I made it through about 3/4 of Saturday Night Live last night … the premier of the shows’ 35th season.
Megan Fox was the host. I have to admit I really wouldn’t know Megan Fox if I tripped over her, but even her mostly see-through “dress” in the opening monologue couldn’t salvage the show.
I’ll date myself, but I remember when SNL premiered. It was 1975, and I was a Junior in high school. We were so excited about the prospect of a live comedy sketch show on television. The key word there was live. Live TV hadn’t been live, other than the news (which was still news back in the day) for years. Everything was all about this innovative, live sketch show with music and celebrity guests. George Carlin was the first host of SNL, which was called NBC Saturday Night (ABC owned the “Saturday night Live” name at the time). The cast was virtual unknowns, many coming out of Chicago’s “Second City” sketch and improv empire. Belushi, Akroid, Chase, Curtin, Morris, Radner. Many of the catch phrases from those early seasons are still with us. “It’s Always Something”, “I’m Chevy Chase … And You’re Not”, “Because We Are … THE KILLER BEES!!”. “Jane, You Ignorant Slut”, and “Never Mind …”. Saturday Night Live defined comedy for a generation.
There have been ups and downs along the way. A good season or cast here and there, but long stretches of seasons that were just not funny. Politicians of all stripes have been lampooned, some better than others and Republicans usually more keenly and pointedly than Democrats. That’s just pretty much to be expected, particularly out of New York.
As the original cast drifted away, some to more critical success than others, so did many of us who were so enthusiastic about those first live shows. That, and the sophomore cast, following what was a brilliant ensemble, slumped, in the opinion of many. I was among them, and I largely stopped watching when it just didn’t seem funny any more.
So I have to admit, I approached last nights 35th season debut with fairly low expectations. I wasn’t disappointed.
The show opened with a spoof of Muammar Qaddafi’s U.N speech and went downhill from there. The opening spoof commercial, a slot which has brought us such classics as “The Bass-O-Matic” (Mmmmmm that’s good bass) was a faux drug commercial that made it easy for men to pee, and not care where they did. The next sketch was about warnings of vapid airline flight attendants on a flight approaching severe turbulence, which in light of what happened to Air France Flight 447 this summer I thought was in particularly poor taste. After that, it kind of becomes a blur. There was one funny joke in Weekend Update … which I won’t go into here but it dealt with men’s underwear, and the thing that made it funny was that the punchline was unexpected … and had a grain of truth to it. But in 45 minutes of show, I laughed once, and wondered often why I wasn’t writing for SNL.
I don’t know about the improv chops of the current cast. From nearly 7 years now of performing on an improv stage, admittedly at an amateur level (very amateur), and writing a lot of sketch for ImprovJacksonville, I do know a lot of sketch comedy is little more than signposts that a talented improv actor can hit, and develop the characters themselves to make it funny. The sketches I saw last night weren’t as good as some of the stuff we performed at Laugh for Life, and I mean that.
I’ve never been a U2 fan, but I’m sure for those that like them, their performance was fine. I wasn’t impressed.
I suppose some people thought it was funny. The people in the audience certainly laughed … some. But the theater experience is much different. There’s a group mind that takes hold when you’re sitting in a theater and people will laugh at things at which they think they’re supposed to laugh.
Sitting at home, watching on TV, even in HD … not so much.