Love or hate her, you can surely say this for Sarah Palin: She drives web traffic, she drives blood pressure rates, she drives interest in "Saturday Night Live," and she drives appreciation for Tina Fey -- enough, I'm hoping, that more people will tune into "30 Rock" when it premieres on October 30. The frenzy she's injected into this political season will surely be a boost for "Weekend Update Thursday," the series of election specials that will premiere this Thursday night at 9:30.
Fey, who reportedly resisted playing Palin at the start -- she told Lorne Michaels that she wasn't an impressionist -- has inhabited this part as if she were born to play it. And Palin is certainly a gift to comediennes; I can't think of anyone on the political stage who has played her own role so broadly. Does she know that what she's contributed most to this election ramp-up is a heightened sense of entertainment? (If it weren't accompanied with such rancor, from both sides, it would be something of a relief.) This week's debate sketch was probably my favorite of the "SNL" Palin sketches so far, which has a lot to do with the raw material. If the Katie Couric interviews were all about discomfort, last week's vice presidential debate was all about showmanship.
The sketch was probably a bit of national catharsis. Nearly 70 million people watched the actual debate, hoping for fireworks or major gaffes, and not getting quite enough of either. "Saturday Night Live" stripped away the facts and partisanship and reduced the debate to its raw material: personality. I think I laughed hardest when Fey-as-Palin referenced the drinking game -- "Maverick!" she said proudly into the camera, then pantomimed chugging a beer -- though I also giggled a lot when Jason Sudeikis, as Joe Biden, launched into a monologue about the awfulness of Scranton. Getting spoofed by "SNL" is a badge of honor, and Biden should be proud. But he should also know that far fewer people would have watched (and forwarded, and clicked) if he had been debating, say, Mitt Romney.