Sunday, October 11, 2020

THE ACTUAL PROBLEM, (Kinda, sorta, maybe, somewhat, not really,- actually it's not a problem at all to be honest) WITH "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE"! Observations on the recent trend of the show's cast members having longer reigns on the legendary series.

So, I watched the season premiere episode of "Saturday Night Live" last week....

I liked it, it was funny. 


I mean, I guess I could go into specifics, but...- look, talking about "SNL" is always a little bit of a hot-button issue that's gonna cause a lot of responses from people, and about half of them are gonna be some variant of how the show isn't as good or as funny as it used to be, or that the "Weekend Update" segments are the only really good parts or- I don't know, there's always somebody saying something negative just to be a dick, and there's also gonna be some from the other side too. Give these people a chance, just because they're not Belushi and Radner doesn't mean they're not funny or just as great. 

Look, I'm not gonna put up with line of argument too long; I will say that, there have been bad eras in "SNL"'s history; I won't blindly say it's always been funny. That said, I think most of those seasons can usually be chalked up to rebuilding years where the cast is still learning to gel and find their voice. If there's a truly bad era, I would argue, the mid-80s seasons, after Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo left were cringy and very few sketches are remembered fondly from that time and that's the era where the cast members were particularly weak and lacked anybody who had significant careers of note after the series ended. (Or were somewhat known before joining the show and weren't really natural fits for sketch comedy) Other then that, I think most supposed bad seasons or eras of "SNL" can either have some sort of legit excuse, and can be dismissed 'cause they inevitably led to great "SNL" eras or people are just relentlessly comparing them to whatever their particular favorite nostalgia era of "SNL" was and any or most modern comedy will just never equal the past. 

In my case, my first great "SNL" era was the late '80-early '90s era, where you had Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, young Chris Rock, younger Sarah Silverman for like a month, Chris Farley, David Spade, Dennis Miller, Norm MacDonald, Kevin Nealon, Jon Lovitz, etc. etc. And somehow Adam Sandler became the biggest superstar out of that bunch. And even I'd argue, that's maybe 4th or 5th best era? The late '90s, Tina Fey-era is even stronger to me once that core group of suddenly got comfortable. "SNL" isn't like, a regular series; it's never gonna jump the shark, it's gonna evolve and change with the times and new blood is constantly coming in to challenge and change what we thought of as funny. Whether you think it's the funniest Variety-Sketch out there right now or not, and yeah, some years, I'd argue it hasn't been, even during some of the series' best years, "SNL" remains a pretty good barometer of what comedy was at the time and see how it's change. It's probably the greatest and biggest American television institution. The Not-Ready-for-Primetime Players, the premiere spot for the next biggest stars in comedy to make their first big, major impressions on a national stage. It's a symbol that not only have these guys, and gals have made it, but these guys aren't going to become stars in the future, they're going to become important influential figures in the world of American comedy.

Jesus, how long has Kenan Thompson been on this show?

For those who might not know what this clip above is, this was an episode of "All That", which Nickelodeon, last year, actually rebooted and brought back, but it was Nickelodeon's teenage version of "SNL" back in the early '90s, and yeah, that's Chris Farley, one of his last performances in fact, working with him in a sketch. The reason I'm bringing it up is a couple years ago, Kenan Thompson actually surpassed Carol Burnett's record for most years being a regular cast member of a sketch comedy series. Most of it was from "SNL" where, unless you count Don Pardo or Lorne Michaels, I guess, as cast members, Kenan Thompson is also the longest-running cast member in the show's history, this being his 17th season as a cast member. That, along with his work on "All That" is kinda startling. 

That said he's not the only one. Kate McKinnon is arguably one of the biggest names and stars in comedy, right this moment, and she's entering her ninth season on the show. She's won two Emmys, she's got a pretty good chance of having a major film career if she wants it, and the girl who's helped make Ruth Bader Ginsberg so notorious doesn't seem that interested in leaving anytime soon. And for the other end of the spectrum of before they were on "SNL", here a clip of her getting sexually aroused by Nina Hartley pulling her hair.

(Shrugs) People from "SNL" can have weird and differing early starts to their careers.

But they usually didn't end at "SNL". There's been a trend of "SNL" cast members in recent years suddenly having these unusually long runs on the series. Not counting Al Franken who had multiple runs as a regular, (And frankly I think of him more as a writer then a regular performer), of all the cast members who've been on for nine or more seasons of "SNL", only Kevin Nealon's 9-year-run dates back to starting in the '80s. And only Darrell Hammond and Tim Meadows started in the '90s, (And Hammond eventually replaced Pardo as the regular announcer). And, it's not that there aren't people who have shorter runs today and there's definitely people who start on "SNL" and go onto to other major acting projects and become stars in these last couple decades. Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones come to mind right away. Now I could point out that, for the last, hmmm, well, ever since Tina Fey came on as Sarah Palin, this is also interestingly the era where one of the biggest motifs of the series is bringing in regular big times stars for cameo roles and performances as major political figures of the time, something that's still going on today as, this week's cold open began with Alec Baldwin and Jim Carrey parodying the Presidential debate and Maya Rudolph, who's also in the top ten of longest-running cast member btw, also showed up as a cameo. You can say this is somewhat contradictory of them; they've got some of these long-running and constantly returning cast members and they're being overshadowed by people who just come in to do a Trump impression and get out, but regardless of that, I'm just saying, whatever your thoughts on "SNL" at the moment, isn't it a little weird that we've had so many regular cast members lasting this long on the show? 

