Emmy episode analysis: Kate McKinnon (‘Saturday Night Live’) gives it her Clinton-esque best

Saturday Night Live” regular Kate McKinnon has now earned her third straight Best Comedy Supporting Actress Emmy nomination for the late-night sketch series. McKinnon, who’s been on a career roll for her “SNL” take on Hillary Clinton and as the breakout performer from this summer’s “Ghostbusters,” selected as her Emmy submission the March 12 episode with host and musical guest Ariana Grande.

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McKinnon, who is usually a regular in every episode’s cold open, doesn’t appear until 13 minutes into the show, and it’s with two filmed pieces – a Clinton pitch to millennials and a female ensemble music video called “#FeministSong.” It isn’t until the 23-minute mark where she first appears live onstage, and it becomes abundantly clear why we haven’t seen her live so far. In the sketch “True Tales from the Sea,” McKinnon is buried under elaborate makeup as a man-hungry mermaid who looks like a walrus and tries to seduce a very reluctant shipwrecked sailor into marriage.

The final two McKinnon appearances in the episode constitute ensemble work – as a space cadet-like Tilda Swinton in a “Celebrity Family Feud” parody and as a singing nun in a spoof of “The Sound of Music.” Will the variety she displays in this episode be enough to earn her first Emmy? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons:

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McKinnon’s career is on a tear with five theatrical films set for 2016 release alone, and with three successive nominations in this category, Emmy voters might decide it’s time to give reigning two-time champ Allison Janney (“Mom”) a rest and reward a hot performer on the upswing.

The strength of her submission likely rests on two sketches. As her walrus-like mermaid, McKinnon is the focus of the sketch with all of the funniest jokes which she embellishes with hilarious line readings and lots of inappropriate uses of her tongue.

The Clinton sketch has become one of this season’s most celebrated efforts as it came at a time in the primary season when Clinton was being accused of co-opting Bernie Sanders’ message in order to poach some of his youthful voters. The filmed piece begins with McKinnon’s usual take on Clinton when suddenly the spirit of Sanders overtakes her, first verbally (a spot-on Sanders imitation by McKinnon) until it finally consumes her whole body, complete with messy gray hair, glasses and a rumpled suit. It’s a tour de force for McKinnon.

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This has proven to be a very difficult category for performers in sketch comedies to win, and a McKinnon victory would be a breakthrough. It’s the up-and-down nature of the material that can work against performers. McKinnon appears in only half of this particular episode, and three of her five sketches are dependable (but not outstanding) ensemble work.

Even in the funny mermaid sketch, she is buried under so much make-up that she’s virtually unrecognizable. Unless you know her voice, it’s difficult to know for sure that it’s McKinnon under there.

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