“Live [if you call that living] from New York, it’s Saturday Night.”
Cranking out about 60 minutes worth of content every week can’t be easy. But Saturday Night Live has 22 writers, three “head writers,” three “writing supervisors,” and a “senior writer.” That does not include Weekend Update, which has its own head writer and four writers who must only work on that segment, since they are not included in the list of 22 just plain “writers” in the show’s credits.
That makes one wonder how stupid and bad all those writers are. I mean, I regularly laugh at “Last Week Tonight,” “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” so it’s not as though I have no sense of humor. I am a fan of comedy. And those shows are genuinely funny.
Is the problem some format straitjacket that constricts the process too much? Is it Lorne Michaels’s iron-clad authority and jaded, calcified inability to know what’s funny any more, rejecting everything but the lighter-than-air premise-free sketch excuses without punchlines that kill time between commercials? Has it been so long since Lorne (who is still credited as a writer) actually sat at a keyboard and banged out a sketch with a premise, characters, a beginning, middle and end that he’s forgotten how to do that? Is it like that
The show was created as a reaction to what it saw as the predictable, format-constricted, formulaic work of things like “The Carol Burnett Show.” It has become the thing it hated and wanted to replace, only without even the professionalism and creativity of the TV comedy it wanted to replace....like, well, “The Carol Burnett Show,” or “The Simpsons Smile-Time Variety Hour.”
I hoped one of the few upsides of the WGA strike would be that the enforced five months off would mean a hiatus during which some rethinking or realignment of recalibration would occur.
Some of the material seemed like it had been left on desks in writers’ offices in May, sat there through the strike, and was immediately put into production once everybody returned to work.
1. Cold Open: Pete Davidson direct address to camera talking about the fighting and attacks in Israel and Gaza and relating it to losing his father on 9/11. The only option, really, given the week’s news. Straightforward and sincere.
2. Monologue: Actually funny; a couple of solid jokes that were well-written and elicited laughs they deserved. Hope flares briefly even though Pete Davidson is the host, and can only ever play Pete Davidson. Apparently, really an excerpt from his stand-up routine. Still, funnier than anything that followed it.
3. Fox NFL Sunday: Light, slight, with a tiny premise -- Taylor Swift possibly dating a football player -- that went nowhere. And by this time, well past its best-before date, having been chewed over relentlessly everywhere for the preceding week. “Uh, sure, let’s put that meat-pile she’s supposedly dating, Travis Kelce, at the end as a ‘surprise,’ but for God’s sake, don’t give him a line. He proved he can’t deliver one when he hosted last season.”
4. I’m Just Pete: This long after the opening and theatrical run of Barbie, parodying Ken’s number felt stale, while also being petulant, self-indulgent and not funny enough. Likely written some time in late July.
5. Wired Autocomplete Interview: A one-poop-joke sketch that goes on and on and on and on and beats the single joke into an unrecognizable pulp. Typically SNL.
6. ’60s Law Firm: “Uh, like a Mad Men thing, but, like, in a law firm, I guess?”
“Uh-huh, and how is it funny?”
“Oh, it’s not funny. There aren’t any jokes. It’s, uh, Heidi’s secretary character finishing other characters’ sentences and then smashing a breakaway desk for no reason without any connection to anything in the script.”
7. Please Don’t Destroy: Ugh, these unfortunate nepo meatballs are still around. At least now they’re warning the audience we’ll have to endure another little bolus of their dreary comedic antimatter right up front in the opening credits. Oh, being Caucasians in a traditionally African-American context? How many times have they gone back to this premise now? I’ve lost count. Did it work this time? Nope, still not funny; oh-for-however many times this hasn’t worked. And this time they’re children. Did that help? Nope. Please destroy.
8. Ice Spice (musical guest): “Hello. I have two partial verses. Oh, and a voluminous ass. Did you look at my ass? Are you sure you looked at my ass? Here is my ass again. Look at it. I command you.” Thirty seconds of ringtone distraction (and ass) stretched over two minutes and 12 seconds.
9. Weekend Update: Lame jokes that didn’t land, with every set-up and punchline handled better by the late-night shows through the week. Don’t you guys watch those shows and figure, “Okay, they did that joke we were gonna do. We have to write something different.”? Columbus desk piece limped along with no point. Deion Sanders desk piece: a joke would’ve been nice -- even just one. Sorry.
10. USS Asperon: “. . . and we’ll have Bowen Yang say ‘I used to work here’ every 17 seconds.”
“Will that be funny?”
“Will it be what?”
11. Ice Spice II: “I’m Tater-Tot Swiffer. Once again, Ass Spass -- Uh, I mean Ass Space. No, wait -- Ass Spice?”
“Hello again. In case you forgot what it looked like, here is my ass. Again. Please don’t let the Nigerian warbler distract you from my ass. We’re at two minutes? Great. Shut it down.”
(Nice touch, Global, running an SNL promo for the episode you’re airing in the middle of the episode it’s promoting. I guess that was intended as some kind of self-referential promo department “Inception” in-joke or something. Or rank scheduling incompetence. You make the call.)
12. Bean Farm: “Okay, people at the beach. Pete’s character finds out he’s inherited a bean farm, then almost immediately learns it’s been destroyed and Andrew Dismukes is buried up to his neck in sand. What is the premise here?”
“There isn’t one.”
“Bold choice. How much time will it kill?”
“Enough -- probably about five minutes”
13. Glamgina. “It’s dreary, hateful, misogynistic, idiotic and unimaginative, granted. But how can we make it worse?”
“Put the word ‘butthole’ at the end?”
“That’s just the kind of lazy, sweaty garbage we pay you mouth-breathing organ banks for.”
14. Roadhouse. Have two characters say different numbers at Kenan Thompson. Yes, innumerate arithmetic, the comedic gambit that ALWAYS works. Why, just think of . . . okay, so there are zero examples. Hey, zero is a number -- comedy gold, I tell you.
“Strike’s over. Let’s have one of our weakest former cast members host our first show back.”
“Ass, in case you hadn’t noticed. Also, ass.”
“Generic introduction to musical guest.”