UPDATED WITH VIDEO In the final and strangely powerful Saturday Night Live opening sketch before the presidential election, Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon broke character, doffed their Trump and Hillary impressions and implored Americans to, as a teary McKinnon said, “choose what kind of country we want to live in.”
SNL‘s cold open sketch started off as usual this season, with Baldwin and McKinnon reprising their remarkably popular political satire before Baldwin suddenly loosened his Trump scowl, dropped his insults and spoke in his real voice. “I’m sorry, Kate, I just hate yelling all this stuff at you like this,” he said in an obviously scripted but effective move. The camera pulled back to show the two actors, previously seen in split screen, standing together on the 30 Rock stage.
“I just feel gross all the time,” Baldwin said, turning to the audience and asking, “I mean don’t you guys feel gross all the time about this?”
“You know what I think would help us?” McKinnon asked. Let’s get out of here.”
Then, in a pre-taped segment, the duo bolted from 30 Rock, running and dancing through Times Square and hugging passersby, even a man in a “Trump That Bitch” t-shirt (who may or may not have been an SNL plant).
When the duo returned to the the live stage, an emotional Baldwin looked into the camera and said, “Now it’s time to get out there and vote. None of this will have mattered if you don’t vote.”
McKinnon, her eyes sincerely welling, said, “And we can’t tell you who to vote for but on Tuesday we all get a chance to choose what kind of country we want to live in.”
With that, the pair yelled the traditional, “And live, from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
Before the shift in tone, the opening sketch had followed the running routine’s usual beats, with Baldwin’s boastful and petulant Trump insulting McKinnon’s newly unconfident Clinton.
Cecily Strong joined this week as CNN’s Erin Burnett, who seemed constitutionally incapable of discussing anything but Clinton’s missing emails. Not even Trump smooching with an FBI agent, a shirtless Putin and a hooded Klansman could divert her attention.
The mood-shifting opener marks the second time in as many nights that TV comedians got serious as November 8 approaches. On Friday’s Real Time With Bill Maher, the HBO talk show host repeatedly and forcefully ditched humor to express his anger and anxiety over the possibility of a Trump victory.
Tonight’s SNL, with host Benedict Cumberbatch and musical guest Solange, was the program’s final appeal to viewers – at least live. On Monday, NBC will air a primetime SNL Election Special of highlights from this season’s zeitgeist-catching political parodies and previous appearances but the real Trump and Clinton. The hourlong telecast is set for 10 pm ET/PT, taking full advantage of the show’s recent ratings boost: SNL has delivered its most-watched season at this point in eight years, averaging 7.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen, with “substantial” adds via time-shifting and VOD.