Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I meant to post this on Monday but never got around to it:

I actually watched Saturday Night Live this weekend- Not to see 8-foot tall monster and American hero Michael Phelps embarrass himself, but to take a peak at Tina Fey's take on Sarah Palin and see just what SNL's coverage of the 2008 election would look like. I wasn't impressed. Yes, Tina Fey does look remarkably like Palin and her impression is dead on. However, the writing on Saturday Night Live, as it has for so many years now, really just stinks. The opening sketch of Fey and Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton wasn't terrible, but despite a few funny lines, just lacked any real bite. Most of the rest of the show was just putrid, prompting a number of moves to the fast forward button on the DVR. As Mrs. Lonely libertarian pointed out, SNL has been doing some of these stupid family sketches for a couple of decades and they just get less funny over time.

I will however, go out of my way to mention one bright spot, Andy Samberg's ridiculously bizarre music video about the failed Space Olympics. Samberg's the same one who did the Lazy Sunday sketch from a few years back, about his and fellow cast member Chris Parnell's attempt to see the Chronicles of Narnia. Like Narnia, this one's worthy of a viewing, although it's obviously not as catchy.

What's striking about this Space Olympics clip is it was the only part of the entire show that seemed remotely original. The problem SNL has faced for over a decade now is that it's competition- primarily from cable- has surpassed it in terms of quality. Weekend update hasn't seemed relevant in years because the Daily Show (not to mention numerous celebrity-obsessed comedy shows) actually do the "make fun of the news thing" year round, on a daily basis. And even the popular sketch comedy shows (think Chapelle's Show at it's height on Comedy Central) have more leeway to push the envelope precisely because they are on cable. SNL can still do funny stuff- but it's got to get better writers who are actually willing to take some chances and not tell the same lame jokes over and over and over again.

Updated 9/17/2008 @ 3:15 PM : I would take it as an axiom that good sketch comedy has to be willing to fail, not really just fail, but fail miserably. That's why good sketch comedy troops tend to mix big hits with big duds. What SNL lacks, what it's lacked for a long time now, are any writers or producers willing to take chances. Good comedy when it fails should make you ask "What the hell was that?" It should make you think the writers were doing too much acid, not that they don't know how to write.


Blogger McMc said...

That's a great point you make in your updated part, because a lot of great sketch comedy moments happen in failures and risk-taking. One of the funniest Will Ferrell sketches I ever saw on SNL was one of the last ones of an episode. Back when they had Ferrell and that great cast, they would just come up with some ridiculous ideas and see what happened. In one episode, starring Pierce Brosnan, Ferrell played an overly abusive boss interviewing Brosnan's character for a job. Ferrell would just start yelling and berating his employees in a very over-the top manner. Finally, Chris Parnell shows up as a disgruntled employee in a devil's cape and holding a trident, claiming to have been drinking coffee and snorting cocaine and claiming to be tired of the abuse. Parnell and Ferrell fight, and then Ferrell ends up "stabbing" Parnell with a trident at least 20 times. The concept was so ridiculous and it was relegated to the back end of the show for a reason, but it's a sketch that always sticks with me. (Also because Brosnan utters the line, you stabbed a man with a trident, which of course was later used in Anchorman).

You bring up Andy Samberg too, and the Digital Shorts that he comes up with emphasize the hit or miss point you make. Some weeks hit so big (Lazy Sunday, D*ck in a Box) and some just fail miserably, but it's worth it for those comedy gems.

3:41 PM  
Anonymous rose said...

They could throw a wig and glasses on Ferrell and give him a woman's pant suit and the same lines they gave Tina Fey and his impression of Palin will be 100 times more enjoyable to watch than hers.

I think it's more about the people than the writing.

3:51 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

Rose, you bring up a good point with Ferrell, but he's the exception rather than the rule. There are very few comedic actors who have the ability to carry a scene the way Ferrell does. (And Ferrell in a pants suit is reminding me of his absolutely over the top job as Janet Reno.)

The thing is, with a talent like Ferrell (or maybe someone like Chris Farley who was equally special), you can get a lot of humor just from a character and a very basic setting. I'd say the writing for most of Ferrell's tenure on SNL was mediocre to sub-par, but because of Ferrell and a few others, the show was still watchable.

But even without that sort of great talent, you can still write a funny show that makes use of the talents of decent comedic actors.

4:08 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

Case-in-point about bad writing. One of the sketches from Saturday featured Michael Phelps a regular as the dorky, metal-faced, whiny teenaged kids of a couple who were having some co-workers over for drinks. It was the sort of sketch that even Will Ferrell couldn't save because the premise itself wasn't very funny to start with. It was just a couple of obnoxious kids, singing songs, dancing, playing the saxophone, and acting bizarre. It wasn't brave or creative, it was just a failed attempt to get a cheap laugh.

Watching it, my only thought was that "this sucks." Watching the Space Olympics video, my initial thought was, "What the hell am I watching?"

One of my all-time favorite Kids in the Hall sketches was about sausages. To this day it's one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen a comedy troop do. I guess the point I keep beating home is shit like that takes guts, while the sketch I mentioned before does not.

4:16 PM  
Anonymous rose said...

obama's new ad linking mccain to limbaugh and suggesting mccain somehow hates mexicans is unfuckingbelievable on so many levels.

1) limbaugh hates mccain
2) limbaugh hates mccain's stance on immigration, repeatedly calling it amnesty
3) this is obama's way of transceding race. to try to convince latino immigrants that john mccain of all people hates them.


2:07 PM  
Anonymous rose said...

mccain has not yet put an ad out linking obama to wright....but obama has linked mccain to rush limbaugh...

i mean come the fuck on.

truth hasn't mattered much in this election cycle, but this really just upped the ante.

2:17 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

Yeah, I've seen a number of libertarian Obama leaders who are pretty upset with him about that add. It is just plain terrible.

2:37 PM  
Anonymous WillM said...

Amen. You nailed every point.

I can tell you, though, from the perspective of someone who writes sketch, that taking risks and pushing the envelope can be terrifying when it doesn't fly. They don't call it "dying on stage" for nothing. We did a skit once that got no audience reaction, good or bad. They didn't even know it was a skit-- a true "What the hell was that?" moment.

3:07 AM  

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