Sarah Palin aces her Saturday Night Live gig.

Sarah Palin aces her Saturday Night Live gig.

Sarah Palin aces her Saturday Night Live gig.

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Oct. 19 2008 4:04 PM

Live From Wasilla …

Sarah Palin did just enough on Saturday Night Live.

Sarah Palin materialized on Saturday Night Live this weekend and deserves high marks for her small contribution. Having temporarily shelved her snideness of tone, she earned an A for delivery by simply doing her thing as a home-baked cutie-pie. Indeed, SNL required her to do little other than lend out her aura, confining the terms of her performance such that you'd have to give her an A for effort, too.

In a cold open depicting "the governor's first official press conference," a woman took the stage with a familiar gait—that self-assured business-casual prance—and the viewer felt a moment's uncanny confusion before understanding that this was not the candidate but Tina Fey's Palin doppelgänger. The real thing soon appeared, watching her double's take on a monitor alongside SNL creator Lorne Michaels. Michaels: "I really wish that that had been you." Palin: "Well, Lorne, you know, I just didn't think it was a realistic depiction of how one of my press conferences woulda gone." Eventually, Hollywood liberal Alec Baldwin stomped in, initially mistaking Palin for Fey and expressing outrage that the candidate was defiling Studio 8H with her presence. Once properly introduced, Baldwin checked his feelings for the hockey mom: "Forgive me, but I feel I must say this: You are way hotter in person."

These two themes—the guest's image-consciousness and her hotness—were also central to the bit that concluded "Weekend Update." Here was Palin explaining to Seth Meyers that she wouldn't do the hip-hop number she'd rehearsed: "My gut is telling me it might be a bad idea for the campaign." A vastly pregnant Amy Poehler, as if an understudy, rose to the challenge, shifted into her bellicose home-girl mode, and spit rhymes in the governor's stead: "I'm Jeremiah Wright cuz tonight I'm a preacher/ I got a bookish look, and you're all hot for teacher." This was inspired—and not merely at the delirious level of Jason Sudeikis' dancing the Roger Rabbit as a snowsuit-clad first dude. Just as one of Fey's recent Palin sketches relied on a verbatim transcript of a real interview, the number simply recast Palin's positions, her jingoism, and her steady aggression as something you could dance to. Is there a more elegant analysis of the rhetoric of this campaign's mud-slinging than Poehler's call-and-response barking? ("When I say 'Obama,' you say 'Ayers'!") Not that there was anything too provocative in it. The whole point of Sarah Palin's going on Saturday Night Live was the going itself. All she was supposed to do was to play along. When Poehler made her out as a gangsta rousing a crowd—"All the mavericks in the house put your hands up"—Palin needed only to dull whatever the edge the assault might have had by putting her arms in the air and waving them very carefully.

Troy Patterson is Slate’s writer at large and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.