Sunday, December 7, 2008

On the State of Saturday Night Live

I first got into watching SNL when I was in high school. Whenever I babysat, my thing was, after I put the kids to bed, I'd do my homework, then go downstairs into the basement to watch SNL.

I started watching during the second phase of its glory years, with the cast that boasted such wonderful comedians as Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, and Chris Rock. Who can forget such iconic characters and skits as Wayne's World, Nat X, Sprockets, and Weekend Update with Dennis Miller? Who can forget Phil Hartman's impersonations of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton (especially Bill Clinton?)

My love of SNL led me to discover the first troupe, and to this day, I still feel is the best, of Not Ready for Prime Time Players: Dan Akroyd, Jane Curtin, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner, to name a few. Ahhhhhhh, Gilda. She was one of my comedic inspirations growing up, and remains a favorite to this day. (She, Carol, and Patti are my top 3 entertainers). Some say that when it first aired, back in 1975, there was nothing like it on television. I like to think that, during its first few seasons, it was a much racier version of The Carol Burnett Show. While The Carol Burnett Show was gentle, but sharp, in its parodies, SNL had nothing genteel about it. It did not mince words, or names, in its satire.

Fast forward to the present day. SNL has remained a habit, if only because, well, it's a habit that's hard to break. Lately, every episode I watch has more cringe-worthy moments that just plain worthy moments. Take last night's episode, for example. Host John Malkovich was in two of the worst sketches I have ever seen on the show. In one, he and Fred Armisen played nerdy twins who were obsessing over getting a calculator for Christmas. I didn't know if the sketch was supposed to make fun of the fact that they were nerdy, or that it made fun of those who were OCD. I was personally offended by it.

Later in the show was a sketch called "The Lost Works of Judy Blume." John Malkovich portrayed a young teenage girl named "Gertie" struggling to adapt to the changes in her body. No, she's not getting her period--she's turning into a dog. Literally. She complained about growing a tail.

And there was the first SNL Digital Short of the evening--Virgania Horton's Pony Express, featuring Kristen Wiig acting like a really lame mail lady. It was as dumb as the title.

Now before you call me a hypocrite because I posted clips of last night's show that I enjoyed, let me just say that moments like those are fewer nowadays. Also note that both of the clips that I posted had to do with political humor. Yes, I enjoy political humor tremendously. SNL has always shined in the political humor arena, and it capitalized on this--very well, might I add--during this last election. Tina Fey's impression of Sarah Palin was nothing short of brilliant, and critics will argue for years to come that she very well may have helped sway the election. My favorite sketch from that time was the one that spoofed the Biden-Palin debate. I may just post that clip sometime.

However, the election's now over, and SNL can't depend on political humor all the time. I don't know where the writers are getting their ideas. Last night's episode was rather painful to watch. Most of this season has been difficult to watch. Other than Kristen Wiig's sketches, which include her impression of Suze Orman and her hilarious Target lady, SNL has not been doing so well.

I know I'm writing about an oft-debated topic here. Critics have debated for years about SNL's relevance. It goes through phases where it's not so great, then eras when it's fantastic, with some classic performances. I know it's premature to declare SNL dead, but TV execs have little patience these days. One low rating and you're canceled. Plus, how many other channels are out there?

I'm not watching next week, though, even though Hugh Laurie and Kanye West are the host and musical guest. I'm watching some friends perform in the "Messiah." Legend has it that the king fell asleep during the performance, only to have the "Hallelujah Chorus" wake him up.

Saturday Night Live, where's your hallelujah chorus?

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