So I was surfing comments on Entertainment Weekly’s wrap-up of the Chris Rock-Prince episode of Saturday Night Live on Sunday when I stumbled onto a group of commenters who had actual — Wow! — perspective.
“The actual truth is that the show has always been really hit-and-miss,” a guy identified as StewyStan wrote. “Go back and watch some of the full 90-minute episodes from the 70s, and you’ll be amazed by how uneven the show was even during the supposed golden era.”
He’s right. As a longtime SNL fan, I have some of those seasons on DVD, and yeah, there is quite a bit of drek amongst the golden nuggets.
A poster identified as Gary Middleton put it brilliantly:
1976: “The show hasn’t been funny since Chevy left”.
1980: “The show hasn’t been funny since the original cast left.”
1985: “The show hasn’t been funny since Eddie left.”
1986: “The show hasn’t been funny since Crystal left.”
1994: “The show hasn’t been funny since Hartman and Carvey left.”
1998: “The show hasn’t been funny since Norm Macdonald was axed.”
2003: “The show hasn’t been funny since Will Ferrell left.”
2008: “The show hasn’t been funny since Fey/Poehler left.”
2012: “The show hasn’t been funny since Kristen Wiig left.”
I have been saying for a while that Saturday Night Live nostalgia fetishists are the biggest bunch of cranks on the Internet, besting people who think there has been no good music since the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.
Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, et al were amazing, and they established one of the most enduring entertainment franchises in television history. But they were not the only ones who did it well. When I was a teenager, it was Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Billy Crystal, Victoria Jackson, Dennis Miller and Co. who made us laugh and satirized the era we were in. Subsequent years have given us David Spade, Chris Rock, Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig and Seth Meyers. Give me another show with that kind of track record.
Is the current season, No. 40, struggling? Yes. Yes it is. It has put me to sleep more than it has made me laugh out loud — guest host Jim Carrey’s Matthew McConaughey-Lincoln ad satire has been the best thing of the season, thus far. The new casting of Weekend Update is simply a mistake, and I have loved Michael Che’s work on The Daily Show. But Cecily Strong was carrying that segment after Meyers left, and for some strange reason, she was booted. Strong, Kate McKinnnon and Aidy Bryant are the most reliable players along with longest-serving cast member Keenan Thompson, but they aren’t enjoying much support.
Lorne Michaels has enough of a track record to know this. In comedy, more than any other field, you know when you are bombing. And Michaels has proven that he can right this ship. I have clear memories of the post-original cast era, when it appeared that Saturday Night Live really might have been done. The show has had dark days and heydays. I look forward to the latter returning.
Post Script: I sort of have to thank SNL for helping prove my point. Last Saturday at 10 p.m., NBC aired an archive episode from 1979, hosted by Rick Nelson, that contained nary a laugh. It actually prompted my 15-year-old to say, “So is Saturday Night Live a show that got better over the years?” Not necessarily. But it did make the subsequent repeat of the Bill Hader episode from this “inferior” season look like an absolute scream. Like I said, it has always been a show of hits and misses — though I was sort of baffled why they aired that ’79 stinker.