Sunday, November 15, 2009

SNL: A new Slate?

I haven't written about "Saturday Night Live" this season because I tend not to get to the show for a day or two, and very little of it is good enough to be worth writing about. ("SNL" can be funny during non-election seasons; this one just hasn't been.)

I did watch a little of the January Jones episode last night, though, and other than noticing how much trouble she was having in the early sketches both reading the cue cards and keeping a straight face, the thing that struck me the most was that they did another Kathie Lee/Hoda "Today" sketch, with Jenny Slate replacing the fired Michaela Watkins as Hoda.

Now, I didn't like this particular recurring sketch - like much of the show these days, it leans too heavily on Kristen Wiig, who more and more seems like she's a perfect second banana being asked to carry a cast with no real alpha dog - nor was I incredibly broken up when Watkins got fired, but it seems like a major party foul to keep doing it without her. Actors leave the show and then other people succeed them as certain celebrity characters that the show has to do (presidents, movie stars), and sometimes we'll see a recurring sketch modified if somebody leaves (Rachel Dratch replaced Molly Shannon on "Delicious Dish," but playing a different character), but this is different. Hoda Kotb is too D-list for the show to need someone to play her; the point was that Wiig and Watkins had started doing this together, as these two women. Just plugging Slate into the same role Watkins used to play both says that the show felt the fourth hour of "Today" was important enough to keep doing, and that Watkins' contribution to the sketch was so minor that anyone could play the part.

"SNL" has been on so long, and replaced so many actors, that I'm sure there's been a similar circumstance to this over the years. But none are coming to mind at the moment, and I feel oddly put out by what they did here.

What do you think? Fair or foul? And has anyone been enjoying the show this season more than I have?

73 comments:

Alan Sepinwall said...

And it occurs to me that Casey Wilson played Joan the last time they did a "Mad Men" sketch, and was replaced by Abby Elliott. That's less egregious to me, in that you have to do "Mad Men" with this particular host, whereas there's no specific need for doing that "Today" sketch anymore.

DarthRazorback said...

I never cared whether Michaela Watkins was on the show until last night. It was then that I realized how talented she was. This season has had one good episode and the rest have been a waste. Last night was terrible, including the usually great digital short.

vic said...

I feel like I should first clarify that I am a big fan of SNL, and can usually find something positive to say about each show.

This episode was s**t, just plain, unadulterated s**t.

I remember saying to my housemate a few weeks ago that January Jones would likely be a bad host, but I had no idea how right I'd be.

I liked the Biden sketch, and always crack a smile when Jason Sudeikis does the goofy grin. Not bad, not great, but a decent enough cold open.

The opening monologue was pretty terrible, but I just figured the anxiety was getting to Jones. That said, I cracked another smile when Armisen said "I like Peggy".

The Kathy Lee was awful. I think the only time I've actually enjoyed it was when Zac Effron was hosting, playing Kathy's son. This one seemed to go on for an eternity. Alan, I agree with you. I feel like it's wrong that they thought they could just slot Slate in, and have us think nothing was amiss. Mind you, if she did a knockout job, then I wouldn't be complaining, but the whole thing was just awful.

Farting Sketch. Awful. Fart humor I've never found funny, and it seemed like SNL took a major step backwards with this sketch. Easily my least favourite sketch of the night.

DQ. Seemed to go on forever, or maybe it just felt that way.

Dr Jekyl. Favourite sketch of the night. Armisen does flamboyant gay perfectly. I still chuckle when thinking back to him playing Liberace in the Vincent Price sketch.

Skipped the infomercial sketch. Fine, we get it, you star in a period piece drama. We don't need it shoved down our throats constantly.

Weekend Update. Pretty solid, but I'm a sucker for Jon Bovi.

Digital Short. Eh.

Final sketch. Nothing special, would have been excusable if the rest of the sketches were solid.

Black Eyed Peas seemed out of it. I guess they did a decent job, but this venue doesn't really seem to suit them.


All in all, I despise this episode, and have lost a lot of respect for January Jones, or more specifically, her agent, for pushing her into something she was so ill-equipped to handle. I haven't hated an episode this much since Ben Affleck hosted, and at least then it was all bad. This was just an abortion.

I've got faith in Joseph Gordon-Levitt. That said, if he just stood in silence in the center of the stage for the whole 90 minutes, then it would be a vast improvement on this weeks episode.

vic said...

Yeah, the Joan substitution didn't bug me so much, but did cause me to have a double take.

Alyson said...

These days, the show really only works well when they're able to get a host who is willing to put some effort into involving him/herself in creating the sketches, because clearly this writing staff can't get it right for the regular actors on a week-to-week basis. Taylor Swift apparently brought a lot of ideas to the table last week, and I think it showed. I suspected several weeks ago that January Jones would be a weak guest host, and she did nothing last night to dissuade me of that opinion.

vic said...

@DarthRazorback: Apart from Monaghan (sp?) and the forgettable Abby Elliot, the Featured players are pretty weak this season. They really need a new injection of non-generic talent in there, and soon!

angryrunner said...

A few comments:

The writing last night was absolutely atrocious. Its clear they had no idea what to do with January considering they relied on 1. period stuff (hey, she plays a housewife! and she looks like grace kelly!) mixed with 10 year old humor (gay jokes and poorly executed far jokes) and 2. Kristen Wiig.

