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How SNL Triedand failed to tackle their biggest challenge yet

 


Just like the rest of us Saturday Night Live struggled to find its place in a 2020 hit by coronavirus. Last spring the series flipped, briefly, to a quarantined version of itself that was tough and tumbling, of course, but also oozing, backyard, lets-put-show energy, with no less of Brad pitt Zoom in for fun. This fall, however, SNL chose to return to Studio 8H, with new pandemic protocol in place. His 46th season kicked off this weekend for healthy notesnot so surprising, given that the series typically sees a election year bump, and COVID has a lot of people who are still responsibly quarantined at home with nothing better to do than log on.

Still, the show’s usual Sunday morning repeat, when non-live viewers catch up via YouTube clips or viral tweets, seemed disproportionate this week. Maybe the shows are limited Donald trumpthe bashing was in bad taste as the president posed for proof-of-life photos at Walter Reed Medical Center; perhaps Jim Carreys Joe bidenfailed to make a big impression.

The biggest problem, however, is that most of the show wasn’t very funny. His lukewarm Biden-Trump debate revealed an uncomfortable truth: in the 12 years that followed Tina Fey makes hay Sarah Palin, SNLThe sharp muscles of politics have weakened. The series couldn’t find much humor in a cool, calm, and relatively scandal-free environment. Barack obama presidency and as soon as Trump stepped into the arena it became clear that SNL prefers to hire celebrities to pose as people in Trump’s orbit rather than undermining Trumpworld for comedy. After all, why write clever jokes when you can just repeat, almost word for word, the wild events of a Trump-era debate, hearing, or press conference?

Feys Palin’s heyday, of course, came at a very different time for the entertainment and news cycle. Things moved much more slowly even in 2008; a Saturday night show didn’t feel so far removed from a Tuesday night scandal. But thanks in large part to social media, any jokes or political elements favorable to memes. SNL could consider running in 2020 has, by the weekend, already been chewed on by an American audience ready to move on. The show itself acknowledged this particular challenge in the opening scroll that preceded its debate sketch: Tuesday is like 100 days ago.

But it didn’t stop SNL to essentially rebroadcast the caustic debacle that was the presidential debate during this cold open weekend. Alec Baldwin, who has repeatedly expressed fatigue with his own impression of Trump, was in pretty good shape, but Carreys Biden’s debut was probably not the blockbuster SNL hoped. Unlike the old actor Jason Sudeikis or even a brilliant guest star of recent seasons Woody Harrelson, Carreys’ impression seemed totally separate from the Democratic candidate; it was more like Fire Marshal’s Bill in a snowy wig than anything that comes close to Biden.

At their best, SNLS political prints distill the essence of their subjects while adding a comedic touch. Kate McKinnons Hillary Clinton, for example, she echoed the well-known ambition of the candidates and added both a cool factor and reactions like this that she shared with the public whenever she faced Trump. McKinnons takes Kellyanne conway and Jeff Sessions, not to mention Ruth Bader Ginsberg, were extreme, but also rooted in a tangible aspect of the real people they represented. It is this connective tissue to reality that makes Maya rudolphs cool-mom take Kamala harriswho has had virtually no screen time this week, a joy. (Heres is hoping this week’s vice-presidential debate will give him more work.)

Even beyond the outline of the debate, this episode of SNL had little to offer. Host Chris rocks the monologue was good, if it was too drunk; it had rock lobing punchlines as well as public assurance that safety protocols were in place, honoring first responders, tacitly acknowledging the masked lens SNL group installed behind plexiglass, and, oh yes, questioning the state of government and democracy. A bit much for a short run.

After biting Trump for years, the SNL The editorial staff also seem less equipped than ever to make people laugh outside the White House. Aside from the cold opening, monologue, and weekend update, the episode only had three live skits. (Perhaps this is understandable in the COVID era, however SNL for years, they’ve relied more and more on pre-recorded sketches.) And all of them have relied on juvenile, wacky jokes, which they explore for silly names (bless Mikey Day to maintain this sketch), Kyle mooneys future of video games, or a series of women begging to be allowed into the NBA bubble.

For some inexplicable reason, some of the show’s strongest veteran players, McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, and Cecily strongwere largely ruled out throughout the premiere. This movement is not totally unknown; SNL likes to find space for her new cast members at the start of each season. But the absence of those MVPs has hurt the series, as has a series of technical difficulties like someone breathing heavily into their mic during the cold open, or heavy stages of the NBA.

There were some brilliant exceptions to this first season’s confusion, and they came from two of the brightest rising stars in the world. SNL throw away. Chloe Fineman, who turned out to be an incredibly agile impersonator last season, crushed his pre-recorded parody of Drew barrymores bonkers new day talk show. Bowen Yang, which mainly has an incredibly funny and bitchy mode, dragged the somewhat moldy episode that kicks and screams in 2020 with a smart and relevant nod to the rise of humor based on TikTok. And speaking of TikTok darlings: there’s no denying that Megan Thee stallion cut a dazzling figure in both of her performances and took full advantage of her platform to deliver the only truly striking political message of the night: to pause her hit song Savage to highlight the Black Lives Matter movement and condemn the Attorney General from Kentucky Daniel cameron for mishandling the Breonna Taylor affair.

At these few moments, with those creative voices at the helm, SNL almost felt exciting and fresh. In other words: as is usually the case with this long-running show, there is always potential for Saturday Night Live to surprise us and amaze us again. But if SNL wants to take advantage of this current political moment, he is going to have to do much, much better than this week.

Where to look SNL:


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