SNL Has Some ‘Splainin To Do


This past weekend, Saturday Night Live premiered its 39th Season. They brought in Tina Fey as the host to help buoy a cast that suffered heavy losses. Yet, sadly, there was little the almighty Tina Fey could do to make this thing work.

In the wake of losing big names such as Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, and Jason Sudeikis, there is a huge hole to fill down at Studio 8H. And Lorne Michaels has hand-picked the new anointed that he believes will fill that hole: Beck Bennett, John Milhiser, Kyle Mooney, Mike O’Brien, Noël Wells and Brooks Wheelan. Never heard of those guys? You’re not alone. The only real recognizable face is Beck Bennett, otherwise known as the AT&T guy that talks to kids.

The episode opened with another President Barack Obama impression from Jay Pharoah, this time trying to highlight the pitfalls of Obamacare. There were a few giggle-inducing lines, but there was nothing that created any confidence in what was to come.

Tina Fey followed with a weak monologue, highlighting the new cast members of the “rebuilding year”, in which she makes them all get dressed in gold shiny short shorts and gyrate in order to embarrass themselves (it’s a SNL tradition, see?).

Next was a video short promoting a new season of HBO’s Girls in which a new Albanian woman joins the cast. Points go to new cast member Noël Wells for her spot on portrayal of Lena Dunham. This piece worked.

But after that, things spiraled into a pool of confusion. The skits were not only not funny, they actually made no sense. A “classic movie” themed skit was just plain painful to watch as the cast tried to reenact scenes while getting increasingly closer to taxidermy animals. There was also a commercial for Model T vehicles … just that setup alone is a fail. Almost every skit featured Tina Fey or Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul. Even Weekend Update was dominated by that duo.

Cecily Strong was given a seat at the Weekend Update desk next to Seth Meyers, and I immediately missed her “Girl at a Party” bit. That worked. She could play that role. But she’s got a long way to go to play the straight newswoman needed for the desk. And she better get there quick because once Seth Meyers leaves in February, she will have to shoulder that burden all by herself.

To make matters worse, Kenan Thompson hosted a game show called “New SNL Cast Member or Arcade Fire” in which Tina Fey had to guess if people were new to the cast or a part of Arcade Fire, the night’s musical guest. Was it funny? Yes. But how weak is your writers’ room if the best thing you’ve got going is that no one knows who you just hired? The skit didn’t even give those people a moment to shine. They literally filled a void.

This episode, where the entire cast knew they all had a lot to prove, showed that the returning cast is weak. Who are the front-runners now? Who are people going to tune in to watch every week? Kate McKinnon, Kenan Thompson, and Taran Killam have their moments, but none of them is strong enough the keep this train moving.

To make matters worse, the show is now devoid of creativity. Every episode fits into a template:

– Political Cold Open

– Host monologue with a completely unnecessary and unfunny musical number

– Digital short

– Bland game show setup

– Weekend Update

– “Old Timey” skits

– Miscellaneous filler

And it is time for Lorne and Company to realize that mess ain’t cuttin’ it anymore.

New SNL CastStill, the facet of SNL that is getting the most heat right now is the lack of racial diversity on the show. There are a total of 3 people of color and six women currently on the cast. While that female to male ratio is actually honorable in this current era of entertainment (6/13 ain’t bad), the lack of minority performers is troubling. It also points to a question that answers itself: who is this show made for? (HINT: it reflects the body of the cast.)

Just think of how many times Kenan Thompson is in a wig, and it is clear that SNL‘s casting clearly limits pop culture the show can portray. There have been a total of 4 black women on the SNL cast in the nearly 40 years it has been on air. And this is not for a lack of talented people of color to pull in. Jay Pharoah himself noted that the cast needs some color, going so far as to call out Darmirra Brunson as someone who would have been a great candidate for the show. Here is a clip of some of her work.:

Seems primed for a digital short. Heck, it was funnier than everything that just aired on Saturday.

So what’s a show to do? I’ve come up with a list of fixes SNL needs to implement STAT:

DIVERSITY: Adding just one black girl would go immensely far in improving the show’s credibility, relatability, and relevance.

CONTENT: Let’s face it folks; the content that the show tries to lampoon is WAY out-of-date. Does ANYONE enjoy the throwback/old-time skits? Or the classic movie setups? No, I think not.

BOLDNESS: Fortune favors the bold. Take a chance every once and again; that was the main reason Andy Samberg was so successful on his run.

FRESHNESS: The characters on SNL get overworked every season. Halfway through, we are already tired of the characters we know and love so much. For instance, Bobby Moynihan’s “Drunk Uncle” has been quite funny in the past, but the well is running dry.

CREATIVITY: Fart jokes and sexually uncomfortable positions will always be funny to some. And SNL just wouldn’t be SNL without them. But is that the best thing they’ve got going for themselves?

Saturday Night Live truly holds a special place in entertainment and pop culture. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler pinging Sarah Palin’s Katie Couric interview is in the history books. The number of stars that have risen from the show’s ranks is astounding. And how many movies have been made based off of characters cultivated on Saturdays at 11:30 PM?

However, the truly magical moments have taken place when SNL realized the place that it holds and utilized its power in the media. When SNL‘s comedy is also social commentary they get the laughs and prove their relevance. Without it, it’s just a glorified YouTube series.

And if that’s all it is, what’s the point in watching?

Did you catch SNL on Saturday? What do you think about this season’s prospects?

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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.