Saturday Night Live is a changing show. With the departure of Kristin Wigg and Andy Samberg, the show has lost a lot of the flavor that SNL viewers have come to expect in past years. New cast members and new featured players are finding their footing. It’s a period of transition for the show that might be helped along by the upcoming election.
SNL tends to thrive during an election year. While it may be wrong to expect the highs that the show reached during the 2008 election, it’s usually a safe bet that the show’s quality will stabilize a bit when it has a couple of stilted politicians to send up. Most recently, when Daniel Craig hosted the show, we got a look at Jay Pharaoh’s (thank god it’s no longer Armisen’s) Obama nervously remembering his and his wife’s anniversary in the middle of a presidential debate. It’s a relatively tame premise compared to the considerably biting political jokes from 2008.
SNL‘s political humor thrives when it reaches an absurd place but still has a grounded, biting political premise behind it. Tina Fey’s Palin impression was huge not just because of its accuracy and absurdity, but because Fey was using those elements to make a comedic point about a woman getting closer to the vice presidency.
Case in point: featured cast member Kate McKinnon has garnered the most buzz off her Weekend Update appearance as Anne Romney. It’s not quite an impression, but McKinnon’s manic energy and the absurdity of her dialogue make the segment really funny. But it lacks the sting of past SNL political sketches. McKinnon is a great addition to the cast; hopefully, the production team doesn’t run her characters into the ground like it often did for the über-talented Wigg.
SNL gets a lot of flack for its fluctuating quality. It’s true that the show is extremely hit or miss–its success often hinging completely on the episode’s host–but sketch comedy in itself is often inherently hit or miss. If a premise doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you. The show’s comedic style steers toward the absurd, but what makes SNL‘s political humor really play is an underlying political point.
Maybe this set of comedians won’t reach the highs that the 2008 cast did. But Saturday Night Live is generally a show in some sort of transition, testing chemistry between cast members and testing new characters and comedians to see if they stand the test of live national TV. Hopefully, the show can find ways to lampoon Romney, Obama, and everyone surrounding them in a more meaningful way than “Obama forgot his anniversary.”