Is Saturday Night Live Salvageable?
We know that hating on Saturday Night Live isn’t exactly original, but the premiere of Season 36(!), which was hosted by SNL alum Amy Poehler and featured Katy Perry as the musical guest, took things to an entirely new level of awful. It was an undeniable disaster. The majority of the skits relied on middle school humor rather than anything that required thought— gags that centered around pubic hair transplants, big bouncing boobs, and a one-legged woman who farts. Even the SNL Digital Short, which in recent seasons has become a comedic crutch for the show (and usually the only thing people still remember on Monday morning) fell flat.
So what gives? Is this the fault of bad writing? A cast that relies too heavily on too few key players? Too much emphasis on celebrity, and not enough on comedic talent? After the jump, we’ll use Saturday night’s episode to explore the greater problems facing this series, and attempt to do some problem solving— because let’s face it, as long as Lorne Michaels is still alive, SNL isn’t going anywhere. And as pop culture masochists, unable to breakup with the show after decades of watching, neither are we.
Unless it’s tied to the presidential race, cut the opening skit. Name a funny opening skit from recent years that didn’t involve Tina Fey lampooning Sarah Palin. You can’t. Not only was Kristen Wiig rather unconvincing in her portrayal of Christine O’Donnell, but the show’s writers managed to take incredibly rich source material — involving a double whammy of witchcraft and masturbation — and make it totally unfunny. Bottom line: We usually spend the majority of the opening skit trying to guess which one of the actors is going to be the one to say, “And live, from New York, it’s Saturday night!” Why not just cut to the chase, have the host say it, and go straight into the opening monologue?
The opening monologue: go big or go home. We’ve seen a lot of people who we usually find hilarious bomb in this more stand-up style scenario — in many cases it’s like an open mic night gone wrong. And then there are dramatic actors (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, hello!) who go out there and totally surprise you. Poehler’s opener was OK, but it relied too heavily on the cameos in her dream sequence — Justin Timberlake, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey, and Jimmy Fallon. In general, our notes for this part of the show would be unless you’re going to wow us with a big stage number, or you happen to be Betty White, keep it short and sweet and leave the audience wanting more instead of feeling sorry for you. In most casts, there will be plenty of time for that later.
Actors only in the skits, please. We’ve always found the ladies of “Bronx Beat” hilarious, and it was awesome to see Maya Rudolph and Poehler back in action. But throwing Katy Perry (and her big bouncing Elmo boobs) into the mix to freshen things up just seemed like the writers were being lazy. We groaned when she appeared in the Digital Short too — although to be fair, that little piece of randomness (The Oscars?! It’s September.) did a great job of sucking without any help from her. Regardless, we’re firmly against musical guests making cameos in skits. It’s usually more awkward hearing musicians use their “actor” voice than it is funny. One notable exception to this rule: Justin Timberlake.
Don’t try to be super current. How many times did they say “bed bugs” in Saturday’s episode? Was it just us, or did the mention of Lady Gaga’s meat dress feel incredibly dated? And that skit about the “Ground Zero” mosque? We live in a plugged-in society where the news cycle is incredibly fast. Any attempts to try and prove how relevant you are will only make you sound like someone’s clueless parents trying to be hip. The best Saturday Night Live skits all have a timeless quality to them. If something won’t be funny to people a month from now, don’t run it.
Repeated absurdity doesn’t always equal funny. So there was this one really weird skit where Poehler and Wiig played two ladies who lunch battling it out to see who could wear the tiniest hat. And it dragged on and on and on. If you’re going to be hitting the same visual punchline over and over again, then the writing (and even more so your starting concept) needs to be sharper. Maybe the Monty Python guys or The Kids in the Hall could have pulled off something this wacky, but it’s just not what SNL is good at — at least not since the days of Land Shark.
Never ever admit how bad things have gotten. When the real Governor Paterson came out during a Weekend Update parody of him, what he said was funny because it was true: “I wanted to come here tonight to tell you that working in Albany is just like watching SNL: There’s a lot of characters, it’s funny for ten minutes, and then you just want it to be over.” Was it just us, or did it look like Poehler and Seth Meyers both agreed with him? Granted, she’s no longer on the show and he’s probably hoping to spin that ESPYS gig into something more. But come on, at least you guys have to act like you think it’s funny.