And it may just be me, but I think the latter really makes the former more obvious. The writers are heavily relying on Wiig to deliver and I think the fact is she's not nearly as good as the writers think she is in that NONE of her characters are quotable, likeable or otherwise memorable. It seems she create ones cringeworthy character after another and they all pretty much blend together.

Your summary of the Kathie Lee sketch is dead on because without Watkins present it seemed like it was just an excuse for Wiig to act as annoying as possible. And that reporter character was even worse. (I wasn't quite sure what the concept was. Did they just use that sketch since January said she worked at a Dq in the GQ article?)

And the thing is, both of these things have been a problem for awhile now. But in an episode without a strong host/good ideas to use the host's talent it becomes even more problematic.

That said, I did enjoy the digital short (Samberg has not been as present lately, and it shows) and the weird little sketch at the end for its pure absurdity.

angryrunner said...

And as an addendum: an above commenter noted, I wonder if January had any ideas to bring to the table? Because if she did...yikes.

I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised by what she could do (like I was with Taylor Swift) and instead just feel bad. She gets a lot of criticism as is, and this isn't going to do her any favors.

Gunface said...

It's success last year recalling its funniest alumni from the past 15 years playing tried-and-true recurring roles (Fey, Ferrell, Hammond, Pohler, Armes etc.) to, some legitimately good comic writing, BUT the vast majority of SNL humor in recent years has been devoid of wit, intelligence and is really pretty low in terms of quality. Even Weekend Update is banal.

To respond, Michaels DID have that huge firing/hiring debacle after the 70s talent graduated... ie Joe Piscapo / Phil Hartman "Sinatra's" among others...

Gunface said...

@vic maybe that would benefit from hiring The Naked Cowboy or Robot Dancer, ala 30rock..

vic said...

@Gunface: Hmm, I don't know, I'm still holding out hope that they pull out their big guns and hire Sir Gilbert Gottfried. Now that would bring the show a level of class its been lacking for a long time!

Will Eidam said...

I think it's fair to say that you can judge a show by its monologue. For instance, last night January Jones didn't do anything funny, she relied on Mad Men and the cast members doing thier "Mad Mennies.(?)"

Whereas last week Taylor Swift took the monologue on her own shoulders with her "Monologue Song." And it turned out to be the best SNL episode of the season.

Just wait for next week when Joseph Gordon Levitt does some kind of song and dance and owns the show. Just wait!

Adam said...

Somewhere on this page is Alan's answer. Wiig herself is the third Kathie Lee they've had.

Craig said...

I think January Jones thought the show was going to be taped later for broadcast. She and the show were abysmal. At one point you could clearly hear her say "Which camera?" I don't think we're going to see her trodding the boards on The Great White Way any time soon.

Your Pal said...

I'm usually very forgiving of SNL and give it the benefit of the doubt (give me one good sketch and a Digital Short and I'm happy), but last night was brutal. The Rear Window sketch was as bad a sketch as I can remember. Even when they had an *ok* idea (Mr. Hyde; hot woman with no personality), the execution was off.

I said to my girlfriend earlier in the night that I was upset with SNL because, two years in a row now, I have not received a response after requesting tickets in August. Attending last night's episode would have been a little disappointing.

grat said...

I use to look up to SNL as a golden institution, where the graduates of comedy could go for extra learning from past masters, but there are no past masters left. It is uninspiring to watch how bad this show is.

Anonymous said...

Taylor Swift's show last week was easily the best show of the season---January Jones is clearly not up to hosting a live show---however the writers and cast should be up to compensating for the host and try to play to their strengths--Jones needs a strong script (and as she pointed out on Fallon she doesn't sing or do improv)

jasctt said...

Stopped watching this years ago. The Hamm ep was the only recent ep I've seen and it was great. This ep sounds awful.

IMHO, I HATED Hammond's Clinton impression. Phil Hartman's impression was SPOT ON perfect.

LA said...

I'm not a fan of JJones work and have said many times on this blog that I think she's the weak link on Mad Men. And she didn't prove me wrong on SNL.

That said, the writing last night was so atrocious, that I'm not sure even Streep could have saved it.

It might be time for SNL to call it a day.

Gunface said...

Well, I think the institution of SNL is important to have like that network, national outlet to showcase daring and brave humor. It's late night and it's more that just tasteless humor, it should be daring.

As awful as Studio60 was, it's philosophical take on a live network comedy show being important and relevent is really what SNL should be. Unfortunately it's showcasing a juvenile trend of shock/toilet humor that's rampant across a majority of network comedies :/

Blair Waldorf said...

Yeah, that was annoying. Calling Shenanigans on that.

Weak weak episode. Nothing really funny at all.

I actually liked the last sketch where Jason Sudeikis is on a date with January Jones and she has no knowledge of pop culture or imagination, having been on many similar dates myself.

jasctt said...

LA speaks the truth. I've never really cared for JJ in anything I've seen her in and I think that people think she is good on MM simply because everyone else is.

Also, supposedly, Lorne MIchaels' contract with NBC states they can NEVER end the show while he is running it. Ain't going away any time soon.

Karen said...

The Grace Kelly sketch had me cringing on many levels--horrible humor, humiliating for Jones, and insulting to Grace Kelly (I probably feel stronger about this at the moment as Kelly is TCM's Star of the Month, and yesterday I was listening to her son talk about what a remarkable woman she was).

That they led off with Kathie Lee and Hoda seemed to me to indicate that they didn't know what to do with Jones--I was shocked that that was the go-to sketch.

