SNL was the original show made for YouTube before there was even an internet. I have to tell you that SNL has not aged well.
First published in October 2019.
My girlfriend often falls asleep to Saturday Night Live clips. I mean that as a compliment. Usually, she’ll point out segments I might like. This past weekend, it was the Joker parody, The Grouch. I got a chuckle out of it (and a dark premonition that a similarly gritty ‘Sesame Street’ movie will inevitably be made), but other than that I’m done with SNL, at least until I again forget why I stopped watching it two decades ago.
“The reason why ‘SNL’ ultimately doesn’t matter is that the show never developed a point of view. Originally, the program produced some pretty good guerrilla theater, but with its success, it quickly evolved into a smug exercise in slash-and-burn humor – anarchy for its own sake. Nothing of value was ever left standing. This was a major failing, I think, because great satire has always had some sort of moral underpinnings – just ask Richard Pryor or Lily Tomlin.”
— Gary Trudeau, The People’s Doonesbury: Notes from Underfoot.
I didn’t get into SNL until college, from 1991 to 1994. It was part of our regular weekend gatherings in my dorm room, as I was the only one in our circle with a TV. Eventually, we stopped watching it. While one could attribute it to us going through our own lives, it didn’t help that the show stopped being funny. Or rather, it was funny for bursts, but a whole hour and a half? Most of us were checked out well before the guest music artists played a second time.
The show was always good in short bursts, running out of steam eventually. There’s a reason why we all like the same three clips of Chris Farley abusing himself or the first couple of times we heard Adam Sandler’s voice affection while ignoring all the others. SNL was the original show made for YouTube before there was even an internet. That’s why we had the idea to watch a playlist on Hulu; and just from that I have to tell you that SNL has not aged well. You don’t need to read internet clickbait articles to tell you that.
Just going over a random playlist, in one sitting, my girlfriend and I broke down the categories for the string of sketches into three categories: Adults pretending to be children, sexual harassment and even homophobia with the hard to find online Wayne’s World asking John Goodman’s character “A homo says what?” over and over.
Thankfully, she fell asleep before “Canteen Boy and the Scoutmaster” with Adam Sandler and Alec Baldwin, which now comes with a disclaimer that the ‘boy’ being molested is an adult acting like a child. Which makes it okay now. I guess.
Baldwin was able to bounce back from this skit about molesting children/manchildren and return multiple times to SNL, where he now appears as Donald Trump, a real-life person who has openly addressed his desires to molest women. This will not be a good look as time passes.
What already looks bad is that Sinead O’Connor, who tore a picture of the Pope on air to protest against sex abuse in the Catholic Church, has never been invited back, the segment just a memory even on most of the web.
I used to enjoy the “Sinatra Group” sketch for Phil Hartman, but now I just see the sketch as a way to dump further on O’Connor, who was has remained persona non grata ever since and was even called “selfish” for interrupting the flow of a Stuart Smalley sketch.
This is why SNL is best watched in quick ‘bursts.’ The more aware you are of its entire history, the more difficult it is to buy that the show has progressed at all. Even the last couple of seasons as they pushed the women cast members forward as if it’s a truly progressive show. It’s hard to buy this when you see the history of the show, headed by the same person for almost fifty years, and its treatment of Jane Curtin, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Janeane Garafalo and others.
If it’s not really progressive, then why jab at Donald Trump at all? Because he was there.
“Mort Sahl tells the story of visiting a writer on the set of Saturday Night Live during its early, headier days. A skit about Henry Kissinger had been scheduled, so Sahl, who kept voluminous files about the Secretary of State, coyly asked the writer why he was attacking Kissinger. “Because he’s in charge,” came the self-satisfied reply. That was all. Not a word about the criminal bombing of Cambodia. The motivation was nothing more than the banal, adolescent need to strike at someone in authority.”
— Gary Trudeau, Flashbacks: Twenty-Five Years of Doonesbury.
Trump was an entertainment darling before he was president, and if Sean Spicer’s failing upward (or falling sideways, or whatever you want to call it) is any indication, Trump will be back on SNL playing himself and taking a photo opp with Baldwin. That’s why they never tried to have Kathy Griffin come to the show with her Kellyanne Conway impression. Same with Rosie O’Donnel, who was turned down to play Steve Bannon. Even as the world burns – literally, in some parts – show business doesn’t want to risk burning bridges.
Even before the recent controversy with Shane Gillis, there’s plenty of evidence in plain sight that shows how SNL caters as much to the right as it does to the left. Much more to the right, I’d wager. For every show like “30 Rock,” you have a dozen Sandler movies. For every Leslie Jones, you have a Colin Quinn (who once downplayed the Abu Ghraib scandal.) For every Dennis Miller, you have, well, a Dennis Miller.
Is SNL still funny? Occasionally, yes. But so much bloom has come off in the last three years that I know if I go and look back on the other shows, I’m just going to go back to wondering why the show gave Trump a forum to begin with.
Is it brave comedy? Maybe a dose here and there, but hardly overall. It was cathartic for me – for a while – but after a while you have to unhook yourself from their unique blend of anesthesia and get to work. The skits of Stormy Daniels bringing down the White House are just as much fantasy as any other involving Stormy Daniels.
Now, inviting Kathy Griffin to host with musical guest Sinead O’Connor? That might be a start. I might even watch that live.🔷
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