SNL: MSNBC Debate Fallout

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

This past weekend, Saturday Night Live caught my attention (in regards to this blog) with a scathing skit that portrayed several of the NBC's own news channel's on-air personalities in a prolonged  "funk" over President Barack Obama's lackluster performance during a debate with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney last Wednesday.  Here's the clip from the highly politicized show (courtesy of Hulu):

In this piece, Cecily Strong plays MSNBC's primetime doyenne Rachel Maddow, Kenan Thompson does a spot-on impression of the Reverend Al Sharpton, Kate McKinnon portrays conservative pundit S.E. Cupp, and Jason Sudeikis "channels" exuberant Hardball host Chris Matthews (Bobby Moynihan was supposed to depict radio and television host Ed Schultz but was cut after the final rehearsal).  Throughout this near five-minute segment, titled "Three Days Later: A Look Back at the Obama Debate Disaster", the writers and actors immediately and relentlessly jumped on the channel for their supposedly biased, "in the tank" critiques of the Democratic president in the immediate aftermath of the Denver debate, the first of three being held prior to the November general election.  That particular political event was featured in the show's "cold opening" with Sudeikis and Jay Pharoah playing Romney and Obama, respectively, and further highlighted during Seth Meyers' Weekend Update news parody with a "Winners and Losers" listing and an interview with Big Bird, one of the targets of Romney's anticipated federal budget cuts.

Al Sharpton (Kenan Thompson), Rachel Maddow (Cecily Strong) and S.E. Cupp (Kate McKinnon) on the set of the MSNBC special report on the Denver presidential debate

The first on-screen graphic ("The Worst Thing That Ever Happened Anywhere") sets the overall somber tone of the on-air personalities with subsequent ones summarizing Sharpton's ludicrous excuses for Obama's poor performance ("Altitude Poisoning", an homage to what former vice president Al Gore actually postulated during Current TV's own debate coverage;  "Two Too Many" about a two-hour time zone difference between Colorado and the nation's capital; "Freaky Wednesday" where the two candidates switched bodies in a manner seen in the Walt Disney movies based on the Freaky Friday novel).  The conservative Cupp, who is one of four co-hosts for The Cycle, is the only one who is celebrating and Matthews, who has supposedly refused to eat, shower, or sleep for almost 72 hours, is the most distraught of all of them, at one point suggesting that Obama get a Mike Tyson-like tattoo on his face to appear tougher for the next debate and calling the president a "pussy".  While most of the laughs were at the expense of the "over-the-top" Sharpton and Matthews portrayals, Strong did an outstanding job of copying Maddow's inflections and mannerisms during her analysis of the lone Romney 'gaffe' (he said the word "implation" instead of "inflation" and Maddow uses slow motion and an unflattering still of the Republican nominee to imply that he is somehow "unpresidential" for that slight slip of the tongue).  The skit ends with her going to a break and announcing that the next segment would be "Is Winning the Election Really That Important?".

Chris Matthews (Jason Sudeikis) provides on-site commentary for the MSNBC special report

If you are a frequent visitor here (or a follower of my 'tweets'), you would know that I regularly watch MSNBC, primarily its daytime programming (my work schedule precludes regular prime-time viewing, although I do subscribe to Maddow's podcast through iTunes and listen while in the office).  Up until a few years ago, I was a devoted watcher of her and former lead-in host Keith Olbermann's programs from 8-10PM nearly every night.  Maddow got her start as a guest host on his show and, in September 2008, she was given her own 60-minute platform to advocate on a variety of political, science and social issues.  With Olbermann's sudden departure in January 2011, her show became the anchor of the MSNBC prime-time lineup and reached another milestone last month when she overtook Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor as the top-rated show among the 25-54 age advertising demographic for two straight nights (in total viewers, she trails both O'Reilly's show as well as Hannity, her 9PM timeslot competition, by a wide margin).

Cecily Strong portraying MSNBC host Rachel Maddow during a satirical skit about that channel's recent debate coverage

I first became a fan of hers during the early Air America Radio days, initially as one of a three-host team for their Unfiltered morning show and sealing the deal when given her own self-titled nightly show in April 2005.  She holds a degree in public policy from Stanford University and was the recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship where she earned a Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University in politics.  Maddow is also the first openly gay news anchor in the United States (CNN's Anderson Cooper made his announcement in July) and her first book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, was critically received and made it to the top of The New York Times Best Sellers list for both hardcover and e-book nonfiction this past spring (I have a copy on my Nook and promise to read it right after I make it through Douglas Brinkley's Cronkite).

Ben Affleck in the role of former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann during a November 2008 episode of the show

As for the skit, I felt it was another excellent effort in poking fun at a fellow member of the NBC 'family' and continues the show's tradition of finding humor in the news media and politics.  Maddow and Matthews had been parodied before (Abby Elliott for the former, Darrell Hammond for the latter) and one particular impression of Olbermann by Ben Affleck in November 2008 earned much critical praise for its attention to his persona and choice of wardrobe (and those kudos included some from their subject).  For me, it is much easier to laugh at one of their many Fox & Friends parodies but it takes true talent to get someone to chuckle at people that they respect and admire (as I do with Maddow).  Charles Caleb Colton once said that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"and the SNL casts and writers have upheld this tradition of tribute for 37 seasons (and counting) and many, including myself, hope to see these continue for years to come.

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