“Yikes,” a visibly flustered Kate McKinnon said as she grabbed her second Emmy statue for her work on Saturday Night Live on Sunday. “Being part of this season of Saturday Night Live is the most meaningful thing I will ever do. Congratulations to our incredible cast,” she added. But just as McKinnon started to thank Hillary Clinton for her “grace and grit,” the orchestra kicked in—prompting McKinnon to hastily switch to thanking her mom. Which is a shame, because McKinnon’s incredible work as Clinton is just one part of how the women of S.N.L. made the show great again last season.
McKinnon’s win may have felt as close to a sure thing as we had in a crowded year, where Oscar winner was pitted against Oscar winner in one category and co-star against co-star in others. McKinnon may have won for gracefully carrying her popular Clinton impression through a tumultuous (and at times emotionally devastating) election season alone. But the way in which she pivoted, post-election, to nimbly skewer other members of the Trump administration, like Kellyanne Conway, Betsy DeVos, and Jeff Sessions, proved that, imported talent like Alec Baldwin and fellow Emmy winner Melissa McCarthy aside, McKinnon remains the show’s most valuable player.
Her back-to-back wins also makes some Emmys history for S.N.L., which has actually seen very few of its regular players nominated (let alone win) in its 42 seasons on air. McKinnon’s double win joins single wins for previous cast members Chevy Chase (1976), Gilda Radner (1978), and Dana Carvey (1993). And that’s it for the permanent cast! The show usually fares better in the star-studded guest acting category, where hosts like Justin Timberlake and Betty White have picked up statues. In recent years, with the exception of back-to-back nominations for Bill Hader in 2012 and 2013, it’s been the women of S.N.L. representing the cast on Emmys night. Former cast members Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig scored three and six nominations, respectively, but this year, the supporting-actress category was crowded with three female S.N.L. players: McKinnon, her fellow Ghostbuster Leslie Jones, and departing cast member Vanessa Bayer. Not bad for a show that once had to make light of its lack of female players during a 1990 Twin Peaks sketch, in which the only two women in the cast—Jan Hooks and Victoria Jackson —had to breathlessly play every female character opposite guest host Kyle MacLachlan. “There’s only two women left on Saturday Night Live,” Kevin Nealon ruefully admitted in character as Sheriff Truman, “and we already used them both up.”