The moment Matt Damon was announced as 2018’s final “Saturday Night Live” host, most people had the same thought: The show was planning to bring back Damon’s furious impression of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.
After all, this season’s cold opens have been fairly routine. When the show didn’t have guest stars, it aired imagined episodes of the Laura Ingraham-helmed Fox News program “The Ingraham Angle” as a means of addressing the week’s news. Otherwise, the sketch show relied heavily on Alec Baldwin’s Trump impersonation and Ben Stiller’s Michael Cohen, with a few assists from actors such as Damon.
Well, that prediction was right, but not how fans expected. The cold open was packed with all the usual guest stars, but it still had a surprise in store. In its most creative cold open of the season thus far, SNL imagined a world in which Trump never became president in a black-and-white spoof of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” This version is called “It’s a Wonderful Trump.”
For anyone who might not remember, “It’s a Wonderful Life” follows the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), a decent man who finds himself at the end of his rope on Christmas Eve. As Bailey considers suicide, an angel appears and shows him how the world would be without him in it. Bailey realizes his worth and doesn’t go through with ending his own life.
SNL’s version, however, is not quite so life-affirming.
It begins with Baldwin’s Trump standing on a balcony at the White House and decrying his job and everything that has come with it.
“I don’t think I can do this anymore. I might finally eat a salad. And explode,” he says sadly.
Cue Keenan Thompson’s Clarence the angel, who wants to help out.
“It’s awful. Everything’s falling apart,” SNL’s Trump says. “Sometimes I wish I had never been president.”
Clarence is eager to help out, so he brings Trump into a new reality, one in which he lost the election because Hillary Clinton did what she had to do: “visit Wisconsin once.” The two walk through a holiday party at the White House, encountering many people both in the Trump family and administration (and, often, in both) to see how things turned out for everyone.
The conceit is a smart one. It allowed the show to run through many of its best impressions — both the cast and guest stars in a greatest hits-esque compilation — without simply reciting the week’s major headlines. In doing so, the writers had a bit more leeway with their jokes. Beck Bennett’s Mike Pence, for example, is DJing the Christmas party. He says “It’s so great to be myself. Thank God I was never your vice president. I’d just be sitting in meetings . . . staring out into space and imagining this,” a callback to the uncomfortable White House meeting earlier this week between an angry Trump, a silent (and nearly motionless) Pence, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) without diving into specifics.
As it turns out, everyone is doing well in this imagined reality. (“What are those things on their faces,” SNL’s Trump wonders, only to be told they’re “smiles.”)
Aidy Bryant’s Sarah Sanders does PR for “so many awesome companies like Facebook, Ashley Madison and the Romaine Lettuce Association.” Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway “looks incredible” because she “is no longer eaten inside by lies” and also “after we lost the campaign, the devil did give my soul back.” She’s even on speaking terms with her husband, George Conway. And Alex Moffat’s Eric Trump can speak rudimentary Italian and complete Rubik’s cubes since he had the time in this reality “to attend adult education classes,” given that he didn’t need to run “the entire the Trump organization.”
Others have done well too: Ben Stiller’s Michael Cohen never flipped on Trump and remains his “best friend” and is excited for the “grand opening of Trump Tower: Moscow.” Cecily Strong’s Melania Trump is now a single woman with a “huge real estate empire,” is married to Papa John and no longer has an accent because being around Trump “was hurting my language skills.” This world’s Trump, though, rebounded by marrying Hernia, who was a “suitcase girl in the Serbian version of ‘Deal or No Deal'" His hair is even growing back because a Muslim immigrant from Syria was “allowed to come to America and she discovered a permanent solution for hair loss.” And don’t worry about terrorist attacks — the only attempt was “foiled by a team of transgender Navy SEALs.”
Damon’s Kavanaugh, meanwhile, is thrilled that he’s not on the Supreme Court because in this reality, “when I tell people I like beer, they find it charming and not like I’m threatening violence.” Plus, now he has time to hang out with “PJ and Squee and Needled--- Nick and No-Means-Yes Nate.”
Finally, De Niro’s Robert S. Mueller III is even smiling, because he is “spending so much more time with [his grandson] since I don’t have to investigate some idiot for treason.”
At the end of the sketch, Baldwin’s Trump has an epiphany. Needless to say, it’s not one that tracks with the information he just received.
“I want to be president again,” he repeats until a bell rings — just like in the movie.
“Every time a bell rings, somebody you know quits, or goes to jail,” McKinnon’s Conway says, with pain in her voice.
Despite Thompson’s angel arguing otherwise, SNL’s Trump declares the fact that he’s president again “a Christmas Miracle” and everything goes back to the way it is, now, in the real world, in this bizarre reality the show continues to spoof.