The Worst SNL Sketches of All Time: A Poll

A few years ago, I did a poll where readers could vote on the best and worst episodes of SNL of all time.  Despite only getting eleven votes, the results page has become my most frequently accessed post.  Since then, I’ve been considering doing a poll about individual SNL sketches, but I wanted to come up with something slightly different.  There are so many “greatest SNL sketches” posts on the web, usually with a lot of the same contenders, so I want to focus on the other side.

When discussing bad SNL, it’s so easy to talk about how bad the show gets from time to time without getting specific, or just mentioning the show’s tendency to milk a sketch or character for all it’s worth.  This isn’t just a “10 most irritating characters” poll: I want specific examples of the most terrible sketches the show’s ever brought to a network audience.

My primary focus is going to be a list of the worst individual sketches, but because of the show’s reliance (or over-reliance) on recurring material, I’m going to have a separate category for the worst recurring sketches.  I will also allow votes for individual sketches featuring a recurring character, but the main reason for having a separate category for the recurring stuff is because there have been some truly terrible one-offs that the show never felt necessary to bring back.

To have your voice heard, submit your picks using the form at the bottom of this post.  I also prefer if you also give a good rationale behind your choices, so tell me why you thought these sketches were terrible.   You can submit as many or as few choices as you want.  The more people that pick something, the better.

I will keep the voting open until March 1, 2014, at 12:00 am Atlantic time.  Once all the votes are tabulated, I’m going to do a series of weekly posts based on the results; the number will depend on how many votes come in.

EDIT: VOTING HAS NOW ENDED.

Giving up on SNL

I’ve been watching SNL regularly for about 20 years.  I still have my original tapes from when I first started recording the show back in March 1994; in fact, I can tell you that the first episode I taped was a rerun of the show with John Malkovich and Billy Joel.  I’ve stuck with the show through that horrible season with Janeane Garofalo.  I’ve seen the historically bad years that almost got the show cancelled.  I’ve sat through that godawful 10 minute sketch with the sub at the bottom of the ocean.  None of these low points has made me want to give up on the show as much as this current season has.

Last month, I wrote that I mainly watch the show out of a routine I can no longer justify to myself.  I was originally going to pack it in at that point, but held out hope that the next four shows would show some flicker of life that’s been noticeably absent this year.  That would not be the case.  Josh Hutcherson was dull.  Paul Rudd had cameos and a Bill Brasky sketch, but weak writing elsewhere.  John Goodman’s long-overdue return to SNL had more tepid writing, plus a sketch starring Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro that felt like it was a rejected script from a bad Bob Hope special; the kind of sketch that was made fun of by SNL when it spoofed bad variety shows.

The Jimmy Fallon show that aired last night was a bit more fun than the show’s been in a while: Fallon has come a long way since he was the messy-haired kid who started on the show 15 years ago, and his collaborations with Justin Timberlake guaranteed several fan favorites would be trotted out.  That said, so much of the show felt like pandering: Paula Pell’s Dancing Mascot sketches doesn’t do much for me (it just feels too by-the-numbers and obligatory), and the cameos by Paul McCartney, Madonna, Barry Gibb and Michael Bloomberg felt like they were intended to distract from how lifeless the writing is on the show.  The episode came off as self-congratulatory towards Lorne Michaels’ takeover of NBC late night. An extended commercial for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, if you will.

It’s not even that the show is terrible: a truly bad year would at least be interesting.  Yet, more than ever this season, it feels like the show’s on auto-pilot.  There’s no need for the show to try anymore; it’s one of the few relative successes NBC has left, so there’s no impending cancellation to force the show to correct course.  Sketch comedy shows by their very nature are uneven, and even SNL’s best seasons have had their dud shows.  This season feels different; I don’t think “mediocre” is the right word, though, because even something mediocre can have an appreciable effort behind it.  The six new faces added to the show in the wake of the recent departures of Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis just feel purely cosmetic; only a mask to cover stagnant and lazy writing.

The cast has too much potential that’s not being used properly.  Taran Killam and Kate McKinnon are in a class by themselves on the show, and could potentially carry a new era of the show, but they’re weighed down by so many people who have overstayed their welcome.  The move to make Kenan Thompson the cast anchor (a la Hader or Sudeikis) is baffling; Thompson doesn’t have the range to pull off that role in the cast, and he’s already demonstrated everything he’s capable of as a performer years ago.

The real dead weight is in the writers’ room.  There are 23 writers on staff this year, including Lorne Michaels, who always gets a credit.  Steve Higgins and Paula Pell have been with the show since the last big changeover in 1995 (Pell is part-time); their tenure with the show is longer than those of the original writers who were still with the show before Michaels cleaned house.  James Anderson has been around since 2000; he and frequent collaborator Kent Sublette seem to be the writing staff’s equivalent of Kenan Thompson, in that they recycle their bag of tricks and that their output tends to annoy more than amuse.  There are a handful of prolific and talented newer writers (Zach Kanin, Sarah Schneider and Chris Kelly), but too many of the writers hired in the last few years have left the show, while the veterans stick around and churn out the same old material.

I need a break from the show.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m getting too frustrated by SNL this season to justify watching live anymore; until some non-superficial changes are made to the creative side of the show, I’m not going to be tuning in.  Whatever’s worth checking out will be on the internet the next day (unless it has a music clearance issue).  My original plan was to finish the 1982-83 season reviews, but I think I’m going to take a break from those as well.  I’ll try to resume those in a few months.

