Saturday Night Live made it a point to be an equal opportunity offender in his first episode after a two-week break. As usual, the opener spoke about the latest news from Donald Trump – specifically about the long-awaited release of the Robert Mueller report – and rewarded the return of Robert De Niro for the fifth and probably last time as Mueller. But the first live sketch of the night was a surprisingly wild look at Empire star Jussie Smollett, who was in the news again this week after Chicago prosecutors stunned the city and the entire nation by dropping all charges against him because he would have undertaken his own attack.
The title ‘Network Meeting’ opens the sketch in a boardroom where a trio of executives played by Mikey Day, Kate McKinnon and Ego Nwodim sit next to Kenan Thompson as co-maker of Empire, Lee Daniels, and the host of the night, Sandra Oh, as Smollett’s manager.
“Give Jussie another chance,” begs Oh, trying to make them forget that her controversial client is two hours late for the meeting. “I just hope it’s not a crazy excuse,” Daniels says with a sigh.
At that moment, Smollett (played by Chris Redd) rushes into the room, holds a plastic bag and wears Trump’s hat, “Make America Great Again.” (Earlier in the week, Trump in the prosecutor’s decision to drop disorderly behavior against the actor, calling it “a shame for our nation,”.) “Guys, you won’t believe what just happened to me,” he says, groaning “Not again” in the room. “I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not,” he says, before confirming their initial suspicions that he’s about to claim that he has been attacked again. “What’s wrong with you, man,” Day’s executive comments. “He means mentally,” Nwodim adds sharply.
Unable to convince them with his words, Smollett hands out his plastic bag to reveal the evidence, and what it indicates about the identity of his attackers. “I think it’s a bag of clues,” he claims, taking out a box of Crest Whitestrips, three oversized red Ks to spell KKK and the purple member of the Teletubbies. “It’s gay,” he points out.
The manager of McKinnon then proposes to call the police, but that is not allowed. “They said I could never call again as part of the deal,” says Smollett, referring to the assumption that in some circles, behind the scenes actions have led to his indictment being dropped.
In real life, Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, has been removed from the latest episodes of Empire’s current season. From now on, no decision has been made as to whether he will return to the show next year, and the actor maintains that he has been honest and fair, as the case has played in the courts and in the media. But in the world of SNL, Smollett is already packing his bags.
“You know we have to fire you, right?” Says Thompson-as-Daniels. He also loses his agent, with Oh cutting him out of her client list. “I just hope he gets the help he needs,” she says. Apparently not. The sketch ends when Smollett enters the room again, this time with a neck brace and dark sunglasses and claims a new attack.
The country undoubtedly reflects its own confusion about the twists and turns in this case, but the SNL audience was not entirely sure how to respond to “Network Meeting.” Most of the one-liners were nervous chuckling instead of big laughs, especially the jokes that explicitly commented on Smollett’s state of mind. The sketch didn’t really go well on social media either.
Interestingly, on the same evening that SNL mocked Smollett, the former Not Ready for Primetime Player, Chris Rock, the actor also burned while he presented a prize at the NAACP Image Awards. (Smollett was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, a statue that replaced Gray’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams.) “What the hell was he thinking?” Allegedly Rock would have said. “From now on you are Jessie from now on. You don’t even get the ‘You’ anymore. That ‘You’ was respect. You don’t get respect from me.” Apparently the same goes for Saturday Night Live.