Brief thoughts on #SNL40

Other people are probably going to write more extensively about tonight's SNL 40th Anniversary special, so I'll leave it to them, but I'll say my piece about a few things:

Most of the show was entertaining; the clip montages were well-chosen and edited, and it was good to see the lesser-celebrated Doumanian and Ebersol years get more "deep cuts" covered in the highlight reels, as opposed to the same Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo clips they normally rely on.  

The music performances weren't bad; nothing on par with Prince doing "Electric Chair" at the 15th anniversary or the Eurythmics and Al Green medleys at the 25th. Miley Cyrus doing "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" was surprisingly good, though.  

Jane Curtin doing Weekend Update with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler was a highlight, and she killed it with her Fox News joke. She was always the secret weapon of the original years, or at least the one hidden in plain sight.  

The biggest misstep of the night was the Californians sketch, which didn't seem to play too well in studio. Despite the participation of Laraine Newman and cameos from Bradley Cooper, Kerry Washington, Taylor Swift and Betty White, the sketch dragged.  David Spade posted a close-up of the script on Instagram earlier, which revealed this was the handiwork of James Anderson and Kent Sublette; for all I know they may be wonderful people, but this was all too typical of their other work on the show*.  The same could be said for Garth and Kat, which ground the pacing of the "salute to musical sketches" segment to a halt.

The "In Memoriam" montage was well-done, but I noticed a few glaring omissions:

  • Joe Bodolai (writer, 1981-82)
  • Nelson Lyon (writer, 1981-82)
  • Mark O'Donnell (writer, 1981-82)
  • Terry Southern (writer, 1981-82)
  • Alan P. Rubin (band, 1975-83)
  • Drake Sather (writer, 1994-95)
  • Mauricio Smith (band, 1975-79)

They may have kept to a "more than one season" rule for writers, but I found it odd they didn't count the other band members who have passed.  I believe there were also a few other crew and staff members that had been memorialized beforehand but not here.  That said, it was nice to see some others get their due.  I was most concerned that Charles Rocket, Danitra Vance, Michael O'Donoghue and Tom Davis would get short shrift, and was pleased to see they were counted.  The same goes for Don Pardo, Dave Wilson and Audrey Peart Dickman (from many accounts, she was the engine that kept the show running, production-wise). 

Other than those issues, the special served its purpose: it reminded the audience why this show (and it's history) is special, and it was good to see a lot of familiar faces again.  I hope everyone there had a good time (even Anderson and Sublette).

*A partial list of other Anderlette sketches this season: "Forgotten Television Gems", "Women In The Workplace", "Campfire Song", "Nest-presso", "Amy Adams Monologue", "Singing Sisters", "Soap Opera Reunion", "The Journey", "Casablanca".

The Worst SNL Sketches Of All Time: The Results, part 1: Recurring Sketches

The results are in, and so begins my series of weekly posts on the worst Saturday Night Live sketches. Unlike the vote for the worst individual sketches, there was no single recurring sketch that got a significantly higher number of votes than the other nominees; many sketches received one vote apiece, and there were considerably fewer nominees (and votes) in the recurring category than in the worst overall sketches.  In the end, there was a three-way tie for worst recurring sketch, with a clear second place winner.

The worst recurring SNL sketch or characters of all time are: (tied) The Californians, Garth & Kat, Gilly

The Californians - One of the voters summed it up best: "Every time I see some promo of SNL that lauds that piece of skit sketch I want to break things".  James Anderson and Fred Armisen wrote this sketch revolving around the characters'  accents and tendency to give driving directions, which likely would have been a forgotten one-off sketch had it not been for Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader breaking character at Armisen's exaggerated line delivery.  Like with Debbie Downer, the producers and writers decided it was going to be one of their new signature bits, but where they found ways to put Debbie Downer in different situations, the very format of The Californians limited any potential to develop beyond such a thin premise.  By the time Armisen and Hader left the show, they had done the sketch 6 times in the space of 13 months.

Garth and Kat - This Weekend Update segment featuring an unprepared musical duo in matching vests is little more than Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig playing an improv game where one leads and their partner has to match what they're doing.  The whole thing is very self-indulgent and seems designed to kill 5 minutes of airtime more than anything else: like their characters, Armisen and Wiig don't rehearse their songs, and the result is more amusing to them than it is to the studio audience or home viewer.

Gilly - A polarizing character that even Wiig's own mother hates, Gilly seems to be the ultimate example of the bad SNL recurring sketch: one voter referred to it as "Kristen Wiig and the writers simply cashing paychecks".  I've said before the sketch reeks of Wiig and Paula Pell cynically coming up with a cash-grab character to be put on a T-shirt, because this sketch is neither's best work.  To Pell's credit, she did manage to put a genuinely funny moment in the first sketch (Casey Wilson's dialogue with Will Forte), but the sketches are tedious after the first run-through of the beats, which are limited variations on a set formula: if you see one minute of a Gilly sketch, you've seen the rest of the sketches in the series.  Inexplicably, NBC and SNL figured this was enough of a beloved character to warrant being used as a framing device for a compilation of Christmas sketches that aired in prime time (A Very Gilly Christmas).


Ching Chang (later Ching Change) - Saturday Night Live was arguably at its best during the late 80s, which is why this Dana Carvey character sticks out as especially bad: a stereotypical Chinese man who is emotionally attached to the live chickens he sells, insisting in Chinese Pidgin English that "chicken make lousy housepet!"  This rightfully attracted flack when it aired; at one point, SNL addressed the controversy by having Ching's sister Loose (Nora Dunn) criticize him for acting like a cartoon compared to her "positive ethnic role model" boyfriend (Phil Hartman).  This character is considered one of the most racist things the show has aired, and becomes more painful to watch as time passes on.