Saturday Night Live is a cultural institution at this point. For 40 years it is not only the top show for sketch comedy but a launching pad for dozens of comedy legends. To celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary and leading into the special on February 15th, VH1 Classics has been running nothing but SNL episodes for 19 days. Like the Simpsons marathon FXX did it has had me glued to my TV. It also led me to quite a few conclusions. While obvious
Justin Timberlake Wasn’t Always Great
Justin Timberlake is practically a cast member at this point. Hosting the show five times with numerous cameos we have seen him go from ex-boy band member to a genuine A-lister. While a big part of this can be attributed to his hosting gigs he I can’t say they were instant classics, particularly his first episode. With the episodes in the marathon being more of a “best of the night” than full episodes it’s surprising how unfunny it was. While skits like Omletteville and The Barry Gibb show have hit classic status over the years you could still see the kinks being worked out of the skits. Besides these the only other sketches were a decent one involving the Muppets and one of those Boston sketches that bombed pretty hard. Obviously the singer/actor greatly improved and became a member of the Five Timers club. I just think it’s funny to see how flawed his first time hosting actually was.
SNL and Hip Hop
In Living Color has been long considered the first hip hop sketch show and I can see why. The thing is SNL has been supporting the hip hop community for quite awhile. It began on the Debbie Harry hosted episode when Funky Four Plus One was the musical guest. Not only were they the first rap group on the show but they were the first rap group on network TV ever. Since then they have showcased legends of the game like Dr. Dre, Public Enemy and Tupac. While there have been some missteps (J-Kwon has been a musical guest but Nas hasn’t. Remember J-Kwon?) Saturday Night Live has tended to come correct when it comes to hip hop.
They Dropped the Ball with A Lot of Talent
Robert Downey Jr, Janeane Garofalo, Joan Cusack, Damon Wayans, David Koechner, Jerry Minor, Rob Riggle, Jenny Slate, Sarah Silverman, and Chris Elliot. Aside from all of them being funny for a variety of reasons all of these comedians were also only on the show for a single year. As long as this list is this isn’t including cast members that were just plain underused like Casey Wilson, Jay Mohr, Julia-Louis Dreyfuss and Chris Rock. Most baffling, at least to me, is how badly they dropped the ball with Ben Stiller. Joining mid-season in 1989 he left only two months into his run due to creative differences. From what I’ve read he wanted to do more video content ala the current Digital Shorts and Lorne had no interest in those. Considering how popular The Lonely Island made the format this seems ludicrous in retrospect. Given not all of this is on SNL. Some people like Silverman and Rock work better in a stand up setting. Still for all of SNL’s hits with talent there were plenty of misses.
Early to Mid 90’s, Does It Hold Up?
To me this is the biggest and most difficult question. I grew up in the 90’s and while I got more into the show when Will Ferrell first joined the cast Comedy Central ran reruns all the time. Almost exclusively early 90’s episodes this is why no matter how much my interest wanes I will always be a fan. The thing is, was it good? Does ‘kind of’ count as a legit answer?
To get more specific I found a lot of the recurring bits don’t hold up. For me the best example is Wayne’s World. No matter how popular it was, does not work nowadays. Perhaps it’s the characters, maybe it’s the over reliance on catch phrases but it’s the absolute death of comedy in 2014. The famous skit with Madonna can be put on however many compilations as they want to put out, I find it to be really boring. Unfortunately the same can be said of a lot of long-running skits. Whether it’s the Mary Catherine Gallagher or Church Chat it just doesn’t hold up.
That isn’t to say all of the skits were bad. Skits like Phil Hartman’s One More Mission or Jan Hooks’ Brenda the Waitress kill to this day. While pretty obvious the fact that they aren’t obvious pop culture jokes really goes a long way in keeping these skits timeless. More importantly not all of the recurring bits age poorly. Sketches like Celebrity Jeapordy and Matt Foley work due to having more base humor. While the jokes are fairly simple they still get a laugh out of me today. Is it the perfect glory era people think it is? Not really. But like SNL in general the good outweighs the bad. For a show that’s been on the air for 40 years that’s a pretty damn good track record.