Election Day Special: The Raven Returns

GET OUT THERE AND VOTE! Jim Carrey Spoofs "The Raven" for SNL

First and foremost, VOTE!

Today’s the day, and in honor of this critical election (and, who am I kidding, to take my mind off things), let’s take a quick look at SNL’sHalloween 2020 episode cold open.

Guess who’s back? Edgar Allan Poe, y’all! Autumn really is his season. He has so many delightfully dark and creepy poems (my favorite is “The Conqueror Worm,” but a poem about how the worms that feast on our corpses has the last laugh doesn’t adapt as well to parody, I guess) but “The Raven” has real staying power during spooky season.

Like The Simpsons episode I wrote about in a previous post, the cold open for Season 46 Episode 5 of SNL includes a reading of some of the actual text of Poe’s 1845 poem. In the iconic Treehouse of Horror episode, the entire poem is read out, but here the writers have had a lot of fun with the poem’s text.

Though they (quite admirably!) try to retain much of Poe’s ABCBBB rhyme scheme and internal rhymes (think “napping” and “tapping” in the original poem) for a while, much of the sketch’s humor comes from the fact that Hillary Clinton (Kate McKinnon) and Nate Silver (Mikey Day) have so much to say and so much fear and anxiety coursing through their veins that they end up just speaking in normal sentences and breaking the spell of the poem.

Rather than donning a raven suit or “becoming” the raven, à la The Simpsons, McKinnon wears a black cape with a faux raven perched on her shoulder as a sidelong glance at the original source material, which was cute. Like the raven in the poem, she swans around her corner of the set and fans the flames of our fears about the election results.

Jim Carrey is also back as Chiclet-toothed Joe Biden, who tells the audience he’s going to take everyone’s minds off things by reading them a scary “story” (he later refers to it as a “classic poem”), which gets at the poem’s highly narrative style. “I took some artistic liberties to preserve my rhyme scheme,” he says.

Though he’s holding and pretending to read from an actual collection of Poe’s work, Carrey only gets as far as the phrase “Once upon a midnight dreary…” before the SNL writers take over: he finishes the line with “…while Trump retweeted QAnon theories”

The refrain of “Nevermore” in this parody has been replaced with phrases that rhyme with it: a nice nod to the source material. The haunting phrase “We lost before,” the ghost of “Al Gore,” and the terrifying reminder Nate Silver issues—“I was wrong before!”—all get at real fears, which is a smart move for this parody. It actually is scary when you remove the laughter and think about what the folks on stage are saying.

While watching, I was reminded of poetry’s power to address fears and the catharsis that it can provide. Yes, we are all trying to swaddle ourselves in self-care rituals these days, but as Jess Zimmerman pointed out in a recent Slate article, sometimes you just want to lie on the ground and scream. Sometimes we need to just say the worst-case scenarios out loud, as Carrey, McKinnon, and Day do here. Sometimes we just need to parody a 19th-century dead guy and have a laugh before flipping back to the news.

To quote Carrey-as-Biden, “we must do better / than that spray-tanned superspreader.” If you haven’t already, get out there and vote so that we can say to Trump: Nevermore.