About Wiig: I've never been such a huge fan of hers, mostly because all her characters seem to me to variations on a theme of socially-awkward women. Even her delivery is similar with each one. It's boring. They need to find an actual comedy star for that show, because right now they don't really have one, although I do like Sudeikis and Hader.

I was shocked at how bad it was, and I assumed that the Black-Eyed Peas' third song--an anomaly usually reserved for bands like U2--was a reflection of how barren the writers' sketch bag had been for this episode.

Craig said...

This may explain why the quality of the show is so bad. Word on Twitter is that five good sketches had to be cut after dress rehearsal because JJ couldn't memorize any of the lines. So they just had to go with sketches that she could look directly into the camera. Oh, Betty!

T.J. Hawke said...

Last week was not a great episode but I was actually faily impressed with Taylor Swift?

Did you catch any of her show?

Anonymous said...

This show is beyond salvage, so I don't think this one issue much matters. It's not even a comedy show, per se, any longer, but ninety minutes of alternating screaming and snark. Seth Meyers is borderline offensive he's so bad on Weekend Update. Sad, really, and worthy of the label "parody of itself." Phil Hartman weeps.

Blair Waldorf said...

Taylor Swift was pretty darn funny though.

cadfile said...

Been a regular viewer of SNL all 35 years and this season has been pretty rocky. They mayhaps need almost a new cast with some exceptions like Kristen Wiig and Andy Samburg.

The Today Show sketch also put me off just had a bad cringe tone to it but then I never really liked it before. The show has seem to lean very heavy on Kristen Wiig this season to carry sketches which is ironic since the show has had a boys club reputation but some of her characters just don't translate well to be done over and over like the lesbian reporter sketch last night. There seemed to be a couple of people missing from the show like Kenan Thompson and Will Forte.

Some hosts just can't do live television and comedy and January Jones is one of them. More power to her as she tried but she might want to leave this job off her resume.

I did like the Grace Kelly fart sketch. Maybe because I was in a goofy mood last night but I think too Jason Sudeikis saved it with what looked like adlibs. Jones' education film gave me a chuckle but Jon Hamm did it better with his how to be Don Draper film when he hosted.

I also like the cloud sketch at the end oddly enough because of the 1970's references but still didn't get the point and probably missed the overall joke.

policomic said...

I thought Wiig was overrated when she was getting a lot of praise from various Internet critics and commentators, but now that she seems to be getting a lot of backlash, I feel compelled to defend her, at least a little bit. I think Alan has it about right: she's overused because no one else in the current cast is a standout. One thing I do like about Wiig is that she's the one cast member whose seems to understand she's on TV. The other cast members seem to think they're still on stage at Second City, so EVERY LINE IS SHOUTED. Seth Myers is the worst offender, in this regard, but Moynahan, Thompson, the aptly-named Forte, and the otherwise solid Sudeikis also project to the back row, whether it's appropriate or not. Wiig's characters are often one-note, but her usual style draws one in, rather than shoutily underlining the weakness of the writing.

Hyde said...

It's a symptom of the state of SNL that I thought the Kotb portrayer was Nasim Pedrad when I saw the show last night.

I have to agree with the emerging consensus that the biggest problem right now is Wiig--not the extent to which she dominates the show, which isn't unusual by SNL standards, but that she seems to be playing variations on the same character every. time. Plus, why are they still making fun of Kathie Lee Gifford, who is such a minor figure in the culture these days?

January Jones was really awful. It reminded me a bit of a disastrous hosting gig by Andie McDowell years ago--another ex-model with no real experience as a live performer.

Scott J. said...

Craig, no one memorizes lines on SNL. Sketches are constantly being rewritten, even just before show time. So performers are instructed to use the cue cards at all times.

Sean Sullivan said...

who more and more seems like she's a perfect second banana being asked to carry a cast with no real alpha dog

I see Alan's been reading his Book of Basketball.

This episode is bringing out the Comic Book Guy in me. Outside of the open and the Kardashian bit (I'm as surprised as you are that I laughed), I didn't find anything funny with last night's episode. It may well have been the worst episode I've ever seen. What's worse, I don't see it getting much better this season.

Bitsy said...

As for the replacement drama, I barely noticed that Watkins had been replaced, and because her tenure was so short, I don't think it really matters. If someone else showed up doing Harry Caray on SNL the season after Will Ferrell left, that would be another story.
I liked Casey Wilson and was sorry to see her go, though she did only seem to contribute minor characters. These female cast members just seem to blend together, and they're kind of boring. Can't they get someone who looks a little different, with a different brand of comedy?

Rick said...

I genuinely don't understand why it is so difficult to write ~200 good, airable sketches (22 episodes, about eight sketches each) over the course of a year. One mediocre guy could do that, rather than a full cast and slate of writers.

How long have the current cast been there? With the exception of a few individuals throughout the years (Tracy Morgan, Darrell Hammond) most casts knew when to step out of the way.

Ben said...

I like fart jokes. I'll admit it. I'm secure enough in my taste and appreciation for quality performance and writing and directing to be able to admit that, darn it, fart jokes make me laugh.

The 'Rear Window' bit was, quite possibly, the worst sketch of this already bad season. "Oh, see, 'cause she's got gas and keeps farting. Get it?"

(And was I the only person who wondered if the reason JJ was wearing such a big, froofy dress, was that she had a fan hidden under there, ready to billow up her skirt with the sound effects?)

The entire show was an absolute train wreck; I've found myself doing two things with SNL this year.

