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SNL: So Not Laughable

What can I say about the current season about Saturday Night Live that hasn’t been said about the Avian Flu? [cue rimshot] Thank you… I’ll be here all week!

For me, and everyone I knew, Saturday Night Live became must-see TV in the mid-80s. People of my generation were too young to catch the original cast… blissfully ignorant of the doomed 1980 season after the originals left… and just catching on as Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo rejuvenated the show in 1982-1983. When I was 10 or so, I saw Eddie Murphy on a “Best of” SNL playing the role of Tyrone Green, an inmate performing poetry in a wonderful mockumentary about the giants of prison literature (aka, the C-I-L-L my landlord sketch). Then, Mr. T and one of the female cast members did a commercial parody for “Mr. and Mrs. T Bloody Mary Mix.” Later, Eddie imitated Stevie Wonder while Stevie himself was in the same sketch (with Stevie playing the role of a bad Stevie Wonder imitator). I can’t describe how good that one was, but I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve caught probably 95% of the shows. And, as you would expect over that time, there have been droughts and hiccups. In many ways, it’s always been like following a pro sports team. You lose talent, have some fits and starts, sign some promising rookies, let them develop, have a couple of great seasons, lose some talent to retirement (or bad movie roles), ad infinitum. For example, after Eddie and Joe left, the show foundered for a bit. The season featuring Anthony Michael Hall and Robert Downey Jr. (let that rattle around your brain for a second) was gawd-awful, but soon Dana Carvey, Dennis Miller and the incomparable Phil Hartman showed up. Happy (and funny days) were here again.

So, I thought that when Will Ferrell left a few years back, the show would dip for a bit. I mean, the guy just carried so many sketches. By the end of his tenure, I think he was daring writers to come up with lame ideas just to see if he could pull it off. “OK, I’m an overbearing doctor who just says awful things to patients? Gold!” Ferrell could take any sketch and make if funny. To this day, if you mention “Get off the shed” or “I DRIVE A DODGE STRATUS!” to my friends, you wouldn’t get puzzled looks. Just a giggle and a nod in remembrance to Will. When he left, it was a huge moment for the show. If this was a sports team, it was like the early 90s Chicago Bulls losing MJ (remember the Kukoc/Pippen season of ’94?).

Unlike other “troughs,” the show hasn’t bounced back. It keeps getting worse. And I can’t quite figure it out. It’s like watching a frustrating NBA team (like the Portland Trailblazers every season, it seems) where the talent is there, but nothing happens. Except the SNL’ers are just having babies and giggling during sketches, not committing felonies (like the Jailblazers).

Take this week, for instance. My DVR recorded the rerun of the 2005 season premiere with Steve Carrell and Kanye West at 11:30. That show should have been a killer. These were two of the hottest entertainers. They even brought back Mike Myers to have a run-in with Kanye about the whole “George Bush doesn’t like black people” rant. The whole show was barely laughable instead. They actually tried to parody the JetBlue crisis, where people on a troubled airliner followed their own situation through onboard TV sets. Yeah, that’s a hilarious premise. What’s next? A spoof on radiation treatment for cancer patients?

Fortunately, NBC (at least where I live) shows an encore presentation of SNL at 2 a.m. Sunday morning. This week’s hop in the Wayback Machine featured Robin Williams and Paul Simon from the 1986 timeframe. Each sketch sparkled. Robin Williams was at his most manic best… the man must have been completely coked out of his mind. The writing was tight, timely and original. Why is it so hard to even approach that level again?

I read a column by ESPN’s Sports Guy saying that HBO should start it’s own sketch comedy show and run it against SNL. With the creative vision that HBO gives its shows — and the utter lack of much censorship — it would undoubtedly be a force to reckon with. Much as I hate to admit it, it might be the only solution for SNL. Lorne Michaels is asleep at the switch. Will Ferrell, Phil Hartman and Dana Carvey are not at 30 Rock. Neither are Al Franken or A. Whitney Brown on the writing side. You can’t bring Alec Baldwin back every week (although he’s probably hanging around the set, anyway). So, maybe some competition will stir the pot.

Until then, I’ll continue to DVR the show… and fast-forward through horrid sketches. I have over 20 years invested in this show. I follow its ups and downs more than I do with any sports team (besides my college alma mater). I still see talent there. The kid who did the Pacino impression earlier this season is brilliant. Of course, he gets only a sketch or two a night — way to go, Lorne. Amy Poehler is fantastic and has become a good “go-to” person in the cast. So, I’m not giving up. At least not yet.

Categories: TV
  1. backdorr
    December 6, 2005 at 3:15 am

    I want to see Hader’s Walken impression

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