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'Saturday Night Live': Post-Election

December 2nd, 2008 10:04am EST
Saturday Night LiveSaturday Night Live is not funny. Some of the skits are funny, some, but the show as a whole is not. The former meter of comedic excellence has not so much stepped away from the glory days of John Belushi and Chevy Chase as much as it has dove. Even Cheri Oteri, whose career is on the wane since her days cheerleading alongside Will Ferrell, chose to cameo on the soon-to-be-cancelled Boston Legal as opposed to her alma mater.

Yes, the election has returned SNL to brief heights of hilarity. But, what does it mean when the most memorable skits of the new season featured two former cast members? For those who have not heard, Amy Poehler will most likely not return to the show after giving birth a few weeks ago. She has been replaced by that lady who does the Arianna Huffington impressions and former cast member Chris Elliott's 21-year-old daughter, NBC's most glaring example of nepotism since Luke Russert became an election correspondent. (Let's hope little Abby is able to live up to her father's reputation like Luke has.) So, with Poehler and an indomitable Tina Fey stamping themselves as the face of SNL's new season even before November sweeps, the cast faces the new predicament of rallying around a singular presence, if only for those cherished NBC ad spots.

Outside of this more mundane dilemma, SNL also comes face-to-face with a drought of material. No one would argue that SNL's return to prominence came without direct correlation to the everlong, highly-entertaining election. First, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's never-ending primary fueled the show from the end of the writer's strike in February all the way through the finale. Then, right before the season premiere, John McCain nominates the daughter Karl Rove and Gretchen Wilson never had. This, as has been excruciatingly documented, led to triumphant ratings for the show.

But hidden behind the glare of Tina Fey's glasses, and possibly inside Amy Poehler's enormous belly, were the piss-poor also-rans, the skits that not even Jay Mohr would have had the balls to propose to Lorne Michaels.

To begin, "Weekend Update," which has long been a hallmark of the show, especially with the surge of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, has begun to falter. Despite the segment relying on current events to mock with one-liners and the inevitable mock guest commentators, somehow the laughs have died. Blame Seth Meyers if you like. You wouldn't even need to overexert yourself to dig up evidence: Nicholas Fehn. For those unadulterated few, Fehn is a Fred Armisen character who sits at the desk with a stack of newspapers, reads a headlines, and then comments on the headline. Funny premise? Maybe in theory, and maybe even fantastic if executed well. Regardless, all the character does is verbally flop about like Woody Allen naked and held at imaginary gunpoint with no one to hear him blabber. After staring at the blabbering buffoon for minutes one can never retrieve in this lifetime, the camera pans to Seth Meyers…laughing!

It makes one wonder whether the new crop of SNL writers, headed by Meyers no less, do not write skits for their own enjoyment. Perhaps amidst the kerfuffle to craft a working set list each week, between games of beer pong and "Never Have I Ever," the writing staff pets one another's egos with inside jokes that they develop into skits. Surely, there can be no other explanation for the likes of Fehn being thrust upon the American audience.

No matter. Despite the speedy rappel from the rafters of comedy, this season has had its moments of splendor without having to rely on Fey or Poehler. Unfortunately, many of those moments relied on non-cast members. For instance, Ben Affleck's turn as enraged MSNBC host Keith Olbermann was so funny that even Affleck cracked up mid-skit. And when Justin Timberlake made an appearance in a spoof of Beyonce's "Single Ladies" music video, sporting a high-cut leotard and heels, everyone got the joke. But, when Kristen Wiig imitated Suze Orman the laughs grew lighter the more the joke repeated itself. In the same skit.

This is not an indictment of Saturday Night Live as much as it is a call to arms. Try harder. Quit resting on your laurels because your show is the top of the pops. That can change. Shows get cancelled. Do not become TV-versions of Bush and pave the way for the decimation of an institution. Do check out FunnyorDie.com and 30 Rock. Learn what is funny to others and figure out what's funny to you and why. When in doubt, satirize Nicholas Fehn. Own your failures and show you care. Or at least show you're funny. After all, there's not much else on TV Saturday nights.

Tim Peterson
Story by Tim Peterson

Starpulse contributing writer


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