1. I DVR it, then watch it later, not specifically to skip the commercials, but to skip the crummy bits of the show. I'll watch the first 30 seconds or so of a sketch to get the idea; if the idea intrigues me, I stay with it, but more often than not, I'll skip through it 30 seconds at a time, checking for laughter. I watched last night's show in 28 minutes.

2. Like a good game show, I play along with the show. I play "Make Me Laugh". I try my hardest *not* to laugh, thinking that the professionals should be able to make me laugh. Not once did that happen last night.

Anonymous said...

I actually did think the infomercial sketch was funny. The rest of it, not so much. I weirdly have high hopes for Jo-Go next week, though.

Brucey said...

I miss the super hot and adorable Casey Wilson. She made a way sexier Joanie from Mad Men, and she didn't need padding to play the part either. It feels just plain weird and awkward how they're replacing all of their old characters with these new chicks. The new girls they brought in just aren't doing it for me, they just don't seem nearly as interesting or funny as Casey and Michaela did.

I agree with the above guy that they all look the same too, hard to tell them apart. They need some diversity in the woman, the generic young and skinny "hottie" look. At least with Michaela you had someone who could convincingly play some older characters and Casey who's hot without having that typical emaciated most girls on tv have today, I'll never understand how people find that attractive.

Whiskey said...

LOL, I must be so sick that my judgment was impaired last night: I loved the Grace Kelly/Rear Window sketch and laughed so much I gave myself a nasty coughing fit -- we're on day 10 of everyone dealing with the flu at our house. I usually hate (HATE!) fart humor, but I think that -- at least for me -- this sketch worked because Grace Kelly & JJ's beauty is so idealized in a delicate-feminine way that no one would expect to hear a woman like that ripping off some nasty ones. Blonde princesses just don't fart! And JJ seemed to be enjoying herself, which was also a joy for me to see. If any of the other females had done the sketch, I think it would've been a total flop for me. And I wish they'd inverted roles in the DQ sketch, which should've been easy for JJ (if her big issue really was memorization) since the reporter looks at the screen a lot... Wiig is getting too much play and has become too one-note. I would've loved to see JJ playing the reporter and trying to seduce one of the "new girls" in the DQ uniform.

I found the rest of the show last night thoroughly dissappointing. Especially after last week's surprise with Taylor Swift as the host. I didn't enjoy the Biden open sketch and thought it was forced and went on too long. And I cringed through the rest of it. Tho it *was* cute when Armisen said "I like Peggy". Oh, I was so happy about Keenan Thompson not being on, there's a kid on Sesame Street that has the same Keenan "acting method", so after a week of my son home from school watching Sesame Street every day and hearing that grating high-pitched whine, I was happy not to hear any more of it last night.

Not sure how to answer Alan's question as my SNL viewing has dropped immensely the last few years due to how uneven and sometimes awful most shows have been. They seem to go in cycles, so hopefully they'll rebound soon.

As for JJ, I hope she doesn't get burned for this. There have been many other hosts who haven't worked this season, comedy is H-A-R-D and sketch/improv comedy harder. I don't think it's necessarily a reflection on her acting chops.

Emily N. said...

I didn't watch last night, but I did watch most of last season and I thought Michaela Watkins was very talented. I still don't understand why she was fired from SNL, and I definitely think it was wrong to have Jenny Slate replace her as Hoda.

Mel said...

Jenny Slate seems like she was clearly hired simply to fill in for Watkins. Wasn't she the one who played Barbara Walters in last week's "The View" sketch? (There have been several Barbara Walters' throughout the years -- Dratch, Oteri, and, of course, Gilda's Baba Wawa)

I wouldn't count Abby Elliott's Joan last night as a replacement of Casey Wilson since Casey was playing Joan and Abby was playing a fan of the show dressed up like Joan. :)

Overall, though, a very weak episode. January Jones was pretty painful. I did enjoy her 1950's educational flick, but that was about it.

Anonymous said...

SNL has suffered from staleness for a long, long time. Not just this season. The writers are obviously struggling to create anything memorable. I wonder if this has to do with lack of writing input from the cast. The cast isn't credited with any writing (other than Meyers).

It seems to me that when SNL was at its best, the cast was heavily involved with creating the content. Maybe I'm wrong about this current cast and they actually do have significant impact on the writing. If so, then they need to clean house.

But the one person that needs to go is Lorne Michaels. He drives the bus and the bus is off course.

SNL badly, badly needs a fresh perspective.

PanAm53 said...

I hadn't watched SNL in years. I watched last night because I'm a fanatical "Mad Men" fan and January Jones was hosting. I really wished that I hadn't watched. I was appalled at how far downhill SNL has gone. Also, JJ showed that those who said she was not a good actress were correct. It is only with the incredibly good writing and directing on "Mad Men" that she can be considered in any way a good actress. This morning, when I told my husband about how awful SNL has become, he reminded me that I was still watching SNL long after he had given up on it. So many people have no idea how good SNL used to be in "the good old days."

J said...

As an excuse to rant about the sad state of the show, fine - this ep was awful, I thought Taylor Swift's ep was also bad (though as a host, Swift was clearly game - unlike Jones, who seemed to think it was a game). Seth Meyers needs to be canned as head writer, the writing staff needs to be flushed, etc.

Black Eyed Peas are awful, but they did just finish a record-breaking run of 26 weeks at the top of the pop singles charts. I''m sure it was a tough choice whether to go with another awful sketch or a 3rd awful song, but that's why God made 12:55am.

