With the end of the Olympics, Saturday Night Live is beginning new episodes again this week with Charles Barkley hosting. Before the show starts back up, let’s take a look back at this season, what went right, what went wrong, and where the rest of the season can go from here to, let’s be real, get better.
Let’s look at the components of the show: there’s the quality of hosts, the quality of the cast and the quality of the writing. At SNL's best, these three elements have conspired together this season to bring us the likes of Boo Boo Jefferies and Dive Bar. At its worst, it’s given us…well, let’s just say when I was reviewing which sketches and episodes I wanted to talk about, I found myself thinking “Oh, wait. Did I miss that episode?” almost half a dozen times and you guys… I had fully seen it. The sketches were just that forgettable.
The quality of hosts has been well above average. While there haven’t necessarily been any surprise “I didn’t know they could be funny!” moments, they struck gold by snagging Tiffany Haddish. That girl can make any sketch funny. Indeed, she also wins the award for “How to Pull Off a Great Monologue”. You would think that a standup comedian doing a monologue would be a slam dunk, but just look to Kevin Hart and Larry David’s episodes and you’ll see it’s just not that simple this year.
Natalie Portman has also proven herself in the past with the classic “Natalie’s Rap”. How did the show follow up her hosting gig from twelve years ago? By just doing the same thing over again, but this time it’s “I might be a mom now, but I’m still gangsta”. Same diff. It lacked the bite and timeliness that the first offered, and that’s basically been the trend this season. All concept, but no bite.
The cast right now is among the best SNL's ever had, and there's more than a good chance that ten years down the road, we’ll talk about the strong females in this cast the way we talk about the Fey/Poehler/Rudolph/Dratch years. The cast took a hit, however, with the departure of Vanessa Bayer, Bobby Moynihan and the criminally underused Sasheer Zamata. The featured players brought on to take their places have barely made a blip on the radar. Same can be said of the head writers.
Last year was one of the most successful seasons SNL has enjoyed in recent memory and a great deal of that has been attributed to the whipsmart head writing team of Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider. They were making their mark long before becoming head writers, by utilizing the powerhouse combo of Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon and in particular with their series of music videos featuring the women of SNL. With their departure, the acerbic tone has been replaced with a gentler comedic style and SNL doesn’t do well with gentle. It’s the home of the “Not Ready for Primetime Players”. Don’t give them sitcom scenarios to act out. In fact, the best sketch to not make it to air this year was from Julio Torres, one of the writers cut from the Kelly/Schneider cloth. So much so that upon watching the sketch, I looked up who wrote it just to see if Kelly & Schneider had had such a good idea that they called their old stomping ground to sell them a one-off. Julio, get louder during the table read. You need to be on air a LOT more.
This seems to be the key area SNL needs to step it back up: get your bite back. They’re still getting great initial ideas for sketches, but take that first thought and bring it a step further. The best they could do with their Stranger Things parody (and whoa, Natalie Portman very much does look like Millie Bobby Brown) was to find other Numbers who have legit potty humor abilities, and heh! Mike’s got a boner! Boners are so funny! And that guy barfs a little bit! Barf is funny! That girl farts! Farts are the epitome of funny! (They’re accurate on that one. Farts are always funny.) What say you? What can SNL do to bring their game back up to last year’s standards?