It didn’t come right away. Saturday’s episode opened with a sketch imagining several medieval men proposing the first abortion law. “We should make a law that will stand the test of time, so that hundreds and hundreds of years from now they will look back and say, no need to update this one at all – they nailed it in 1235,” guest host character Benedict Cumberbatch says, the noble who proposes to ban abortion. Later on “Weekend Update”, co-anchor Michael Che said, “I just don’t understand why Republicans are so against this. Maybe don’t think of it as an abortion. Think of it as a patriot storming a womb to reverse the results of an unfair pregnancy.
McKinnon then appeared as guest commentator for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who told co-anchor Colin Jost that she didn’t understand why people were upset about the potential ruling. “Just do your nine,” she said. She adds: “Give it to a stork and the stork will give it to a lesbian. I think lesbians would be happy because now there are more babies to adopt. Until we ban that too.
In its 10th year on SNL, McKinnon has become arguably the most important player when the show tackles the often surreal version of 21st century national politics. She has portrayed everyone from Rudy Giuliani to Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.) to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to… well, you get the idea. (To be clear, McKinnon doesn’t just ridicule politicians — she’ll take on anyone, like Justin Bieber, Jodie Foster and Shakira, to name a few — but politics has become her forte. )
For many, it can’t hurt. For others, his shtick is thin. On Twitter, as always, she is “a genius” who “totally killedas she always does. On Reddit, SNL has a “Kate McKinnon problem” and she’s taking up valuable screen time from fellow cast members and featured players.
As is often the case when she debuts a new knockoff, McKinnon’s take on Barrett was pretty benign. If the character becomes a mainstay in the series, it’s likely evolve into something much stranger.
When McKinnon first started portraying Giuliani, she played him relatively simple (at least, simple for her): all wide-eyed, pinched cheeks and rigor-mortis hands — and a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth. on national television. Months later, the evolution of impersonation has her playing him as a literal vampire with bat wings, who says things like, “I was hanging upside down under the balcony.”
The characters she became known for, of course, were the most idiosyncratic. Her most famous — and beloved — impersonation was arguably that of Ginsburg, which she portrayed with swagger and the catchphrase “And that’s a Gins-burn!”, a version of which found its way onto sweaters sweatshirts and tank tops.
Rather than mocking justice, the impersonation celebrated it — and thrilled the real Ginsburg, who said once, “I liked the actress who played me, and I would like to say ‘Gins-burn!’ sometimes to my colleagues.
What shone through McKinnon’s take on Ginsburg, and what so many relate to, is how much she admired justice. As she said in a statement after Ginsburg’s death, “For many of us, Judge Ginsburg was a real-life superhero: a beacon of hope, a warrior for justice, a crusader. in a dress that has saved the day time and time again. … It was one of the great honors of my life to meet Justice Ginsburg, shake her hand and thank her for her life of service to this country.
Often, however, its impersonations — or, perhaps more accurately, the political viewpoints they usually portray — can be divisive. That’s usually what you’d expect from any political satire, but sometimes there’s no satire to be found. The best example came after the November 2016 death of Leonard Cohen and the election of Donald Trump in the same week. McKinnon, dressed as Hillary Clinton and seated at the piano, kicked things off with a fervent performance of “Hallelujah.” While some praised the cold open, it was generally derided by those on both sides of the aisle for being both extremely partisan and mildly jejou.
McKinnon is now in her 11th season on the show, putting her in a club of just five other cast members who have been on the show for more than 10 seasons: Al Franken, Fred Armisen, Seth Meyers, Darrell Hammond and Kenan. Thompson. It seems likely that she is nearing the end of her run. And as you might expect, there’s been more and more chatter online wondering if his talents would be better used in other projects.
And yet, SNL needs her, whenever a major political story breaks — especially now that she’s generally moved on from the parade of celebrity cameos that defined the show in the Trump era.
What was clear on Saturday. James Austin Johnson, a master impressionist, is poised to replace her at some point as SNL’s reigning impersonator, but he tends to create true-to-life depictions of real people, especially Presidents Trump and Biden. If you just heard him in character, you might think you’re listening to the person in question.
McKinnon, on the other hand, leans towards the absurd. As Barrett, she explains that these days, “You see a pregnant girl, you’re not going to stone her anymore. You’re just going to be like, ‘Hmm, okay.’ For example, if you get pregnant and you’re not married, you don’t have to go to a scary convent anymore. You just gave a baby to a panther, ‘Jungle Book’, and it’s your nine.
“At Arby’s. We have the babies,” she adds later in a final touch of inanity.
Perhaps McKinnon has landed on a new send-off, which SNL will use as a dagger to push the court’s conservative rulings. Maybe next week she will be someone else.
You never know who the next McKinnon will be.