I think it's unfair to frame this as an attack on Jenny Slate, though. The Today Show sketch -- which has never, ever worked, not once, ever -- only uses the Hoda character as a target of abuse. Watkins never really established a "character" there, it might as well be a cardboard cut-out. It's not like Slate stepped in as The Church Lady, or some performer-created character. I might have a soft spot for Slate because she had a cameo in one of my favorite amateur internet shorts; the one SNL sketch where she had a central role, "Biker Chick Chat," had some charm to it (even if Slate swore on the air).

If you want a solid side-by-side to compare states of the show, take the old "View" sketches - where guests (including Debbie Matenopoulos) were effectively rotated through as the juiciest comic character, Debbie Matenopoulos... and the new "View" sketches, where Kristen Wiig has cemented the role of Elisabeth Hasselbeck with nothing more than repetitive catch phrases.

Tyroc said...

The main audience of the show is 12-year-old to 14-year-olds. That's when most people experience "their" SNL cast. The one they'll remember years later being so much better than the current one.

They throw in some political stuff and the Weekend Update for the older viewers but otherwise the show isn't written for adults.

Parodies of celebrities that teenagers care about, fart jokes, gay jokes, dicks in a box, etc. It's not supposed to be adult humor.

During election years, the focus changes to more and more adult stuff and shockingly adults enjoy it more.

And yeah, replacing Machaela Watkins like that is crappy. While they have replaced other celebrity impersonators it's usually after the cast member has left the show by choice. Not been fired for no reason after one year.

PanAm53 said...

Tyroc: That's a very interesting observation about how SNL is aimed at a 12 to 14 year old audience. That makes perfect sense and explains the awful concept of humor the show now has. It wasn't always that way. The show premiered when I was 29. At that time, the show was not aimed at an adolescent audience.

Anonymous said...

That is true about the show's audience. It's aimed for the 18-40 demographic, and apparently everyone here is receiving social security checks already. You were 29 when the show premiered? Yikes!

Anyway, the Digital Short from last week and Bill Hader are reasons enough for the show's existence.

Nicole said...

I am glad to have read these comments so that I didn't have to waste any time watching this week's episode. I am not surprised that JJ didn't do that well, because she didn't seem the overall performer that Jon Hamm is. That said, the Hugh Laurie episode wasn't that great and he is excellent in improv and comedy, as anyone who has ever seen Jeeves & Wooster, A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Blackadder can attest.

The writers are probably the biggest reason that the show sucks on a fairly consistent basis. Most of Kristen Wiig's recurring characters are horrible, and yet they still show up. I feel like I am watching the bad Ricky Gervais sitcom in Extras when I hear the audience laugh at her sad characters.

I just can't understand why SNL can't string together a funny 90 minute show for about 20 episodes per year when the Daily Show and the Colbert Report can be consistently funny on an almost daily basis. Even the Weekend Update section is inferior with 5 times as much prep time.

Anonymous said...

"this sketch worked because Grace Kelly & JJ's beauty is so idealized in a delicate-feminine way that no one would expect to hear a woman like that ripping off some nasty ones. Blonde princesses just don't fart!"

Oh - thank you very much, Whiskey.

*Now* that the fantastic "joke" has been explained for anyone that didn't understand, let's reassess...



Nope. Still terrible and juvenile. Not funny in the least.

Anonymous said...

That was totally uncalled for.

Pamela Jaye said...

I gave up during Rear Window (unless it was before the farting skit, in which case, I employed the fast forward)

only Fred Armisen saying he liked Peggy was funny.
And Wiig? I don't like her at all.

Thanks for watching so I don't have to. Now I can delete!

Anonymous said...

The episode was just simply awful. JJ was terrible too, but to fair, some actors much better her are also not comfortable with live performance. Honestly, you could have had a cast of Tony winners up there on stage and they couldn't have saved the crap the writers gave the cast to work with---and if the cast members wrote those sketches, they should be fired. Of course Lorne Michaels' firing is about 10 years overdue, yet he's still there, running the ship into the ground.

Anonymous said...

this show has become brutal strictly because they refuse to poke fun at obama.

Toby O'B said...

'SNL' once did a sketch about the Coneheads with Phil Hartman as Beldar - this was during the time that the new version of 'The Munsters' came on the air. Lorne Michaels stepped into the sketch to say this was the type of thing they should never do on the show.

I guess it doesn't matter anymore to stick to such a policy....

Tyler said...

You're making too big of a deal about this. Kristen Wiig is the funniest thing to happen to SNL since Tina Fey and a character like Kathee Lee is the perfect part for her. I have watched an episode or two of that hour of Today before and it is so bad and actually the best thing in the morning to parodee.

I felt bad that January Jones kept messing up but still loved the show because I love her from Mad Men so much. I wish they would have had a sketch about her being the worst mother in the world, even though her part as Grace Kelly was hilarious!

Surprised you aren't liking this season of SNL, I think it is one of the best non-election seasons (especially due to the great hosts they've had so far) in years.

Chrissie said...

I've watched SNL from start to finish every week for the past 25 years. And for all of those 25 years, people have been writing stories about how the show's on its last legs, needs to be canceled, etc. I'm surprised nobody here has pulled out the "Saturday Night Dead?" headline.

Writing good comedy is hard. Performing a good 90-minute live show is hard. Doing both in the course of six days is damn near impossible. For that reason, I cut the writers a lot of slack, because for every 10 sketches that are terrible, there will be one gem that makes me laugh out loud.

