Jimmy Fallon Wants America Back, and Lorne Michaels Might Help Him Get It

The Saturday Night Live season that will go down in history as the one that made President Donald Trump very upset might end with an episode hosted by the celebrity perhaps most closely associated with the phenomenon of normalizing Trump’s behavior.

Three episodes remain in the 42nd season of SNL, but there’s a strike-shaped cloud hanging over them. Should that cloud burst on May 2 and stick around for a couple weeks, the season will have ended with this Saturday’s episode, hosted by Jimmy Fallon with music from One Direction runaway Harry Styles.

When Fallon last hosted SNL in December 2013, he was riding high — believe it or not — from a wave of critical praise for his work hosting NBC’s Late Night, which came to an end two months later. He’d been tapped a few months earlier to take over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. That news was met with widespread approval from fans and critics alike.

Those days are but a distant memory now. Until recently, Fallon bested his late-night rivals by a wide margin in the ratings, but the Twittersphere and its associated ephemera quickly grew tired of his show’s zany antics and sycophantic interviews, which come at the expense of intellectual depth and emotional range. Adding fuel to the fire, Fallon also made several unsavory appearances in the tabloids, with admittedly sketchy reports suggesting his drinking and partying contributed to a string of high-profile injuries.

But nothing drew more online outrage than Fallon’s fawning conversation with Donald Trump on Sept. 15, 2016, less than two months before the most consequential presidential election in modern history. The amiable host’s hair-ruffling has been litigated ad nauseum in the weeks and months since, and rightfully so. Fallon’s indiscriminate, hyperbolic enthusiasm for all of his guests quickly turns sour and repulsive when future heads of state are involved.

The rest is history. Donald Trump won the election, one year after hosting his own controversial episode of SNL. (I had plenty of thoughts about that at the time, and most of them remain.) At least one voter was quoted in the New York Times pointing to Trump’s appearance on Fallon’s show as an appealing example of a “humble” moment for the 45th president, who is anything but. Fallon dodged the criticism while tipsy during a TMZ interview, and while giggly on SNL in October, when Tina Fey ribbed him in character for the hair moment during an ill-advised, unfunny Weekend Update cameo. Also in character, Fallon smiled and read his next line: “I did it one time! Get off my bra strap, cool police.”

Then in January, he hosted the Golden Globe Awards, tossing off a few Trump-related softballs before launching into an extended impression of Chris Rock. During an interview with Seth Meyers on The Tonight Show, Meyers let him off the hook for the hair controversy, and once again Fallon said nothing. He does not appear to have learned any lessons.

This Saturday, that may change. No one has said so on the record, but Fallon’s hosting appearance seems very much like Lorne Michaels, who executive produces both SNL and Fallon’s show, trying to help shore up Fallon’s ratings against surging timeslot competitor Stephen Colbert. At the very least, Michaels is giving Fallon an opportunity to change the narrative around his persona.

Can Fallon pull it off? It’s doubtful. Judging by recent shows, the current mood at SNL appears to be one of sustained antipathy for the confounding realities of the political moment. At least publicly, Fallon doesn’t share such passions, and will likely push for broader, sillier material. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If Fallon wants to be truly apolitical, booking presidential candidates on his talk show doesn’t make much sense. If he wants to atone for his perceived sins in the eyes of those who turned against him, a cynical attempt to rewrite the narrative might prove too craven to be effective. And if he wants simply to turn away from the turbulence and move on to a new chapter, well, he’s not the only one.

The M&M Report: The Pop Culture President

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On the eve of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, Devin and I look back on eight years of President Obama’s radical, unprecedented interactions with American popular culture. Topics include late-night talk shows, podcasts, stand-up comedy, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the NBA draft, Black-ishKey and PeeleHamilton and more.

Listen here. And please subscribe!

PROGRAMMING NOTE: A couple months ago, we made a behind-the-scenes change. If you’re already subscribed to The M&M Report on iTunes or the podcast provider of your choice, and you haven’t done so already, you need to RE-SUBSCRIBE in order to receive new episodes in your feed. We know this extra step will be annoying, but we’re excited about what it means for the future of the podcast. Tell your friends!

Jimmy Fallon Wasn’t Just Apolitical on the Golden Globes. He was Woefully Unfunny.

Much of the criticism of Jimmy Fallon’s lackluster hosting performance at the Golden Globe Awards last night has centered around his apparent refusal or inability to lampoon or comment on the political climate in a meaningful, substantive, even moderately original way. “Ernst & Young & Putin” is not exactly cutting political commentary, and saying that the Golden Globes is one of the few things in America that honors the popular vote doesn’t make much sense, given that the Globes are notoriously a sham voted on by 93 foreign journalists easily swayed by celebrities and favors from studio executives. (Skip to 2:32 in the video below for the live monologue.)

Fallon also notably opted not to address what many liberals consider the elephant in the room: his “interview” with Donald Trump just a couple months before the election, which the host ended by tussling the now-president-elect’s hair and giggling maniacally. Aside from a subtle dig during an unpleasant appearance on SNL‘s Weekend Update and a drunken interview with TMZ, Fallon hasn’t addressed the criticisms of his performance during that interview, nor has he made any attempt at self-deprecation, or even self-awareness. Nothing changed last night.

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Things I Loved This Year: Small But Not Forgotten

Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: two movies that ought to have been huge hits, but weren’t.

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Some movies seem destined to falter at the box office — they’re bad, they’re lazy, they’re weird, they lack star power, they’re in another language. It’s often a shame to watch those movies’ inevitably meager box-office returns, but you saw the disappointment coming, so it’s easier to manage and rationalize.

But other movies seem tailor-made for runaway blockbuster success and yet struggle to find it. Often, you can blame the marketing, or the distribution, or an accident of fate. The best you can hope for is a fruitful run on home video and streaming.

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Things I Loved This Year: Leslie Jones Never Backs Down

Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: Leslie Jones triumphs over the haters by being who she is.

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The first monologue of this current season of Saturday Night Live began in fairly typical fashion. Host Margot Robbie looked ecstatic as she smoothly navigated her first few jokes and an appearance by Kenan Thompson, who joked that he’s been on the show for so long that he “slept like a baby” the night before the premiere. (Actually, I doubt that was a joke. Side note: I hope Kenan never leaves SNL. He’s a treasure.)

Then Leslie Jones arrived onstage, and the crowd exploded.

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The M&M Report: “Saturday Night Live” Post-Election

McKinnon.pngDevin and I are back in the same room for an episode that touches on the election but focuses on last night’s episode and this season of Saturday Night Live. We talked about our favorite and least favorite moments, reacted to the show’s hit-or-miss political commentary and made predictions about what’s to come. Oh, and there are some bleeps.

Listen here. And please subscribe!

PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’ve made a behind-the-scenes change. If you’re already subscribed to The M&M Report on iTunes or the podcast provider of your choice, you need to RE-SUBSCRIBE in order to receive new episodes in your feed. We know this extra step will be annoying, but we’re excited about what it means for the future of the podcast. Tell your friends!

“Saturday Night Live” 41: Space Pants, Alien Encounters and Other Highlights (and Lowlights)

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Assigning a value judgment like “good” or “great” or “best ever” or “worst in five years” to a season of Saturday Night Live is inevitably a fool’s errand. Each season is best understood through the lens of key sketches, breakout moments and overall trends. Below, I’ve listed a few of each from this post-anniversary season of America’s most astonishingly resilient TV show.

And while you’re in an SNL mood, check out my Indiewire investigation into the show’s record of diversity in its hosting choices.

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