Announcement regarding the future of SNL reviews

I still haven’t bothered watching the beginning of the Kerry Washington show; I did watch the Lady Gaga episode but I don’t think I’ll be posting a post-mortem on the show.  I actually found myself a little distracted and eager for the show to end last night, not in any mood to regurgitate details of the show for my review (which would be another variation of “the cast is strong, but the writing lets them down”).  Even Lady Gaga, whose whole raison d’etre is to draw attention to herself, felt like she was grasping at straws with her performances: the dry-hump with R. Kelly almost seemed like a parody of the lengths she goes to in performances.  My response? “And….?”

I see all these bright spots, but fact is, I don’t feel like staying up until 2am my time just to watch the show anymore.  If there’s something going on in the real world, I’d rather do that than watch something that will be mostly made available online the next day anyway.  There’s always the chance something infamous may happen in the live show, or the audience may be witness to the birth of a new classic, but when was the last time either happened?  I watch it because it’s a routine more than anything.  I may tune in to see a particular guest or to see if there’s a big change after Seth Meyers finally leaves the show, but the show just doesn’t have the importance it once held for me.

I would have thought that the thing that would have turned me off the show would be another disastrous season on the level of the Janeane Garofalo/Michael McKean year, but I honestly have no problem with the cast in general; most of them are very strong performers who find ways to work with whatever they’re given.  I just don’t know if SNL is really the best use of their talents anymore.  Landing a spot on the show is an achievement and a way to get name recognition, but I can’t get over the feeling that they rein themselves in to belong to the institution.

I still plan on completing my 1982-83 reviews, but afterwards I’m going to take a long break from dissecting the show.  I’d rather watch to be entertained than watch to analyze; I have other priorities, and there are only so many hours in a day.

An updated want list

I’ve previously published my “want list” for SNL on my blog; I have access to pretty much the show’s complete run, but because of the discrepancies between live and rerun versions, the copies of the shows currently circulating may not have all the segments that aired in the live show, or else may use dress rehearsal takes.   I have plans for future reviews once I’m finished 1982-83, but am looking for the live airings of many of these shows.  Original commercials would be a bonus, but I’m aware how expensive blank tapes were back then, so it’s not as big a deal.  Comedy Central ran a few original versions back in the early 90s, but most have some additional editing (mostly bumpers and the Don Pardo closing voiceovers); many of the missing segments are also available through streaming sites, but I prefer to have a copy of the complete airing.

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Marking time post

Regular visitors to the blog have probably noticed that I haven’t completed my review for the Kerry Washington SNL; I actually was a little late getting home on Saturday night due to some real-world commitments.  I’m still trying to decide whether to complete it this week or just skip ahead to the next live show when it airs.

There are still plans to expand the site beyond SNL reviews, with a focus on the local Halifax arts scene.   In the meantime, check out Sea Legs Collective, a fine local music blog.

SNL Post-mortem: 10/26/13: Edward Norton / Janelle Monae

After an underwhelming episode with Bruce Willis, pretty much anything would seem like an improvement for SNL’s next show.  Fortunately, Edward Norton’s episode was markedly better than the last few, thanks to a game host and strong musical guest, even if the writing continues to be sub-par.

The Wes Anderson parody was easily the strongest and most fully realized segment, drawing primarily from Royal Tenenbaums, with some smaller nods to Rushmore, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom.   I have to admit that “failure to grasp a simple concept” is pretty reliable as far as a sketch premise goes, so “School Visit” and “Steve Harvey” both made me laugh.  “School Visit” was the stronger sketch, with Nasim Pedrad getting a rare featured segment on the show as an elementary school student who doesn’t quite understand “Stranger Danger”; the sketch works because Pedrad plays her character with such undue confidence, Norton was able to hold his own as the police officer, and the remaining cast does some good support work.  “Steve Harvey” was weaker and didn’t have an ending, but Harvey’s (Kenan Thompson) completely wrong guesses about punny Halloween costumes were some good quick laughs.

The show’s weaknesses were still apparent last night.  Norton’s final sketch, where he explained individual pieces of Halloween candy he gave out, did have some good lines, but seemed like a quick rewrite of the Christmas ornaments sketch from the 2011 Steve Buscemi show.   Miley Cyrus’ cameo in the monologue didn’t bother me as much as it did other people, but the gratuitous twerking reference that ended “12 Years Not A Slave” only served to date the sketch.   A sketch revolving around a “Rain Man”-type character 25 years after the movie got some grousing from the message boards for its untimeliness, but the bigger problem was a lack of an ending.   Weekend Update was mercifully shorter than usual, but Cecily Strong still seems a little tentative, and Bobby Moynihan’s Anthony Crispino character seems to be more to provide Seth Meyers something to react to than anything else.

I’m still baffled by the decision to hire six new featured players to replace three (four if you count Tim Robinson’s move to the writer’s room).  I understand that Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis were the cast’s foundation in the last few seasons, but the huge number hired seems to indicate a lack of faith in the established cast; this is even more aggravating when you take into consideration how limited their opportunities to develop their dynamic were, especially during the reign of Kristen Wiig as alpha-castmember.  Kenan Thompson is being pushed as this year’s bedrock, but he doesn’t have the versatility of the departed castmembers; why the show didn’t look for a stronger black performer to replace him is a mystery.  To their credit, Bobby Moynihan and Taran Killam are still very dependable in whatever they do, but there are so many players competing for airtime that the cast can’t establish a real group dynamic.  It’s always going to be a revolving door.