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Saturday Night Live – A Dinosaur That Should Throw Itself Into The La Brea Tar Pits

I just sat through an entire Saturday Night Live. It was pretty much 90 minutes of mental torture. Why, you may ask, if I thought it was so bad, did I stay with it?

This was an archive broadcast owing to the continuing writers' strike. They aired a program dating from around Christmas of '95 or '96. Steve Martin was the host. Despite his presence, the show stunk. I watched the whole thing because the musical guest was James Taylor, who provided the only highlights of the show with two performances from his New Moon Shine album, what was then his most recent release, and a solo performance of his old standard, "Sweet Baby James." But, the comedy wasn't, well, comical. The writing was ghastly, exceeded only in awfulness by the performances, the kind of awfulness that makes you squirm in your seat.

About a year ago my wife and I sat through another SNL at the behest of my younger son, again owing to the musical guests, Arcade Fire. My son is a college chum of one of the members of AF. While what they do is not quite my cup of tea, they were, nevertheless, pretty entertaining. However, as above, the show was awful.

The same can be said for the SNL which featured Peyton Manning several months ago. Since we live in Indy and are at least nominal Colts fans, we felt it our duty to watch. Most of the material for Manning was bad, and some just embarrassing. Manning should hold on to his day job.

Now, I'd like to believe that the first years of SNL were great. I must admit to having been a fan of the show early on. But having watched a few early shows on DVD recently, I have to say that it was just as bad back then as it is now. The only thing the early shows had going for them was the shock value, the outrageousness. That, of course, is the key to most of what has passed for comedy for some time now - being outrageous, being gross, being tasteless, being insulting, being crude, being stupid. SNL more or less pioneered that type of humor, for network television at any rate. It was shocking and gross and stupid and tasteless and the rest, and I loved it back then. The irreverence fit the times. It was new and an absolute hoot to see that kind of thing on the tube. But was it, upon reflection, truly funny? Not really. There was and is little that is clever, or witty, or even droll about the show.

What I've seen in recent years has been, if anything even less inspired. The life, the energy, the surprise that the original shows had going for them is long gone. The lengths it now takes to shock an audience make it a labor not worth the finished product. Again, the writing is at best tepid, much of it is wretched. Some sketches may squeeze out one or two funny moments.  Many manage none.

The performances are uncomfortable. It is as if they know the material sucks, but there they are, live, in front of god and everybody doing some bit that was ill conceived, poorly written, barely rehearsed, and consequently, tentatively and self-consciously performed, the performers sometimes craning their necks to read the damn cue cards. Comic timing on SNL seems to be a completely lost art.

The live audience seems to strain nearly as hard to force even a titter of laughter. They want the stuff to be funny. They, want so badly to laugh. Hell, they probably waited in line for hours in lousy weather just to get in. They want their time's worth. (It's free, isn't it?) But there is rarely any payoff.

Some claim that it's the awfulness that makes it funny. That's crap. The awfulness is not funny. It's just awful. In the Martin/Taylor show the former made a valiant attempt to slog through a big Broadway style number, a fairly dangerous admission that most of the show's performances are "phoned in." I think that told far too much of the truth.

The format is old, the execution tired. The show is just not funny. It's just too painful to watch, regardless of who the musical guest might be. SNL should be retired, allowed to die quietly and with some shred of dignity, maybe in favor of airing Bonanza reruns. That Dan Blocker was some kinda actor, don't you think?

About Baritone

  • http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0694604/ dgsgsd

    I thought you might like to know that that episode was actually from ’91, specifically December 14, 1991.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    dgsgsd,

    My mistake. I thought I picked up a reference to something regarding 1995 or 1996. Guess I was hearing things.

    Thanks for the correction.

    B-tone

  • Scut Farkus

    SNL not funny? Can’t wait for your next timely, original article: “MTV Doesn’t Play Music Anymore”.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    SF,

    Perhaps. But that still doesn’t obviate the question, Why the fuck is it still on the air? Somebody must think that dreck is funny. We must find these people and get them help, or failing that, start the extermination process.

