SNL Season 39: Autopilot (with Distractions)

Kenan Thompson, doing his stock reaction shot.

Kenan Thompson, doing his stock reaction shot.

Back in December, I decided this season of Saturday Night Live wasn't likely to improve from the string of disappointing shows that aired up to that point, and figured it was no longer worth watching the live shows.  SNL wasn't truly bad this year, but it was more frustrating than enjoyable.  The show has clear potential to be good, but for a variety of internal reasons that I can only speculate about, the writers and performers continue to fall into traps that make their output so bland and rote: even the Dick Ebersol era (1981-1985), seen by many as a safer and corporate version of Lorne Michaels' show, comes off as relatively adventurous in comparison. 

Since that point, I have tuned into SNL only sporadically, deliberately skipping some of the less-than-exciting guest lineups and catching material online if the message board buzz tantalized me.  The nights I bothered to watch live, I usually regretted tuning in, particularly for the weak Jim Parsons and lazy Andy Samberg shows.  The studio audience doesn't seem to mind the show's quality, but outside the electric atmosphere of Studio 8H, the crutches seem more obvious than ever.

I feel that going too much into detail regarding my specific opinions about the cast, writing staff and general show hierarchy would be redundant, and fear that my true feelings about some of the talent on the show border on unkind.  I'll leave it at this:

SNL needs to cut a number of writers and performers that have overstayed their welcome before any cast changes that happen can seem anything other than cosmetic.  I get the sense the show is more concerned about their own internal hierarchy and rewarding loyalty and popularity than the overall quality of the show.  There's a noticeable rigidity and lack of personality to many of the proceedings, and I can't help but feel the sketches are written as Mad Libs templates.  The "surprise cameos" come across as mandatory and perfunctory; merely something to get the studio audience to cheer loud.  Even the show's use of filmed sketches make it seem like the live material is merely filler to pad airtime.

In an ideal world, the next season of Saturday Night Live would force the cast, writers and producers to cut the safety net.  I'm concerned that the lukewarm reaction to this season will only lead to next year's SNL being even more rigid, formulaic and pandering.