Biden, Sanders, and Harris are the four candidates to take seriously, Buttigieg is actually polling higher than Harris, and he was not painted as one of the top candidates and received even fewer lines than O’Rourke or Booker.