Six Ways to Resuscitate SNL

November 21, 2010

by

Photo courtesy of NBC

“Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

Born and bred in Brooklyn, I have spent many Saturday nights waiting up to hear Don Pardo’s booming voice announce the start of SNL. My adolescence was peppered with giggle fits over Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri’s antics as the Spartan cheerleaders, Maya Rudolph’s Whitney Houston impersonation, and the dynamic duo of Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon co-anchoring Weekend Update. Even now, with my Saturday nights no longer spent lounging at home, I still enjoy my TiVo’d SNL over cereal Sunday morning.

Despite my life-long love affair with SNL, even I can admit that the show has not been top-notch as of late. SNL has been in a strange transition period the past few years: the departure of several stars (Fey, Fallon, Amy Poehler, etc), the introduction of new cast members, and the swift exit of some of those new cast members (peace out, Jenny Slate). And it’s clear such changes have affected the quality of the show. For the past few seasons, SNL simply hasn’t been the show we all know and love. So listen up Lorne Michaels, here’s some tips to help SNL get its groove back:

1. HOSTS

It’s actually pretty simple: get funny hosts. Yes, Megan Fox and Mad Men’s January Jones are pretty and popular, but they’re not known for getting laughs. SNL is a comedy sketch show. It needs to be funny to work, and the funny is more guaranteed when you have a comedic actor at the show’s helm, like Jane Lynch, Zach Galifianakis, or Neil Patrick Harris.

Alec Baldwin hosts SNL (Photo courtesy of NBC)

That’s not to say that dramatic actors shouldn’t host. Jones’s Mad Men co-star Jon Hamm, one of the best drama actors on TV, has been consistently funny each time he’s hosted. Dramatic actors like pre-30 Rock Alec Baldwin and Christopher Walken have also proved to be some of the funniest hosts in SNL history.

No matter what their background, SNL needs a host that can carry the weight of the show, someone who is engaging, and won’t take themselves too seriously. Whether it’s Betty White ranting about crusty muffins, Natalie Portman’s curse-laden rapping, or Jake Gyllenhaal belting out Dreamgirls’ “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” while outfitted in an evening gown, SNL is always best when the host is fearless and willing to go all out for a laugh.

2. CAST

Give Kristen Wiig a day off. With Fey and Poehler’s departures, Wiig became the de facto leading lady of SNL, which led to an increase in her screen time. Yet, despite her many talents, Wiig’s constant inclusion in sketches has hit overexposure levels. From the shrill Target Lady to the dreaded Gilly, the sheer amount of solo sketches the comedienne’s been getting these past few seasons, many of which are downright unlikable, prove that there is such a thing as too much Kristen Wiig.

To rectify this Wiig fatigue, SNL should shed spotlight on some of its new cast members. Last season’s featured players Abby Elliott and Bobby Moynihan have been promoted to repertory status this season. Plus, there are five featured players this season: SNL newbies Vanessa Bayer, Paul Brittain, Taran Killam, Jay Pharaoh, and last season’s Nasim Pedrad. That’s a lot of new talent, and the writers should let these new players show their potential. Just look at Seth Meyers. He started off as a featured player when he joined SNL in 2001, and now he’s the show’s head writer and has the coveted seat of Weekend Update anchor. SNL needs to give their new cast room to hone their own shtick, because today’s featured players could be tomorrow’s SNL stars.

3. MATERIAL

Kristen Wiig does her Gilly character, again. (Photo courtesy of NBC)

Sometimes an SNL recurring character can be welcome, and sometimes they make you want to spork your own eye out (I’m looking at you, Gilly). A good recurring character should be like running into a friend you haven’t seen in a while, but that’s the catch. You haven’t seen them in a while. Seeing MacGruber blow up once was enough, but having it force-fed to us week after week? Not even MacGyver himself could wrangle some funny out of that. If a recurring character or sketch is barely mildly funny to begin with, why keep revisiting it?

SNL is at its best when it preys on popular culture, when it spews out fresh, hilariously scathing takes on the world around us. The writers need to lay off the tired recurring sketches and get back to what SNL does best—punchy, topical sketches that we can’t wait to talk to our friends about, not ones that we can’t wait to end.

4. WEEKEND UPDATE

Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers (Photo courtesy of NBC)

Seth Meyers needs a wingman. Since its creation in 1975, Weekend Update has juggled between having one or two cast members anchor the faux news show. After a long period of solo anchors, the show returned to two anchors in the millennium, pairing up Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey from 2000 to 2004. The dual anchor structure stuck for most of the decade, with Fey later paired with Amy Poehler in the show’s first two-woman anchor team, and then Poehler with Meyers. Since Poehler left SNL in late 2008, Meyers has anchored the segment alone, and it simply hasn’t been the same. One of the joys of Weekend Update was watching the two anchors bounce off one another, the bubbling chemistry, the verbal volleys. Frankly, if I wanted to watch one snarky guy talk about politics and society, I’d watch The Daily Show.

5. KEEP IT UP: MUSIC & DIGITAL SHORTS

Two areas that SNL has succeeded in lately is its quality of musical guests and digital shorts. With musical guests, SNL always manages a nice mix of different genres, trying to give a little something for everyone. This season alone, they’ve featured musicians as varied as Katy Perry, Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. They generally do a good job of seamlessly mixing established artists, like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, with new kids on the block, like Bruno Mars. My only suggestion? Think a little more Florence and the Machine, and a lot less Ke$ha.

As for digital shorts, look, I understand it’s “Live from New York,” and thus the very idea of a pre-taped digital short goes against SNL’s original concept, but they are regularly the best part of the show each week. The shorts give SNL the opportunity to include more topical humor in the show. For example, one of the best digital shorts of last season was the “Tizzle Wizzle Show” featuring James Franco, a sadistic spoof on popular kids’ TV shows like Yo Gabba Gabba! Plus, many digital shorts have quickly become viral video classics, from “Lazy Sunday” to “Jizz in My Pants” to “I’m on a Boat.” “Dick in a Box” even managed to score an Emmy (seriously). So keep ‘em coming Andy Samberg, because the more laser cats in the world, the better.

6. MORE COWBELL!