Monday, March 10, 2008

Live from New York

I have an on-again-off-again relationship with Saturday Night Live. I usually watch it for three or four weeks and then I become convinced that it's just not worth it. Eventually, I'll come back and watch the shows again in the hope that maybe they've learned to somehow fill the entire program with quality comedy. I am usually disappointed. So, here are just a few things that Saturday Night Live needs to do to fix their show:

1. Stick with a guest list who are comedians.
Sure, every once in awhile you get a host that isn't a comedian and yet still can pull off a good show (Justin Timberlake). But most of the time it's just awkward trying to watch these poor people stumble through the hardest job in television.

2. Learn the script.
I know it's hard to learn an entire new show every single week. But it's gotten to the point that the cast members don't seem to make any effort at all to actually learn their lines. Last night I watched an entire sketch in which none of the cast members ever actually looked directly at each other. You are supposed to be the finest improvisational and sketch actors on television so why don't you just try to remember the script and if you can't, improv your way back onto it. If you have to read the cue cards just as hard as the lame guest host you're not much of a comedian.

3. Stop making every sketch a television show.
Have you noticed that almost every sketch on the show is a sketch about a television show? I understand that the current crop of writers and actors on Saturday Night Live are television babies and grew up with pop culture. Still, could you try to make some sketches that don't take place on television shows? This isn't SCTV. Watching the show you get the impression that the writers just sit around making fun of whatevers on TV and then write it up. Sure, the original Saturday Night Live cast did this from time to time but the really great sketches were just sketches. If the current crop of Saturday Night Live writers were to write the coneheads sketch today they would write it as The Coneheads Show. I think it's a crutch because it's easier to write in that format and because the actors can look directly into the camera and read the Teleprompter. Sure, Church Chat and Wayne's World were funny but they will never be held up as the icons of sketch writing that the parrot sketch or the confectionary sketch will be. Think Will Farrel and Teri Osheri doing the Spartan cheerleaders or Chris Farley's motivational speaker ( who lives in a van down by the river). Let's not forget that Saturday Night Live was originally envisioned as an American version of Monty Python's Flying Circus. It would do them some good if they went back and studied the old masters. (By the way, if you don't know the parrot sketch or the confectionary sketch (also known as crunchy frog) then you really have no business discussing sketch comedy). The bottom line is that it's okay to write a sketch that takes place on a generic type television show ( like the Irving Mainway interviews on the original SNL) but if you are going to do nothing but parody actual shows then the sketch will always be a one-off. No one will ever go to You Tube five years from now because they want to see the SNL parody of Rock of Love. (For the record, the cowbell sketch is exempt from this statement because it's really not a parody of Behind the Music. It's a sketch about the seriousness of producing rock music contrasted with the silliness of the cowbell as a musical instrument. Oh, and the genius of Christopher Walken.)

Finally, let me say that it's not all bad. This week they had a sketch that took place in marriage counseling and Amy Poehler was a woman who had obviously married her husband just to stay in this country. The sketch was great and Amy (as usual) was great.


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