Critic Confessions: It’s Time for ‘SNL’ to Go
Politics aside, 'Saturday Night Live' has outlived its creative usefulness, cultural clout
As a boy I was obsessed with “Charlie’s Angels,” “Battle of the Network Stars” and Mr. Bill.
The latter came as part of the mysterious, oh-so-adult “Saturday Night Live.” The NBC sketch comedy show felt dangerous and raw to me at the time. I didn’t “get” the show’s cultural significance, nor did I understand how many superstars were being generated before my eyes.
- John Belushi
- Bill Murray
- Chevy Chase
- Dan Aykroyd
- Gilda Radner
I just loved the anarchy that played out each Saturday night, along with that doomed clay figure with the high-pitched squeal.
Most Saturdays I fell asleep long before Don Pardo announced the show’s arrival. The times I managed to stay awake, though, felt like I was breaking some sort of law.
My love for “Saturday Night Live” spanned decades, from Norm Macdonald’s eccentric Weekend Updates to the character-generating machine that gave us Pat, Wayne, The Copy Machine Guy and more.
Things change. So do people, of course. I eventually became a Hollywood reporter and, over time, embraced my right-of-center views. I couldn’t miss “SNL’s” evolution from a “take no prisoners” political showcase to one that picked sides in the most obvious way possible.
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It’s why I’ve spent years mocking the show, calling out its overt propaganda and pining for the more balanced format it once embraced. I stopped watching “SNL” live as part of that process, catching up with individual clips on YouTube for work purposes only.
Last night I watched the show again, from start to finish, for yet another assignment. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I did that, eschewing YouTube clips for the Real McCoy … and live, no less.
The show I’ve been hammering for years is actually worse than I feared.
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The format, of course, is hopelessly tired. Cold open. Monologue. Sketch-Sketch-Musical Performance-Weekend Update. The later sketches are almost always the worst, reminding me why the show should have shaved off its final half hour years ago.
The sketches rarely made me smile during the Elon Musk-hosted episode, let alone laugh. They fit familiar molds, like an Icelandic talk show letting the cast members act goofy. The bit reminded me that, in just a few years (or even months), the woke mob may deem it offensive to poke fun at other cultures like this.
Team “SNL” will probably apologize and vow to never stage it again.
One bit in particular, people partying as local COVID-19 restrictions lift, told me just how toothless the show had become. Faced with so much rich material worth parodying, from Liberals who want to wear masks indefinitely to lockdown rules that make zero scientific sense, “SNL” delivered a tepid take that grew tired minutes before the sketch mercifully ended.
Comedians like Nick DiPaolo and Tim Dillon will speak some truth to power on the pandemic, or at least raise thoughtful questions. Not “SNL.” Not any more. Too problematic, too risky to defy the groupthink.
Heck, the fact that Dr. Anthony Fauci and his Amazing Moving Goalposts isn’t a recurring character on the show speaks volumes.
And can we stop with the show’s “mask on, mask on” theatrics, please? The cast members perform every skit, live or taped, without a mask but then assemble at show’s end all masked up.
FAST FACT: George Carlin served as the very first “Saturday Night Live” host on Oct. 11, 1975.
It’s also worth noting “SNL” hasn’t created a breakout movie star since Will Ferrell departed in 2002. That’s nearly 20 years, for those lacking an abacus, and it’s a subject for a separate column on the death of big-screen comedies.
The current cast is talented, no doubt, but the format does them few favors. More noticeable? There’s no one person who seems ripe for breakout status. Kate McKinnon, who appears out the door based on her recent, cryptic interview, is the most talented member of the bunch. Her Frances McDormand impression Saturday was both spare and perfect, down to the actress’ dowdy Oscar dress and penetrating stare.
Hollywood hasn’t figured out how to make McKinnon a movie star quite yet. Those Lady “Ghostbusters” didn’t do the trick, apparently.
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So what’s left on “SNL” today? The Weekend Update segment, swimming in smugness, is so blatantly one-sided it dims any comic sparkle. Co-hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che cough up a few wry one-liners, but it’s not enough to compensate for the lame characters who pop up regularly.
I’m not sure on what planet this bit is funny, but it’s not Earth.
“SNL” isn’t going away, of course. The show has survived countless “SNL Is Dead” headlines over the years, and before the Biden administration the show’s ratings proved robust enough to keep the comic trains chugging along.
Creator Lorne Michaels is hanging on to his institution with everything he has, likely hoping it can sway another election cycle. He clearly lost interest in entertaining one half of the country. His pose of being fair and balanced is the funniest part of his dying empire.
The saddest part of the modern “SNL,” though, is easy to spot.
America needs “SNL” now … more than ever. Our mainstream media is corrupt beyond measure. Politicians on both sides of the aisle desperately need a fair, and outrageously funny, takedown. We no longer can fully trust institutions like the CDC, the FBI and more.
“SNL” should be on the front lines of the culture wars, using humor to taunt these institutions into getting their acts together. Instead, Weekend Update calls President Trump a “white supremacist” for the umpteenth time and cast members mull taking a knee over an eccentric billionaire hosting the show.
Said cast didn’t blink an eye over Alec Baldwin dropping by the show to impersonate President Trump despite a personal history that should have gotten him canceled.
Hiring Musk in the first place felt closer to the show’s DNA than anything we’ve seen from “SNL” in ages. Still, when you hire geniuses like Dave Chappelle to host the show, and you don’t let them fully loose in ways to make everyone on and off stage uncomfortable, you’re doing something wrong.
The little boy in me wants “SNL” to stay forever young and on the air, still dangerous and willing to go where other comic institutions won’t. The older, grayer me sees a cultural institution rotting from the inside out and wishes for someone, anyone, to pull the plug.