Comparing SNL to The Daily Show or Colbert is unfair. The latter both pull almost entirely from topical events and rely heavily on existing clips. SNL is predominantly character-based sketch. They're two entirely different types of comedy. And to say one mediocre writer could generate 200 good sketches in a season is simply ludicrous.

Kristen Wiig is admittedly polarizing, but that also makes her the most compelling cast member they've had in years. I saw Robert Smigel at a Comic-Con panel compare her to Will Ferrell in terms of her willingness to take risks, and I would agree.

January Jones was a dud host, plain and simple. She looked like an audience member who had been pulled up on stage in an improv show, looking around in amusement at the craziness around her, oblivious to the fact that she was actually part of the show. Hosting it, even. In the Jekyll and Hyde sketch, she was almost literally serving only as set dressing.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone actually enjoyed this show aside from the digital shorts and weekend update this decade? Really?

The skits are here and there but there's nothing that memorable about the show. Years ago it lost it's gut.

AG said...

I skipped the first half (thanks for the warning, Twitter) but though that if nothing else the final sketch -- JJ as clueless date -- was all right in a low-key end-of-night way. that said, she never struck me as someone with the right energy for a show like SNL; I respect the buttoned-up vibe she brings to Mad Men and I'll at least give her a chance to impress me in scripted comedy settings, but SNL? Come on.

The greater failure of the night for me was actually will.i.am's performance -- I like his moxie his songwriting chops and I love what he's done with the band, but the guy couldn't have hit his notes last night with a cricket bat and dead aim. I now understand why you occasionally see Fergie with headphones or other objects covering her ears; it's got to hurt to go to work facing *that* on a regular basis.

belinda said...

I couldn't watch it after a short while, it was too painful (even FFing couldn't stop the pain). While JJ is a wonderful actress on MM, she really is not great as a comedic one, and I have to wonder why exactly she is hosting this show?

But, as usual, the fault lies with the writing, which had been spotty, to say the least for a long, long time. It's weird too - while there's no one big "star" (except for Wiig, who's just awesome and too good for SNL, really), the cast is made up of mostly good supporting people who I like - Hader, Forte, Samburg, Watkins, Sudeikis, Armisen etc. And yet, despite me liking them, the show is just not funny, and quite terrible. So, I have to think it's the writing staff that needs a bit of retooling, so they can stop going for the same in for all their jokes.

Tully said...

I've been watching SNL since before the "L" was attached, from day 1 of the show. As time goes by, the original era of the show becomes overly idealized, as if every skit was the pinnacle of comedy history. There were plenty of weak sketches, bad hosts (Louise Lasser anyone?), and the show developed an over-reliance on recurring sketches to get an easy laugh during weeks when the coke supply was a little low. I stayed through the painful Jean Doumanian reboot and was rewarded with the Eddie Murphy era of the show; I kept watching through the late 80s and loved the resurgence in the early 90s. While I'm not as fanatical about the Will Ferrell cast as others, I still found a lot to love up until this season.

In my opinion, there have been several low points in the show's history, and if I had to rank them, it'd be something like this:

5) 1979-80; last year of the old cast but w/o Belushi & Aykroyd. Not horrible, but you could sense the doom and gloom as the cast marked time on its way out.

4) 1985-86; Lorne Michaels returned to the show after a 5 year absence and tried a different approach by bringing in young actors Robert Downey Jr and Anthony Michael Hall (along w/ future standouts Jon Lovitz & Dennis Miller). You might think John Hughes produced the show that year, w/ Hughes stalwarts Randy Quaid and Joan Cusack also included in the new cast. It was a daring move, but the cast failed to connect with audiences, and it was a one and done before the successful tinkering that led to the Dana Carvey/Phil Hartman era.

3) 1994-95; utter disaster. Janeane Garofalo, Chris Elliott, Mark McKinney, Michael McKean and a pissed off group of holdhovers from the last several seasons created comedy hemlock. Lorne Michaels almost lost his job over the show, half the cast quit at mid-season, and there were entire episodes where no skits got a laugh. The bruised egos were as evident as the desire to escape the show. Honestly, this season probably represents the lowest point of the Lorne Michaels era (well, ALMOST).

CONTINUED IN PART 2

Tully said...

2) 1980-81; it's hard to believe Ann Risley, Denny Dillon and Charles Rocket didn't become household names, but they did have enormous shoes to fill as members of the 1st completely made over NRFPTP. I felt like crying as the show I loved continued to suck week after week, but when I look back on it, at least they were trying to be funny and hip; Eddie Murphy actually started his run on the show late that season, and a lot of the sketches ALMOST worked. In retrospect, it would have taken a miracle to sell the new cast to an audience that wondered where the Coneheads and Bass-O-Matic had gone. Lorne Michaels had quit/gotten fired, so he can't take the blame for the disastrous misfire. That's not true for #1

Tully said...