    B-tone

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    i don’t think it’s funny anymore either…but have to disagree on the show with manning. i thought he was hilarious.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Mark,

    To each his own. I don’t know if you are a Hoosier or a Colts’ fan, but we obviously get a lot of Peyton on the tube here in Indy pretty much all year. I think he’s great on the field. He seems like a good and intelligent guy. But, my wife noted that, if he wasn’t an NFL quarterback, he’d likely be considered a nerd.

    Nevertheless, I still found much of what he had to do on SNL either embarrassing or just lame – in keeping with the rest of the program.

    B-tone

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    hoosier? i’m a new englander!!

    interesting perspective though…i mean, i really thought that manning seemed very natural on the snl appearance…actually, more natural than just about everybody else in the cast.

    i agree about the material though. it seems like they come up with one funny thing every other week.

    i don’t watch much anymore.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Considering that one must dedicate 90 minutes of one’s Saturday evening/Sunday morning, the 1 or 2 truly funny bits that may rise up out of the sea of dreck that dominates the show, it’s just not a good use of that time. I find that a pretty good time to clip my toe nails and trim my nose hair. As I noted, in the future, not even Sweet Baby James could entice me to sit through another SNL.

    B-tone

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    “i don’t think it’s funny anymore either…but have to disagree on the show with manning. i thought he was hilarious.”

    Came in here to say this. It also gave us Maraka.

  • Jason

    Wow….thank goodness no one reads this publication! [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor] SNL was such a hit in the 70′s because, yes it was cutting edge, but in a way that was intelligent, well read, insightful, creative, and tasteful. It is the same way now, it just has to be a little MORE creative because now, since SNL has been such a huge influence, they have to find new ways to be creative. The only thing that has changed is the intelligence and educational level of the audience. Audiences today (as you proved in your article) are not nearly as smart as they were back then. I think it’s great that SNL does not pander or water down their material so that todays audience (you included) can get the humor. [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor]

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    you can’t water down water.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Jason,

    I knew I’d get at least one comment charging that I obviously just don’t “get it.” I grant you that the focus of humor has changed over the years – this is no longer the world of Bob Hope or Milton Berle – but neither am I a clueless rube.

    I have watched some or all of various SNL programs over the years, sometimes with one or both of by sons who are now in their 20s. Both are intelligent and involved in the arts. Only occasionally did they find something funny that I did not. They usually felt the same discomfort that I did. My wife just walks out of the room shaking her head.

    If you believe that what SNL has to offer is intelligent, creative and funny, well, I’m happy for you, although I believe there is some concern regarding your own intelligence and taste, and, owing to your apparent penchant for personal attacks over a fucking TV show, your mental stability as well.

    B-tone

  • Alex

    I don’t know, I find SNL hilarious. I think it has some really good moments and definitely still has shock value. What about SNL Digital Shorts such as “Iran So Far” and “Dick in a Box”? And how can you say that Manning’s United Way skectch was bad? Also great: Gap Girls, Opera Man, Bill Swerski’s Superfans, and ever single Celebrity Jeopardy sketch.

    Maybe we’re watching different versions of the show.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    I’m sure regular watchers have their favorite bits, characters & so on. Just the fact that someone IS a regular watcher says something. Perhaps I’m jaded, but as I said, when watching something makes one squirm in embarrassment and the performers have a pained look saying more than anything – “Get me out of here!” I just find it difficult to count it as a high comedic moment.

    The fact is, there are some classic moments I recall from the Belushi/Ackroyd era. But I can also remember sitting through any number of painfully inept and dumb sketches as well.

