Bashing Saturday Night Live is an American pastime that rivals baseball, but as someone who has watched it regularly since the 1980s, I tend to defend it. People always say that SNL was better than it was in decades past and they dismiss some of the groundbreaking performances we’ve seen more recently.
But even I can’t deny how absolutely horrible the SNL season opener was. Holy schmoley was it bad.
Here are the three worst things about it.
1) The Opener Could Not Have Been Weaker
It began with a shockingly boring sketch featuring the talented and frequently featured Aidy Bryant as Candy Crowley hosting a Sunday morning talk show about the NFL’s domestic violence problems. Aidy tripped over her lines so much that it made viewers cringe. Jay Pharoah’s normally spot-on with impressions but his Shannon Sharpe send-up was so off in such a way that it came off as racist (quite a feat!). Jokes (or things that “smell like jokes,” to quote SNL writer Maria Semple) required so much insider knowledge as to fall flat. As with much of the show, host Chris Pratt was the best part of this skit, but was limited by the material.
2) One-Note Sketches A Quarter-Inch Deep
If previous years saw sketches drone on and on and on, this year sketches seem to evoke mostly a “That’s it?” response. An absolutely lame bit regarding toys being turned into real men with real sexual desires didn’t even fill out the brief time it had and played with incest and pedophilia in ways that weren’t even funny. If you’re going to go the incest/pedophilia route, fine, but make sure it’s funny. Another sketch about an animal hospital played on one joke — they kill the animals — and pet-owners’ response to same. Uh, OK.
3) Which Brings Us To The Train Wreck That Was Weekend Update.
Michael Che and Colin Jost should be given time to get comfortable in their new anchor chairs but Che, in particular, should take a remedial course in comedic timing. Jokes and smell-like-jokes failed because he sped through them or messed up the pauses.
But the real failure was that — and I kid you not in any way here — the Weekend Update crew joined with Kenan Thompson to give President Obama a pep talk. A pep talk. Not an are-you-freaking-kidding-me-you-are-a-bad-president evisceration. But a pep talk. A pep talk that — and again, I’m totally serious here — went after President George W. Bush, who left office so long ago that it was from an era when comedy shows knew how to make fun of presidents.
The Hollywood Reporter ran an excerpt of a book about SNL’s politics that included passages that — if I were to put the best construction on them — indicate that drug use is as rampant at SNL as it was during the late 1970s. Here’s Horatio Sanz:
Lorne's very concerned with being neutral so he wants to make fun of everyone. … He doesn't want the show to be this liberal bash rag. He may be a little more conservative than he lets on. … And you also have Jim Downey, who's basically the Karl Rove of SNL. He's always writing the right wing sketches, and honestly I think a lot of times they're out of tune with the audience. … I think Lorne sometimes leans too much on Downey and not enough on guys like Seth. Basically in the last couple of years, it's been Seth going up against Downey to set the show's tone on politics, and I think we could definitely have been harder on the right. They deserved it, and we dropped the ball as far as getting them.
What drug produces that level of disconnect with reality? I’m honestly not sure.
And as for this “Karl Rove” type, Jim Downey, he says he’s a Democrat but that he and former writer, now Sen. Al Franken agree “that the last couple seasons of the show were the only two in the show’s history where we were totally like every other comedy show: basically, an arm of the Hollywood Democratic establishment.”
Yes, obviously. But even Downey says this about Obama:
James Downey, producer-writer: If I had to describe Obama as a comedy project, I would say, "Degree of difficulty, 10 point 10." It's like being a rock climber looking up at a thousand-foot-high face of solid obsidian, polished and oiled. There's not a single thing to grab onto — certainly not a flaw or hook that you can caricature. [Al] Gore had these "handles," so did Bush, and Sarah Palin, and even Hillary had them. But with Obama, it was the phenomenon — less about him and more about the effect he had on other people and the way he changed their behavior. So that's the way I wrote him.
Oh for crying out loud. If you can’t make fun of this president, you should hang up your hat and go work for Everybody Loves Raymond or something. The degree of difficulty is high? Really? I mean, Sarah Palin manages it so it can’t be that hard, right?
Sheesh. As Kyle Smith wrote:
The charter Choom Ganger, confessed eater of dog and snorter of coke. The doofus who thinks the language spoken by Austrians is “Austrian,” that you pronounce the p in “corpsman” and that ATMs are the reason why job growth is sluggish. The egomaniac who gave the queen of England an iPod loaded with his own speeches and said he was better at everything than the people who work for him. The empty suit with so little real-world knowledge that he referred to his brief stint working for an ordinary profit-seeking company as time “behind enemy lines.” The phony who tells everyone he’s from Chicago, though he didn’t live there until his 20s, and lets you know that he’s talking to people he believes to be stupid by droppin’ his g’s. The world-saving Kal-El from a distant solar system who told us he’d heal the planet and cause the oceans to stop rising. The guy who shared a middle name with one of the most hated dictators on earth.
Nope, nothing there to mock. No way to get a grip on this polished, oiled obsidian.
My husband and I looked at each other with confusion and disgust as the Weekend Update crowd told President Obama to cheer up and that things would get better. There were lines like, “Benghazi used to be a huge deal, now it’s just John McCain’s safe word,” and suggestions that he go on the road with the real first family, Beyonce and Jay-Z. Jost said that Bush had wrecked the economy, bombed every country with sand and that all he had to do was paint one ok picture of a dog to get back in the country’s good graces. Ha ha! All so funny and fresh!
SNL wasn’t a complete loss. The Cialis Turnt commercial and Pete Davidson’s hilarious and already-condemned-as-homophobic bit about prostitution were memorable.
But seriously, guys, that was embarrassing. Hire someone who doesn’t worship Obama for the writing team. Just one. And remedial writing, acting and comedy courses all around.