1) Spring 2009 - Current: Yeah, sure, it's always easy to hate a show when it's running, and I hate people who bemoan how a long running show isn't as great as in yesteryear. SNL has long been plagued by whiny fans who talk about how great the show was back in the day and how bad it sucks now. I'm not that damned picky about my humor - even MadTV was semi-funny at times until the very end. In the 35 years I have been watching this show, I guarantee that it has never been even close to this bad. This is beyond phoning it in, losing your edge stuff; the show is literally at the point when its reputation has been flushed down the toilet and is about to be sucked into the sewer. I have never seen a season where the writers have taken originality and sent in on a sabbatical, at least, until now. There is no funny left..it's been replaced by the idea that humor lies in the familiarity of recurring characters doing the same thing in every sketch w/ slight variations (most of whom are played by Kristen Wiig, a candidate for the fastest descent from fearlessly hilarious to bored disinterest in the show's history). The cast is uniformly abysmal this year, the writing even worse, and the organization of the show seems to be left up to the Family Guy manatees. The cast sucks on a level I've never seen before, but it's not about talent. I know most of these people can be funny when they want to be, and I'm not sure if it's possible to make it to the SNL writing staff without decent skills. It's sad to admit it, but the blame for this disaster needs to be primarily aimed at the top, namely one Lorne Michaels. I'm not sure if he's become the comedy equivalent of FSU Coach Bobby Bowden, maintaining his position while ceding control to younger underlings, or if he's Hugh Hefner, trying to remain hip when he's old and out of touch with his audience. Regardless, his ship got hit by a torpedo once the 2008 election ended, and it's going to need a miracle to avoid the fate of the Lusitania.

To quote Ghost World, last night's show was so exceptionally bad that it went past (so bad it's almost) good and back to bad again. It didn't help to have a host without a shred of live stage experience, sense of humor and improvisational skills. You can't blame it on Ms. Jones; her limitations were pretty obvious prior to being offered the gig. If one skit is representative of the complete artistic failure of the current show, it's the Today show sketch. This recurring sketch was mildly humorous the first time (and a pretty accurate depiction of the insane 4th hour of that show), but the returns in subsequent episodes have been not so much diminishing as non-existent. You can track Wiig's loss of interest in the show over the course of these sketches; she started with an amped-up but dead on impersonation of Kathie Lee Gifford and now she's doing an amped up, unfunny impersonation of her original impersonation. Michaela Watkins never matched Wiig's crazy energy in her Hoda Kotb, but she was Belushi compared to the vacant, get me out of here performance by Jenny Slate. It's a pointless skit now, one designed to make the audience laugh by reminding them of a funnier sketch from another episode, and the fact that Lorne Michaels doesn't care about that is a sign that his time is over; Tina Fey's Sarah Palin was the last gasp of a dying show, and it's time for NBC to turn out the lights for good. If Lorne can't see it, they need to make him see it. Not once, in all those other horrible seasons, did I believe this show was beyond help; there was always a hope that a new cast and direction could salvage SNL. Sadly, I no longer believe that's the case; the party's finally over - it just doesn't know it yet.

Jane said...

All I could think while watching the show this weekend was, Wow, Ashton Kutcher was right.

Jane Smith said...

That episode was awful but I don' think the blame should be put on January Jones. I'm not saying that had the writing been good she would have nailed it or anything but at least she would have had a chance.

I can't think of any actor who could have made those sketches funny.

Also, I think she was in a weird position as host. She's not super famous and I think she may have felt out of place or like she knew that not everyone would know who she was. Obviously people who watch Mad Men would know who she is but even still, she looks like a completely different person in real life compared to when she's on MM.

I've seen her in interviews and although she's a little awkward she's also very funny in a dry/blunt kind of way - definitely witty and clever but not in an SNL type of way (which these days is probably a good thing).

It's almost like the writer's aren't paying attention to pop culture because nothing in the show seems to be relevant. They need to get it together.

Anonymous said...

I haven't watched SNL very often recently, but tuned in to see JJ.

There was just an overall lack of talent, both acting and writing, that I actually felt sorry for the cast.

I think if JJ was Gilda Radner, Meryl Streep and Tina Fey combined, she would have failed b/c of the material.

That said, JJ looked so completely lost and uncomfortable, that it only re-confirmed my view that Betty is the only type of character she can portray: a one-dimensional, unemotional person a show with great writing and a superb cast around her.

I wonder if any of her fellow castmembers cringed as much as I did last night. I mean seriously, an entire sketch revolviing around farting. Even my 15 year-old son thought it was infantile and stupid.

CS said...

SNL's problem is that they have no one to carry the show or sell bad sketches. There is an anecdote in the Shales SNL book about a writer who said that when he had writers block and couldn't think of anything funny to add to a sketch, he simply wrote "Farley enters" and it took off from there. You could substitute Belushi, Aykroyd, Murphy, Hartman, or Ferrell for Farley in that anecdote and it still works. There are plenty of hilarious SNL sketches that only worked because talented, funny people sold the hell out of them ("Cheezboiger, Cheezboiger" doesn't have the same ring with Bill Hader and Will Forte). Imagine the 90s without Will Ferrell. That's what we have right now -- a group of supporting actors trying to make chicken salad out of lesser chicken-related materials.

The political writing is probably hurt by the fact that their most creative, witty and well-read political writer is a United States Senator.

Mike F said...

They also need to find a way to get better comedians to guest host. In the old days, they were getting bigger stars to host...and bigger comedy stars. I know they get some good ones still, but when's the last time somebody like Jim Carey hosted the show. A List comedy stars don't seem to come out to host anymore.

Really, they should at least be able to get some of their alums to host more often. Its been 25 years since Eddie Murphy or Billy Crystal last hosted the show. Its been 10-15 years since Chris Rock has hosted. Where's Adam Sandler?