    There isn’t a lot of good comedy anywhere on the tube as far as I’m concerned. I loved Seinfeld. Friends had its moments. The last sitcom I watched with any regularity, and which I now miss was Frasier which at its best came the closest to being true witty, urbane humor having at least a few ‘Noel Coward’ type moments. Even it, especially in its later years, tended toward the maudlin, but much of it was great fun, depending only tangentially upon bawdy and crude humor. It was refreshing to have a respite from the routine of humor spun from sex, genitalia and bodily functions.

    I realize that SNL does not necessarily center its humor on those things. They often make an effort to be topical and/or to have a political edge. I just feel that most of the stuff misses the mark.

    Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me whether the show stays or goes. It will stay as long as the numbers are good and the high revenues for the network and producers keep coming in. We all know that is what keeps any show on the air. Quality has little to do with it. If and when the money dissipates, the death knell for any TV show, its demise will be swift and sure.

    B-tone

  • Alex

    May I suggest The Office, 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and/or Arrested Development.

    I love all the shows you mentioned, and hopefully you’ll find something you like in one of those.

  • http:.//ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Well, Baritone, there actually is something we can agree on. SNL should be finally be tossed into the trash heap with an appropriate funereal memorial to the great show it once was.

    One Friday afternoon in the 1970′s I was riding the B train home when I finally found a seat and proceeded to read the New York Post someone had left.

    A moment after I had opened the paper, a fellow with a California accent sat down next to me and started talking about the parties that I was giving a less than passing glance to on the society page, parties that had taken place in California, wouldn’t ya know? After gabbing on and on for what seemed an eternity, he got off at the West 4th Street stop in Manhattan.

    I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen him from somewhere, that I should have know who he was or something. As we crossed the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn, I looked at the lady who had sat down in his place, who had been standing while he was gabbing on and on…

    “Was that Elliott Gould?” I asked. She nodded.

    I told my ex (then my wife) about all this upon arriving home. She wanted to know why I hadn’t tried to get his autograph.

    That Saturday night, we turned on NBC at night, and there he was on Saturday Night Live, guest hosting the show.

    But even great bread gets stale and moldy after a time, and after 32 years, their is more rotten mold than anything else to the Saturday Night Loaf.

    Let me know when they finally inter the corpse and play taps or say Havdallá (the Jewish prayer for separation).

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Ruvy,

    I’ve heard nothing about a pending demise of the show. Of course, it is out of production along with most other scripted TV fare here owing to the TV writers’ strike.

    A bit of irony in that I also crossed paths with Elliott Gould, a few years earlier, also in the Big Apple. I drove a cab in NYC in 1969 & 70. He popped into my hack one evening, and a veritable Chatty Kathy was he. He was then riding high on the success of MASH and prior to that, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. He was full of himself, but an entertaining conversationalist nevertheless. In a further bit of irony, as I was driving Gould to his destination, while trying to beat a light, I almost ran into actor Rod Steiger. He slapped the hood of my car and gave me the finger. Gould realized who it was and laughed so hard I thought he was going to pass out. Hitting Steiger would have been an unfortunate way to gain my “fifteen minutes.”

    But, yes. We agree on little, but regarding SNL we stand on common ground.

    I do hope your holiday season has been good.

    B-tone

  • George

    Yo, Tone-ster: You nailed SNL perfectly. I will drop in on a broadcast once or twice a year now, and invariably am disappointed at the lack of quality comedy. Usually my reaction is, “Am I missing something, or is this show totally lacking talent and writing ability?” Or, “How can something this bad by on the tube?” I recently tuned in to the SNL Christmas special, which supposedly featured the best sketches about Christmas. The only funny one was the “Schwetty balls” sketch, with Alec Baldwin, which I had seen before. I finally had to turn it off because I was too embarrassed to continue watching.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    George,

    Exactly! I, too, remember seeing the “Schwetty Balls” routine. It was funny for a minute or so, but then you come to realize that it’s really a ‘one trick poney.’

