Monday, December 19, 2005

The Chronic-WHAT?-cles of Narnia

Slow, slow, slow weekend of TV. Decent "Simpsons" Christmas episode, especially the last act, which felt very "22 Short Films About Springfield," and I liked what I saw of "Family Guy" (especially Stewie's trip through the psychedelic "Sesame Street" pinball game), but most of what I watch in primetime was in repeats.

So instead, I'm going to write about "Saturday Night Live." I know, I know, I'm blogging a dead horse here (very dead horse), but I was a fan for so long and this current season pains me so much that blogging about it is cathartic.

There were exactly three funny things in the episode: Jack Black's "King Kong" song, the TV Funhouse about Jews on Christmas, and the short film with Parnell and Andy Samberg rapping about their trip to see "The Chronicles of Narnia." What do they have in common? All three were written outside the traditional "SNL" creative process, by outside people. If Black didn't write all of the Kong song, he wrote most of it, Robert Smigel writes and produces TV Funhouse on his own, and the Chronicles video (which I've gone back and watched at least three more times in the last 24 hours) was made by Samberg and his buddies from The Lonely Island, who were hired to make films for the show this year.

For a long time now, the only time you know something on "SNL" is going to be funny is when someone's bringing in outside material (Dane Cook doing his stand-up act for the monologue), when it's being produced in advance (the commercial parodies, which are great even when the rest of the show is awful), or both. It's clear that either the talent or the process is badly flawed, and I'd like to believe it's the latter. If Lorne was willing to let a third or a half of each episode be shot on film, or even pre-taped, I think we'd see a radical jump in quality. As it is now, even the season premieres feel like no one bothered to think up sketch premises until Friday afternoon. You still leave enough time in each episode to respond to current events, and to let the actors who work well in front of a live audience do their thing, but you don't keep cranking out 90 minutes of live crap just because that's the way it's always been done.

(And even there, "always" is a relative term. The first year of the show featured regular films by Albert Brooks -- one of which was so long they had to put a commercial break in the middle -- and in the last few years of the Dick Ebersol era, about half of the show was put together in advance, including some all-time classic sketches like Eddie Murphy as Mr. White and men's synchronized swimming with Harry Shearer and Martin Short.)

If you look at the sketch comedy shows that have been outd0ne "SNL" for brief periods -- "The Ben Stiller Show," "Chappelle's Show," some of the early film parodies on "Mad TV" -- you see shows where the writers and producers took their time to make sure every joke was as funny as they could possibly make it, and not just as funny as they could get it by 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday.


scaryice said...

The spelling bee was very funny, too. I know it ruins your idea of only stuff being funny, but tough shit.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I hadn't gotten around to spelling bee at the time I wrote this; it was buried at the end of the show, after a whole bunch of crap (Debbie Downer, hermaphrodite alien, etc.), and I had stopped watching by then. I only saw it after a friend asked why I hadn't blogged about it. A rare good live sketch, and like Glengarry Elf Ross the week before, put at the final slot for no discernible reason.

Tosy And Cosh said...

The Spelling Bee sketch was great, mostly the presumably staff-written front piece too, but let us not forget that the closing Tenacious D bit was another outsider-written piece.