I'm not saying it's bad necessarily, but-eh, I do think it's gotta be just a little weird, right? 

Well, actually, I don't know come to think. The thing with "SNL" is that it's such an institution at this point that there really isn't anything else to properly compare it to. Most of the shows I can think of that have lasted as long as "SNL" are soap operas and news programs. I guess soap operas kinda have a similar thing where some cast members will be around forever and others will last a short amount of time before moving onto to other things, but that's in the telling of a long-form narrative series; it's something that's expected; there's going to be a Susan Lucci playing an Erica Kane from when she was a selfish teenager brat that forgets that she was raped and conceived a 16-year-old Buffy the Vampire Slayer until 24 years later, until the end of her eleventh marriage has ended, and moves to an exotic location where she still works undercover in the fashion industry and continues to threaten people from her past (Didn't make any of that up) and also have people who just come in for a short run and then head off. Still though, um, that just doesn't feel quite like the correct thing to compare here. 

That said, I might argue it makes a little sense. There was never like, a rule that states that after a certain period of time somebody has to leave the show even thought the series has mostly survived on a tradition of revolving casts, there also was a time when people worried that the show would be canceled once the series started losing some of it's original main stars and creators, but that was back long before "SNL" has the legacy that it has now.

Actually, that's kinda the thing though. "SNL" is such an institution that you can probably argue at this time that it's no longer the stepping stone that it once was, and is now instead, the goal of a lot of actors. I mean, think about Kenan Thompson's career for a second; "All That", was very much, "SNL" for kids, even I remember thinking that as a kid, in fact, I think that's exactly how I described the show to my mother when she saw I was watching it. That also means that when that first started airing, every member of the cast, lived their whole lives in a world where "SNL" was always a thing. As has most people at this point. And when I mentioned that "All That" had a reboot, Thompson was the one producing it. 

That's another thing, while "SNL" is still a major live television production, television itself has changed to the point, where if you didn't want to, you don't actually have to leave "SNL" to then go act or work on a sitcom or two. Aidy Bryant's entering her eighth season of "SNL" as a regular performer, and she's also starring on a cult hit series, "Shrill" on Hulu. It's more easy to have mutliple careers, even on television now then it ever would've been, and not leave "SNL" if a performer didn't want to. 

Essentially, "SNL" has become the goal and for those lucky to get a big spot and can and want to remain on the series, I mean, I guess if Lorne ain't interested in firiing you, why not stay? 

It makes sense actually; every time I use the phrase, "The Not-Ready-for-Primetime Players" anymore with people my age or younger, they don't always know I'm referring to the cast of "SNL", and some of them who do, sometimes argue that that phrase should only refer to the original cast. I never really bought that, but maybe they have a point now. These actors aren't unready for primetime, they are primetime now. They are big time. This is what they wanted, not just a stepping stone to something bigger. "SNL" is a dream job, in fact, arguably it's more the goal of most/more comics then or comedy writers then being as Johnny Carson was for stand-ups once upon a time. I mean, most every other post-"SNL" sketch series I can think of other then "SNL" was either made as a response to "SNL" or essentially by the same people who made "SNL". Or both in the cases of "In Living Color", "Portlandia" and "Documentary Now". among others, and that's a stat that's just gonna keep growing. People keep thinking that "SNL" can be challenged in its role as the king of sketch comedy on television, and yeah, sometimes it can, but its not necessarily gonna be stopped anytime soon. 

So-eh, is it a good thing, or a bad thing that "SNL" actors are lasting forever now? Well, obviously some may disagree but I don't think its hurt the comedy at all. Even with the show coasting on star cameos and nostalgia it's still creating new big names in comedy all the time, hell arguably the show's more acclaimed then ever. And I can't make any claim that it's bad that actors might view being on "SNL" as an iconic dream gig that they would try to keep for as long as they could. You know, actors who do leave successful series, some of them, Jean Smart leaving "Designing Women" comes to mind for me, would talk about how, as actors, they wantted to play as many and as varied characters as they could find and not just play one character forever. Obviously, some people are more fine doing that then others, but if that is your goal as an actor, then being a long-running sting on "SNL" would be that kind of dream job where you'd get to play as many different and varied roles as one could.

So-eh, is this a problem? Not really, but if there is a new stasis or condition for the series, something that actually can be looked at at a major change for the series, something that we can actually pinpoint as a progressive and unique distinction for the series from other eras of the series' past. Maybe we prefer Late Night to Primetime these days anyway.