Senator Elizabeth Warren made a surprise guest appearance on Saturday Night Live two days after ending her presidential campaign to say hello to her doppelgänger Kate McKinnon and take a look back at her quest for the oval office. The opening sketch, primarily a look at Fox News’ coverage of the new coronavirus, began with McKinnon’s Laura Ingraham announcing that she would be conducting a campaign post-mortem interview with Warren, which raised the question of how SNL would manage the challenge of having two characters, both famously played by Kate McKinnon, interview each other on live television. The answer, it turned out, was getting Warren to show up in person.
For her sketch comedy debut, Warren had to thread a delicate needle: She had to be self-deprecating without being so self-deprecating that she insulted her supporters’ still-raw feelings; she had to acknowledge her disappointments without seeming bitter; she had to avoid making actual news in the less-than-ideal venue of a sketch comedy show; and she had to be at least a little bit funny. Fortunately, her experiences as a woman in politics seem to have somehow prepared her to deal with a laundry list of contradictory expectations, so for the most part, she pulled it off. Still, her performance suffered from a classic novice mistake: Never agree to go on after Cecily Strong’s Jeanine Pirro.
Although her tone was mostly upbeat, Warren did throw a few elbows, telling McKinnon that she was proud she’d given Michael Bloomberg “a swirlie on live TV,” and calling out the New York Times’ decision to endorse both Warren and Klobuchar. Warren also lightly roasted herself, observing that her campaign had built a “wide coalition of teachers, preschool teachers, middle school teachers, and teacher’s pets.” This was a best-case-scenario for a political guest appearance on SNL, and if that doesn’t seem like a ringing endorsement, remember that the category includes an entire goddamned episode hosted by presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, so the worst-case-scenario is very bad indeed. Later in the evening, Warren and McKinnon made a short dressing-room video:
Online reaction to Warren’s appearance has been mixed: Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in an act of either dance criticism or outreach on behalf of the Sanders campaign, replied to the video of Warren and McKinnon dancing with a tweet reading “ok this is legendary.” That sentiment has been met with tweet after tweet after tweet accusing Warren of selling out the progressive movement by not immediately endorsing Bernie Sanders and criticizing Ocasio-Cortez for praising her in any way, including one tweet that asked if this was AOC’s “pivot to the right.” But focusing on the effects Saturday Night Live guest appearances might have on the presidential election (and, in turn, the material consequences that election might have for the world and its people) risks ignoring a far larger and more important issue: the effects the presidential election might have on Saturday Night Live guest appearances. Hillary Clinton played a bartender serving drinks to Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton in October of 2015; a month later, Donald Trump shared the stage with Taran Killam’s Donald Trump and Darrell Hammond’s Donald Trump. Warren has now established a new precedent—politicians meet their Saturday Night Live doppelgängers after they lose, not before—and the implications for the Democratic primary aren’t hard to parse.
Only one person has ever played Bernie Sanders on Saturday Night Live, and although it’d be funny to see Sanders and Larry David on-screen together, a Joe Biden end-of-campaign SNL appearance featuring John Mulaney, Woody Harrelson, Jason Sudeikis, and Kevin Nealon would be a full-on cross-generational television event. Biden would also be ideally-suited to host a broader look back at SNL’s political legacy: When Michael O’Donoghue and John Belushi kicked off the very first episode of what was then called NBC’s Saturday Night, Biden had already been in the Senate for two years. So don’t get distracted by online drama: Elizabeth Warren’s farewell appearance on SNL is a valuable reminder that Joe Biden’s farewell appearance on SNL has the potential to be truly great television. We owe it to the long-suffering American public to get it on the air this season.