SNL has been mostly dead for awhile now...save a few short warm streaks...even its best episodes only warrant about 15-20 minutes of time to review them on the DVR these days...this episode took me about 11 minutes to scan through.

This should be a 60-75 minute show at the longest. But if the show has to be 90 minutes long, why not throw back to the old days and include some stand up comedy. They could give 1-2 of their own cast members and other rising young stars a nice showcase and save us all the torment of seeing some of the bottom of the heap sketches.

Regardless, they need to get rid of Keenan...he's absolutely painful to watch in just about anything they put him in.

Julia said...

Wow, Ashton Kutcher was right

I'm not quite as dense about popular culture as January Jones in that cloud watching skit, but I don't know what Kutcher said about SNL. Kindly enlighten us.

Taylor Swift was so good last week; I was hoping that January would be, too. She's probably left the country to get some distance from the press. Even the little part of Dr. Jeckyll's wife was cringe-worthy.

Anonymous said...

Truly a painful episode. However, am I the only one who thinks re: "which camera?"-gate that it was intentionally written into the skit, to show how nervous/clueless/inexperienced the animal-keeper lady was? If you watch the clip again, it seems totally plausible, and I simply cannot believe that an experienced actress would visibly/audibly say this on camera.

Scott J. said...

Julia: January Jones dated Kutcher around the time she started acting. In a recent interview, she said that he told her, "I don't think you're going to be good at this," and was generally unsupportive of her acting. She says this only made her more motivated to prove him wrong.

Audrey said...

You know what's fun about SNL? Watch dramatic actors host the episode. They could go to either way: failing miserably or being surprisingly hilarious. Sadly, the former describes this episode.

DTor said...

Let me address the January Jones issue first: She was terrible. The quality of material is irrelevant; she was corpsing all over the place and when she wasn't, she was totally wooden. This lends credence to the idea (an idea I had not formerly agreed with) that's she's not a very good actress-- that the cold & emotionless Betty Draper role hides her lack of true acting talent. In all seriousness, I think the SNL gig exposed her & has destroyed her Emmy chances. I doubt she even gets nominated now, let alone win.

Second, there's the general quality of SNL itself (which ties in to Alan's original question): The show is awful and has been for ages. Alan's original question was whether or not it was right to go on with the Today skit, recast. The answer is the skit should have been retired long before recasting was even an issue. So Kathy Lee Gifford acts like a drunken goofball on the Today show… yeah, we get it. We got it the first time. Move on. I could live with returning to sketches/ characters if you can offer a fresh take, but this is the same joke, over and over. Nearly all of their sketches are. Be it The Today Show, or the Target lady, or Deep House Dish, or Gilly, or a Vincent Price Holiday Special, or Wiig’s insecure girl, or Magruber… even Update repeats the same jokes with Jon Bovi, the “just kidding” lady, Keenan’s French guy, Amy’s Aunt Linda, etc. The show is completely bankrupt, creatively.

DTor said...

Did the original SNL have repeating characters? Yes. But there’s was usually some new element injected; some fresh spin. It wasn’t the *exact* joke retold every time. And even then they only ran a couple seasons. Emily Litella was two seasons; Rosanna Dana was two and a half; I think they stopped doing the Bees stuff after season two... Now Wiig is a versatile, amazing performer, but she’s been doing the same bits over the course of five seasons now. And they’re all one-note/ one-joke sketches.

The original SNL was experimental comedy; it was creative and amazing. The only other thing to compare it to in its time was Python. The second wave of SNL, with Piscopo, Eddie Murphy, et al., was not nearly as groundbreaking, but was still *funny* and had some great performers. Since Lorne’s return to the helm, it’s been (in my reckoning) one brief run of strong seasons (from about ’87 to ’90), with some breakout performers appearing in shows/ casts that were otherwise hit or miss. Among the greats I’d count Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller, Dana Carvey, Mike Meyers, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Amy Pohler, and Wiig. (Sounds like a lot, but remember that’s over the course of a quarter century.) Chris Rock I don’t count because he was already starring in HBO comedy specials before SNL-- the show certainly did not launch his career-- and his work on SNL was forgettable anyway. Guys like Adam Sandler and Chris Farley were utterly talentless hacks, imo.

The show needs to get back to its bold & experimental roots. Lorne needs to go; in fact the whole cast needs to go. Personally, I think there should be a new producer and new cast every five years to keep it from getting stale. And the producer should be someone YOUNG with a fresh point of view…. Not to be politically correct, but jeez Lorne, you're broadcasting from the most culturally diverse city on Earth-- enough with the white guys from Canada, ok? It’s a disgrace that the best African-American comics have had to find their breaks elsewhere when SNL was around. Particularly after Eddie Murphy became one of the biggest stars of the 1980s after SNL. I mean, Michaels actually had Damon Wayans in the cast and fired him after one year… Homey the Clown & Men on Film could have been (and should have been) eliciting shrieks of laughter on SNL instead of Living Color. How the hell Michaels maintained his job in the wake of this is just unfathomable to me. And every time I watched the Chapelle show I’d wonder how it was that he wasn’t discovered by SNL first.

The whole show needs to be burned to the ground and rebuilt from scratch, basically. And that starts with getting rid of Lorne Michaels. Then everyone else.

Anonymous said...

i like andy samburg ... and his crew of misfits (the loney island) ...

you can't really compare snl of today to the past ... the networks have changed so fraking much...back when they started there only so many channels ... now we have what hundreds ... not to mention the interwebs...

but i still agree something isn't adding up...