    I grant that over the years, the show has had it’s moments. True inspiration strikes them once in a while. But the too few gems that rise above the miasma of lack luster dreck are hardly worth the journey.

    I felt they had run their course years ago. The pressure of coming up with 90 minutes (well, really only about, what, 60 or 65 minutes) of material week after week that is to be broadcast live is too much to ask of anyone. I know that the writers and performers trade off. Not all of them have sketches in every show, but regardless, the constant need to produce would, I think get old, really fast. The end product is a testament to that.

    B-tone

  • http:.//ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Baritone,

    You were a cabbie in New York? Remind me never to argue with your judgment when it comes to driving a car. Cabbies stand at the top of the heap of that curious subspecies of human known as the “New York driver” (something I was once).

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Ruvy,

    Yes, I was one of the infamous NY cabbies for about a year. I managed to accomplish that without hitting anything or anyone – more or less. A truly great thing to do is drive Manhattan at like 4AM. Relatively speaking anyhow, there is little traffic. One of my greatest accomplishments was figuring out that I could take a fare from the West Village, go north on 8th Ave. enter Central Park at Columbus Circle and make it to 79th and maybe as far east as 1st Ave. without hitting a red light. I repeated this feat a handful of times. They should give awards. I amazed a couple of riders, with one even giving me a $10 tip. Having had that singular experience, driving in the mid-west – even in Chicago – is no sweat.

    Prior to being a cabbie, I worked as a motorcycle messenger, primarily in Manhattan as well. Before you conjure an image of someone tooling around Manhattan on a big Harley or Triumph, I must confess that my “bike” was a “Step Thru” Honda 90. Getting that baby up to 50mph was quite a feat. It did serve to make me very familiar with the city, though. Those were the days.

    B-tone

  • http:.//ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I see you’ve done your time in the Big Apple, B-tone.

    My father, may he rest in peace, also liked to concentrate on long runs without hitting red lights. But since his route was in Brooklyn (he was a butter & egg man for over thirty years, he concentrated on its street-light patterns and wasn’t as familiar with the ones in New York.

    Having learned to drive there myself from my dad, I also discovered driving in the mid-west – St. Paul/Minneapolis, in my case – to be a snap.

    In fact, the last time we were in New York (1996), I felt very much at home with the chaotic madness of the drivers. My poor wife, a Minnesota girl, was overwhelmed by the midnight traffic on the spur to I95 leading into New Jersey through Staten Island (we stayed at a hotel near Philly cause the cost of a rental car was so much cheaper there). The traffic at midnight was approximately what it is during rush hour on I94 between Mpls. and St. Paul.

    Drivers here, aggressive and tricky as they are, just are not as aggressive as New York drivers, and it’s fun to play chicken with Israeli drivers, who all think that Americans are just cream-puffs on the road….

    It can also be deadly. I chose not to get an Israeli driver’s license. I sense that this act will add to my years on this earth….

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    A true New York cabbie upon being confronted with a lane and a half, will always take the half lane, usually at about 40mph. If anybody opens a door or tries to pull out – whomp!

    I left NYC in the fall of 1970 and moved to Bloomington, IN to attend IU. About 2 years later my then new wife and I took a guick trip to NYC before the fall semester. We drove straight through, and I was exhausted driving up the NJT. But upon emerging from the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan, the blood started flowing and the adrenaline rushing. I kind of slid down in my seat, and I was once again the night rider sliding through the towering shadows (I know, that’s a bit much.) I scared my wife half to death driving much as I had my yellow ’69 Dodge cab. I hadn’t lost the touch.

    A few years ago, I returned to the city with my son who was auditioning at Julliard. Unfortunately, we didn’t drive. When we had some time, I dragged him around Manhattan showing him some of my old haunts. He was pretty much unimpressed. We did take a couple of cabs, though. I found myself wanting to jump into the driver’s seat and have at it. But I held myself in check and just enjoyed seeing the city once more.

    B-tone

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    guick trip??