Emmy episode analysis: Glory ‘Hallelujah’ for Kate McKinnon’s performance as Hillary Clinton on ‘SNL’

Garnering her fifth Emmy nomination this year for Best Comedy Supporting Actress is Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”). The defending champ after a surprise win in 2016, McKinnon has this year submitted for voters’ consideration the sixth episode of the 42nd season, hosted by Dave Chappelle.

This episode was the show’s first after Donald Trump‘s upset victory in the 2016 presidential election, and it opens on a somewhat sorrowful note, as McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton sits at a piano and delivers a bittersweet rendition of Leonard Cohen‘s stirring song “Hallelujah.” At the end of the performance, McKinnon turns to the camera and says, “I’m not giving up, and neither should you.”

Later in the episode, McKinnon delivers big laughs during “Weekend Update” as she takes on the role of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The 83-year-old reassures her fans she’ll continue to serve on the court through the Trump presidency, declaring “the bench is now my porch” and downing an entire package of Emergen-C.

In her third and final appearance in the episode, McKinnon’s recurring character Sheila Sovage falls head-over-heels for the equally enamored Corey Dipships (Chappelle) at a bar. But their very public displays of affection don’t sit well with their nauseated bartender (Kenan Thompson).

Could this episode deliver a second consecutive Emmy for McKinnon? Let’s consider the pros and cons.


Like Alec Baldwin‘s Donald Trump, McKinnon’s Clinton was among the most discussed and acclaimed comic performances of this television season. While McKinnon had countless memorable skits portraying the former secretary of state, there was perhaps no moment as indelible as this episode’s melancholy cold open and her exquisite cover of the classic Cohen tune. This scene on its own could deliver McKinnon an Emmy victory, but she has two other fabulously funny skits here too, for a combined total of about 15 minutes of screen time.

Also helping McKinnon is her presence in the episodes submitted by fellow “Saturday Night Live” nominees Vanessa Bayer and Leslie Jones. If voters are watching the episodes then McKinnon has the benefit of three submissions for the price of one.

While McKinnon appears only briefly in Bayer’s submission, hosted by Dwayne Johnson, she has a healthy 20 minutes of screen time in Jones’s submission, hosted by Tom Hanks. That episode includes an extended cold open lampooning the third presidential debate between Clinton and Trump and also features McKinnon in an additional two sketches. Overall, McKinnon has nearly 40 minutes of material in these three submissions combined.

Another positive for McKinnon: Allison Janney (“Mom”), who ruled this category in 2014 and 2015, is now out of the way, moving up to the Best Comedy Actress race.


While the nominations for Bayer and Jones give Emmy voters more wonderful McKinnon material to chew on, their presence also perhaps creates the possibility of vote-splitting from “Saturday Night Live” fans in the TV academy. On only one past occasion have three nominees from the same series graced Best Comedy Supporting Actress in the same year — Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon (“Sex and the City”) in 2004 — and vote-splitting was not an issue, as Nixon prevailed on Emmy night. But that was under a different Emmy system that benefited multiple nominees. The new plurality vote instituted in 2016 is less advantageous to co-stars from the same show.

This category occasionally produces shocking upsets, like Jaime Pressly (“My Name is Earl,” 2007), Jean Smart (“Samantha Who,” 2008), and Merritt Wever (“Nurse Jackie,” 2013), so nothing is quite set in stone.

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