October 18, 2007

These Things Matter: I Still Need to Laugh; In Defense of SNL

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One of the easiest things to do nowadays is to talk about how Saturday Night Live is no longer a watchable show. We think back to the Will Ferrell led casts and to the Comedy Central repeats with Mike Myers, Dana Carvey and Adam Sandler, and grow restless at the collection of talent and sketches that is now shown late each Saturday night.
But I don’t quite agree with the majority. I’ve actually been singing SNL’s praises for a year now. I understand that the bias is strong and that the negativity pervading SNL’s image is immense, but here are five (probably controversial) reasons that you perhaps should give the show another shot.
1. The cast actually isn’t that bad. Really, it isn’t. SNL made a very smart move, finally trimming its cast down from a gaggle to a handful, enough so that we can at last recognize most of the players from week to week. Darrell Hammond is still getting it done after all these years as the guy able to impersonate pretty much everybody in Washington (and many not in Washington). Amy Poehler is probably their most consistent performer, and proof that women can indeed by funny on SNL. Some of their newer cast members have found their niches on the show as well, particularly Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis. And then there’s the Samberg effect. Andy Samberg is the heir apparent to the void left by Will Ferrell as the unquestioned star of the SNL cast, and I believe it will not be long until he reaches that status. Which reminds me…
2. The digital shorts are really, really funny. Nearly everyone in the universe has seen “Dick in a Box” and “Lazy Sunday.” You know by now how great those are. But those are not the only YouTube-aimed sketches that are funny. Perhaps some of you have seen “Sloths” or “Laser Cats.” These are also excellent. The digital shorts are a return to what SNL originally was back when it was created: a trendy and innovative brand of comedy. Recognizing the YouTube phenomenon, the producers found one of the better viral video teams on the web (The Lonely Island) and put them on their writing staff, making Samberg a featured player in the process. It has now gotten to the point where I actively look forward each week to what kind of digital short will be released.
3. You can record the show on DVR! I am not saying that the entirety of the show is good. That is almost never the case. However, what I am saying is that if you have a DVR machine (please go get one, if you don’t) then you can record the show, and fast forward through the bad sketches. It’s fairly easy to recognize early on when a sketch is bad, and it’s just a matter of simply pressing the fast-forward button and moving to the next one. It boggles my mind when others make fun of me for watching SNL every week, when I get 30 – 45 minutes of enjoyment out of what otherwise would have taken 90 minutes.
4. They still are able to find big stars to host the show. I’m actually pretty surprised by this, because of how much the image of SNL has deteriorated, but I guess as long as stars have stuff to plug, we’ll have big-name hosts. A few of the repeat hosts are memorably great: Christopher Walken, Alec Baldwin, Justin Timberlake. Other times hosts come out of nowhere to be very good, like Peyton Manning or Hugh Laurie. And best of all, sometimes hosts are unspeakably awful, which probably makes for the best TV — like what happened with Jon Bon Jovi last weekend.
5. It’s just comedy folks. Perhaps it is because of SNL’s longevity and past reputation that there is always such controversy about its quality. But right now it’s so hard to find any source of comedy that is consistently good. This is especially true on TV, where anything short of The Office or 30 Rock is average at best. As somebody who likes to laugh, SNL provides me with a solid source of laughs three times a month. What’s not to like about that?