Commentary: ‘Saturday Night Live’ Talent Rich, Laughs Poor

by | October 27, 2009 at 11:16 AM | 42-Inch Television

(NBC)

(NBC)


Ah, the end of October. The time for trick or treating (try to stifle the giggle when someone asks who you’re supposed to be after you show up wearing that Don Draper costume), watching the fall foliage, drinking Starbucks caramel apple spices and reading about the demise of ‘Saturday Night Live.’

As sure as the World Series bound Yankees acquiring a bunch of bandwagon jumpers for fans—I know who you are and, apparently, I follow most of you on Facebook—the 35th season of ‘SNL’ has come under fire because of various creative shortcomings. The jokes aren’t funny! The new cast members stink! The ratings are worse! Lorne Michaels lost his touch!

Is this the end of ‘Saturday Night Live?’ Well, no, probably not.

If all this sounds familiar, that’s probably because you’ve read these stories for the last 35 years and quite possibly could read them for 35 more. And while I’d normally just chalk it up to hysterical Internet hyperbole in an effort to fill up blog space, something about this year feels different. Shouldn’t ‘Saturday Night Live’ be… better?

Watch the latest full episodes of ‘SNL’.

The year-to-date ratings dip aside—obviously without an historic presidential election and Tina Fey’s iconic Sarah Palin impersonation, a smaller audience was to be expected—the show feels somewhat rudderless. While the hosts have been increasingly generic—no offense to Megan Fox, Drew Barrymore, Ryan Reynolds, but not every Hollywood star can take to the sketch comedy format like Alec Baldwin and Tom Hanks—they’re not the problem. As any ‘SNL’ fanatic knows, lots of times the most unexpected hosts are the best ones. (For proof of this, say hello to none other than Gerard Butler, whose episode not only scored the highest ratings of the season, but also was hilarious.)

See the best of ‘SNL’ clips.

Nope, the problem seems to be that Michaels and the Seth Meyers-lead writers can’t focus their talent-rich cast. From top (Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader) to bottom (Bobby Moynihan and newcomers Jenny Slate and Nasim Pedrad), this could be one of the strongest overall casts the show has seen in some time—a likeable group whose stock-in-trade lays in sketch comedy dexterity and diversity. And yet, the levelness of the cast is precisely why ‘Saturday Night Live’ is scuffling: there isn’t a standout leader or a lightning rod to bring everyone together.

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Wiig, the series MVP, comes closest—she does appear in the most sketches—but her best traits are minimalism and deadpan. She’s not an outsized personality that the other cast members can orbit around (think: Will Ferrell.) And without that unifying presence, the audience is lost, left to split their allegiances among the many talents. Go ahead: ask ten people who their favorite Not Ready for Primetime Player is and I bet you’ll get ten different answers.

‘Saturday Night Live’ needs a fulcrum. Without one, it’s nothing more polished ‘Mad TV.’

Three More Inches:

Speaking of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ can we all agree that those DirecTV commercials where David Spade desecrates the memory of his friend Chris Farley are absolutely criminal?

I’ve always loved the Golden Globes because of their boozy, free-flowing format. Now that Ricky Gervais is hosting them, though, they’re officially Must See TV. Considering Gervais’ brand of insult-laden humor, I wouldn’t be surprised if the celebrity attendees are given helmets to wear at the door.

And finally… I caught those leaked trailers for the eighth season of ‘24’ over the weekend—the ones featuring Grandpa Jack Bauer—and I have to say: not bad! Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in!