October 24, 2002

Take One

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Years ago, we thought that this television show would forever be the trendsetter in the comedy world, the pinnacle of wit and amusement. We thought the writers were brilliant, invincible, and that they would eternally preserve their inimitable drollness. Then, like the Roman Empire, it all began to crumble into the tragic ruins we see today.

NBC’s Saturday Night Live was a brilliant conception. Its live sketch comedy and twisted humor set a new standard and entertained audiences consistently. Only a decade ago, the overwhelming, sparkling cast included the services of well-known comedians Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, and Adam Sandler. Even earlier than that, impressive comics Steve Martin, Dan Akroyd , Jim Belushi, and Bill Murray were among the many who initially managed to put the show on the map. A blend of comedy club junkies, mainstream musical guests, and prevailing celebrities, Saturday Night Live was always an acceptable weekend event to behold. Then, the show began to falter, disastrously becoming the Titanic of television, rivaled only by, well, the entire Fox network.

Trust me. It hurts me to say that SNL’s onetime grandeur is now but a mere moment in the past, a time shift from the funny to the not quite so. But it has to be said. Last week, Chris Parnell (who?) debuted his impression of “dubya,” taking over the presidential role from now ex-SNL funnyman Will Ferrell. Not only was there no resemblance, and not only was the voice entirely inaccurate, but the writing for the sketch itself was nothing short of mind-numbing. Oh — and Horatio Sanz plays Saddam Hussein. Sounds like Cheri Oteri has taken a break from high excellence film to come back to SNL to do the casting.

Let’s further examine the current cast. Get past Darrell Hammond, who should be given credit for being truly talented, and you get to the only semi-gifted Jimmy Fallon and not-as-cute-as-she-wants-to-be Tina Fey. This “Weekend Update” pair has the potential to be funny, but their moments of genius, and I use that word lightly, are few and far between. The cast list extends to Chris Kattan, who is about as enjoyable as a cockroach, and to Tracy Morgan, who dreams about being the next Chris Rock, only to discover that, in reality, the only thing funny about him is that he has a woman’s name. And finally, Rachel Dratch, Seth Meyers, Jeff Richards, and Maya Rudolph are among the few names you have not heard of — and will never hear of again. It’s a shame too, simply because the writing for the show can be as brilliant as it wants, but its success cannot return if the medium for the writing’s deliverance are these dull, uninteresting people I have mentioned above.

Remember the old “Celebrity Jeopardy” skits? And, before that, the “wild and crazy guys”? I do; I remember them fondly. Remember anxiously awaiting the announcement of who would be the celebrity host for the next week? Would it be someone from a TV show I liked? A movie I had enjoyed? Now, a viewer must ask, “Will it be someone my grandfather in Cleveland voted for senator?” What do I mean, you wonder? This past Saturday, Senator John McCain hosted the storied show. Get past the fact that his comedy resum