The Chiefs begin a noxious, predictably sorrowful descent into mediocrity (or worse) within the first few weeks of the football season.
The Royals close out their otherwise miserable campaign with a deluge of victories that are viewed by virtually no one.
My ridiculous allergies render me unable to taste a bowl of my favorite Halloween mash-up monster cereal “Count BooFrankula.” (Also: the name of the inner-city child I haven’t yet adopted)
And somebody, somewhere—or, realistically speaking, millions of armchair executive TV producers everywhere—make the tired proclamation that, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE IS DEAD.” (get it? See what they did there? GENIUS). “THE SHOW IS WORTHLESS. IT AIN’T BEEN RELEVANT SINCE CHEVY CHASE HUNG UP HIS GERALD FORD PANTS.”
But here’s the rub: despite all of the negative declarations of irrelevance, and notwithstanding aggressive, pork-tongued online reviews from the Hartford Herald’s super-entertainment critic Rod McCormick (Tinsel Talk with the “Lightning” Rod—Hartford’s Most Viewed Online Entertainment Column!!!), the show marches on.
For 37 seasons.
THIRTY. SEVEN. SEASONS.
When SNL debuted, I was negative six years old. I wasn’t born yet because my father was busy tooling around town, smoking pot in a bright orange van that he and his pals dubbed “The Pumpkin Wagon.”
In April of 1975—the year in which the “Not Ready for Primetime Players” burst triumphantly onto the scene—new albums were released by Bad Company, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, The Doobie Brothers, Black Oak Arkansas, Bob Seger and Nazareth.
WHITEY HERZOG REPLACED JACK MCKEON AS ROYALS MANAGER, AND THE ROYALS WOULD GO ON TO WIN THREE CONSECUTIVE DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIPS.
(I apologize for the big letters, but I’m trying to illustrate what a bizarrely “alternate-universe” kind of time this was)
Everyone everywhere was discovering the magic of cocaine, the free-swinging promiscuity of the 60’s carried on mostly unabated, people wore ridiculous shoes and everyone’s brother AND sister had their hair feathered.
SNL embodied a cutting edge recklessness previously not accessible to Iowa corn-farmers and teenagers of Duluth, MN. The world howled with laughter while Bill Murray crooned about Star Wars and Irwin Mainway failed to see the harm in giving your child a “Bag-o-Glass.”
But eventually, as surely as the aforementioned fall foliage begins to wither and die, the decadence and unparalleled excess began to take its toll.
Some of the greedier cast members took their wigs and left, eager to seek bigger riches, more fame and even cocainier piles of cocaine. Some found the success they sought on movie screens or their own shows. Others? Well, they just flat-out died.
By 1982’s Season 7, the same corn-farming-teenagers from Anywhere, USA, who once convulsed in hilarity at the naïvely perverse antics of the Festrunk Brothers were being subjected to skits featuring Robin Duke, Tim Kazurinsky, and history’s greatest punching bag, Joe Piscopo. Undoubtedly, television critics everywhere for the first time ever began bemoaning the end of this young, groundbreaking show before it had even grown old enough to potty-train.
But like zombies, Glazer’s braggadocio and Betty White’s marketability, some things refuse to die.
And hark! Resurgence. By the 1987/88 season, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller and Kevin Nealon were featured players. Greg Daniels, Conan O’Brien and Bob Odenkirk all joined the writing staff. Infused with a new, talented pool of comics and some equally talented writers, the show once again began ascending to water-cooler material. Well, you know… until they all of THOSE guys began departing.
The thing is, Saturday Night Live is an ever-evolving rotational door for improve actors and comedians. They come, they get a few characters and catchphrases, maybe get enough laughs to warrant a movie based off of a skit (though it can be argued that this has never actually been “warranted” in the history of SNL-based films) and they move on.
If they’re lucky, they make a few million and last about 5 or 6 seasons. If they’re REALLY lucky, they turn into Eddie Murphy, someone whose unequivocal talent transcended the show like no other, and they go on to make $80 grillion (not a number) voicing cartoon donkeys and playing zany people in fat-suits. They become SO remarkably bankable that not even the murder of a transsexual prostitute can besmirch their hallowed name. But I digress.
As with any team—be it an athletic organization or an office of nerdy accountants—there are cycles of success. Despite what you think, the Yankees don’t make the playoffs EVERY year, just most of them. Similarly, there are funky periods of SNL.
Even at its best, there were severely un-hilarious periods in any golden-era episode. Trust me. And if you don’t, go back and look. For every Belushi as the samurai skit, there were abysmal, weird vignettes that dragged on endlessly with an awkward Charles Rocket playing Charles Rocket.
We—and I’m grouping myself into this, as well—are selectively inclined to only remember the funny parts when in reality, a good SNL show is somewhere about 25-30% funny and worthwhile viewing, 10% is moderately okay, and the rest ranges from boring to downright awful.
And again—trust me on this one, too—it’s like this every single year. We’re predisposed to thinking that “our” era was the best. I grew up LOVING THE SHIT out of Wayne and Garth and became a stupid teenage wasteoid watching Will Ferrell play eerily sadistic weirdoes (seriously—he built a legacy off of portraying caustically unbalanced characters… go back and watch. In hindsight it’s a little unnerving how many of his characters were homicidal buffoons). In essence, it seems to me that the first 10 or 12 years YOU watched the show were the best. You might have been 30 when it premiered, so you remember it most fondly from about 75-85. If you started watching in 1995 at 10 years old, you think Jimmy Fallon is tits. The beautiful thing is, everybody’s right.
And so the venerable institution rolls forever onward.
The newest cast—despite some seasoned vets like Seth Meyers (12 years), Fred Armisen (11) and Kenan Thompson (10)—are young and green, but good.
Jay Pharoah, who will be taking over Obama-aping duties from Armisen, is an AMAZING impressionist, who executes absolutely perfect versions of Jay-Z, Will Smith and Denzel Washington. Were it not for Pharoah, sophomore Taran Killam would be SNL’s runaway best impressionist. Since joining the cast last year, he’s done everyone from Tim Tebow to Michael Cera, Adolf Hitler to Tom Hanks. Nasim Pedrad is versatile and seems poised for a long-awaited breakout (she’s been with the show since ’05), but then again, so does Vanessa Bayer, whose Miley Cyrus is nothing short of outstanding.
Mix in returning MVP Bill Hader (his recurring Weekend Update character “Stefan” is the highlight of any given episode), and… well, who knows?
Sure it’s not the glory days, and there are no breakout stars like Ferrell or Farley, but this season (and the one that follows, and the one that follows) will assuredly have moments of brilliance. Since they haven’t cancelled it yet—nor does it ever seem very likely—we might as well all watch to see what happens.
Season 37 of Saturday Night Live premiers this Saturday on NBC, featuring host Seth MacFarlane and musical guest Frank Ocean.