Sunday, March 14, 2010

RX for SNL

I know this isn't a new thought. People say it every season, in different guises. But really, I just have to add my voice to the chorus (cacophony?), because, as the two or three of you who read this know: I blog when I'm pissed.

Saturday Night Live sucks. (I said it wasn't an original idea.) So yeah, we've heard it all before. It's such a familiar complaint there is backlash to its backlash; it's actually an on-line commenters' cliche to moan, "Oh don't start with the whole, SNL was better back in the John Belushi/Eddie Murphy/Phil Hartman/Tina Fey days, blah blah blah..." Yes, it does have a little echo of "That music you kids listen to is just noise!" But separate my complaint from the "It was better back when" idea for a moment. The fact is, I'm not at all sure it was (entirely) "better back when..." Namely, because "back when..." we were either 9 or stoned. (Hopefully, not both.) And truly: those bees weren't really that funny. So let's just stipulate: SNL has displayed wides swings in quality over 35 years--how could it not?--and even within seasons and episodes. Let's take the historical comparison off the table. Let's talk about now.

So again: right now, SNL just straight up sucks. It really, really does. And I'm watching, honestly. I was thrilled Zach Galifinaikis was hosting, made sure to DVR it in case I got home late. Only to be wildly disappointed. How could SNL squander such a weird and wonderful talent? Does this point to a necrotic center at the heart of the current incarnation of SNL? Lately, the show feels lazy and behind the curve and most importantly, embarrassingly unfunny.

I admit, I have a weird relationship with SNL. So many people I love and trust utterly stopped watching it years ago, or only dip in occasionally (like when Tina Fey deliciously skewered Caribou Barbie during the 2008 campaign). Why do I keep watching? (Besides the sad fact that I'm often home Saturday nights at 11:30. Topic for another post. Maybe.) A lot of it is just...habit I suppose. I grew up with this show. I watched it as a little kid, as a teenager, as a young adult. It feels like an integral part of the weekend, like sleeping in and seeing what new movies are opening. And too, SNL has always felt...important somehow, as the comedy touchstone of the day. Like a silly sister to the New York Times, it's the "show of record". If SNL does something right (like much of their 2008 campaign coverage, or anything that fantastic Justin Timberlake touches) people talk about it. And let's face it, in today's wildly diffuse media world, anything 'people are talking about', I don't want to miss. But man, SNL is not rewarding my loyalty lately.

The sketches are way too reliant (as they have been intermittently for years) on spoofing TV, which I've never quite gotten. Silly game shows and talk shows? Really? Are they so prevalent in our culture that they need spoofing? Last night they went--again--to the bizarre well of some made up, 1960s faux Password. Just so Kristin Wiig (whom I generally love) could play her narcissistic, ignoramus actress character (who lives entirely in the effed up recesses of Wiig's delightful brain; which is...charming? but not necessarily funny), and Jude Law could rock a Russian accent and an outrageously enlarged dance belt. (I could have said "comically enlarged" The 'humor' came from Wiig's character always saying the word she's supposed to get her partner to say (which we've seen her do numerous times before; it was funny once) and Law's cultural confusion (saying vodka is something you drink for breakfast). Ha. Ha ha ha...oh. Sigh. So: Old, used, skit we've seen before that wasn't that funny to start with, combined with Soviet bloc jokes. Really? Is this the stuff that's coursing through the cultural body--Bizarr-o world Margo Channings and 'wodka'-loving Ruskies-- and needs the sharp-eyed skewering of a weekly comedy and satire show?

And so also: the political humor on SNL is alarmingly stale, which in particular saddens me. This should be a place a show like SNL shines. I know the show's never been quite as political as people remember, or as sharp (Chevy Chase constantly toppling over wasn't really a clever take on Gerald Ford). But it does have a history of addressing politics, Weekend Update is the MediCare of the show ("Hands off!") and considering the shitstorm that is contemporary American politics right now, they really should be all over this. There's so much to make fun of out there, whether it's the whacked out Tea Partiers or Glenn Beck or Rahm Emanuel (admittedly, they did a funny, expletive-laden Rahm sketch a few weeks ago) or Michelle Malkin or David Patterson or 'The Family" or D.C. gridlock, or our President smoking (our President smokes!)...why can't they find something in all of this? The Daily Show and the Colbert Report do it four days a week. When SNL tries, they so often fail it's painful to watch. Last week's opener mocked Harry Reid. Harry Reid=not funny. Making fun of Harry Reid? Still=not funny. This week they got on the (former) Congressman Eric Massa bandwagon, with a lame "exit interview". There was literally nothing in the sketch that (kind of) Massa hasn't actually said. The guy admitted to tickling his staffers. Isn't there a way to spin such a wildly weird confession into something even weirder and actually, you know, funny? (Crazy idea: Glenn Beck bitch-slapping Massa after his appearance on Beck's show? Something there? Maybe? Massa and Emanuel in the Congressional shower? Come on, do I have to do everything around here?!)

Complaining about the quality of someone else's work is easy; doing the work is hard. I know the rigors of a weekly show can be deadly. But here's the thing: there are so many great writers out of work right now (I know some of them) that it just pisses me off that the writers on SNL aren't doing a better job. What's going on here? The staff is huge--30 writers according to a blog I found (7 women; just saying). It's obviously an amazing gig, resume wise. They've added some 'new blood' in the past few years, but from what I've heard and read, the environment is so competitive and hierarchical and calcified it's almost impossible for new writers to get their sketches on the air. But...what could the newbies possibly be pitching that's less trenchant and less funny than a sketch about a fake 1960s game show?

I know: who the eff am I? But in one girls' opinion: Lorne, shake this shit up. Implement some new rules for a couple of weeks and just see what happens. Honestly, sadly, this shit can't get much worse. So:

NO sketches that have been done before; I know: But we already have the sets!, but Jesus h. Christ, humor is about surprise. Third time? "What Up With That" isn't surprising any more. And it's certainly not funny.

While we're at it: No skits about any type of "show" at all. Instead of spoofing TV why not just spoof the world? (It's really quite big, you know.) Unctuous game show hosts, clueless contestants and self-obsessed, semi-celebrities just aren't all that new, interesting or worthy of (more) attention.

No Andy Samberg digital short in which he camera hogs as a pathetic dude doing white guy hip hop. (Anyone else as sick of this piss ant as I am?) Give it--and him and us, please--a rest. He's not a genius. It's possible that "Dick in a Box" was an anomaly. Moving on.

Tell Kristin Wiig she has to come up with a new character, or two. She just has to. She possibly is a genius. Make her prove it again and we will fall in love with her again.

When you're all sitting around 30Rock? Try reading the newspaper. Closely. There is some whacked out crazy shit going on out there (not just D.C.; big business anyone?!) and if the giant staff of SNL can't riff on any of it...they may need to be pink slipped. Seriously. And in today's world, there should be plenty of people to take their places.

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