Sunday Day Recorded

‘For a lot of people, their favourite part of the show is the short films, which makes you wonder why don’t they just do the whole show that way. They’ve been doing the show wrong for 40 years. The sketches, they’re nice but they’re long.’

Louis C.K. has made a career out of hitting the nail on the head – and inducing involuntary laughter from the brain – but in as many words as there’s been years of Saturday Night Live, the comedian summed up the fatal (surely tragic by now) flaw of NBC’s late-night sketch show, which celebrated 4 decades on the air this month. C.K. was introducing a compilation of shorts on the SNL anniversary special, scheduled on a Sunday and in primetime (who says American don’t get irony?) and may well have been feeding in to the inverted back-slapping that was pungent throughout the evening. But as soon as the clips rolled, and names like Jim Jarmusch, Mike Judge, Albert Brooks and Paul Thomas Anderson filled the screen, C.K.’s roast zinger becomes an unarguable truism. I myself once had a similar thought before when watching the late-90s British daily sketch programme The 11 O’Clock Show which was written on the day of broadcast and wondering why they didn’t just spend more time on the jokes and make them funny.

Crapping on SNL!

Crapping on SNL!

The more you think about it, the more damning C.K.’s accusations become. Who honestly prefers to watch an SNL sketch featuring The Blues Brothers instead of just watching The Blues Brothers? Where’s the pervert that would endure SNL’s fake public access show ‘Wayne’s World’ as anything other than the intro to Wayne’s World (or Wayne’s World 2)? SNL cast members try to make out that movies based on their sketches are duds (presumably for fear someone might decide to cut out the middleman) but its filmed elements are the only great comic art the show has ever contributed the world. And a sketch worth of Coneheads feels like an hour-and-a-half movie anyway, so you might as well watch the feature spin-off. C.K. might be biased since his sitcom has the finesse of art cinema, but we’re not talking about a group of comedy Oliviers with rave live notices that seem hopeless on film. Every SNL legend has proven themselves masters of screen comedy and the mythical thrill of live TV shouldn’t distract us from that.

Unless I’m severely underestimating Lorne Michaels’ command of irony, I don’t think the inflated length of the anniversary special – coming in at four-and-a-half hours – was meant as a poke at SNL’s reputation for overlong sketches. Again, C.K. was on point (why don’t I just marry him?) and the underwhelming reaction he received was not simply audience fatigue, but a nervous titter of cold, hard realization. The amount of sketches (if you can call them that) and appearances on the night looks impressive on paper, and yet SNL has that amazing ability to appear stretched even when pushed for time. It doesn’t help that so many of the most famous sketches which were revived for the afternoon/evening are based on repetition; Celebrity Jeopardy, The Californians, Weekend Update, The Bass-O-Matic Infomercial. What start out as parodies of overly-formatted TV programming end up using that format as padding. It’s a mistake for SNL to assume that everyone finds their overlength endearing. Like their very own Drunk Uncle, the nostalgic surface hides a multitude of outmoded beliefs and behaviours.

Eddie Murphy doing for real what he does in his mind.

Eddie Murphy doing for real what he does in his mind.

For a sketch show that invests such capital in the idea of shedding its history as soon as it qualifies, the current SNL cast were rather conspicuous by their absence on the anniversary special. Perhaps it’s not so much about them as the greatest generation that fought for their freedom to pretend to be Justin Bieber, but what this sketch comedy version of Apocalypse Now (minus Brando mumbling about snails – that was cut so Eddie Murphy could applaud himself) somehow failed to acknowledge was continuity. It’s a slap in the face that a cast who may be in the process of getting SNL’s shit together for the first time in quite a while should be passed over in a four-hour show and made to look like the weakest links in the chain. Given that Eddie Murphy has only just forgiven SNL after former cast member David Spade ridiculed his career on-air, despite Murphy single-handedly keeping the show on the air (like 1986 World Cup Maradona), they’re clearly not the ones who should have been asked to clean boots that night/day.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: