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May 12, 2006 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | May 12, 2006 |

I spent most of this past Saturday in a not-really-hungover-but-very-lethargic state of being, lying on my couch watching “Battlestar Galactica” Season 1 DVDs (I finally decided to give this show a shot after hearing so many good things about it and can now say that not only am I very much in love with it, but I desperately want my own hot blonde Cylon pseudo-imaginary friend). But just before 11:30 p.m., I had to turn the DVD player off so I could watch “Saturday Night Live,” hosted this week by Steve Martin with musical guest Prince.

I haven’t actually sat through an entire episode of “SNL” in something like eight years, and I didn’t resolve to watch this episode expecting that it would actually provide some entertainment value. Rather, I had decided to blatantly steal a regular bit used by The Sports Guy, by keeping a running diary of my thoughts and attempted witticisms while watching the show. Let me give you a sampling of some of the gem-link entries I had scribbled together:

11:30 — Steve Martin is currently lurching down the hallway wearing a fake beard and mustache in an apparent attempt to numb viewers with such an awful performance that they will be entirely willing to accept his impending humorless portrayal of Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther (which I can only assume is opening very soon).

11:34 — Yup, The Pink Panther opens this Friday, and it only took Mr. Martin three sentences into the opening monologue to pimp it.

11:58 — Oh dear gods of Kobol, please kill me now.

As you can see, my entries lacked the wit I was hoping for, and I’ll spare you from any of the others. But the real problem is that, even if I had presented you with my entire diary, it wouldn’t cover the whole show because I couldn’t do it — despite my best intentions, I just couldn’t sit through the entire episode.

So instead of a running diary, what say we have an old-fashioned Pajiba bitch-fest?

In noting that “SNL” has been awful for a long time, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here or suggesting anything original. Outside of this season’s surprisingly entertaining “Lazy Sunday” viral video, there has been nothing memorable from the show in quite some time, at least in the four years since Will Ferrell left (the unintentional comedy of Ashley Simpson notwithstanding). But Dr. TV Whore is here with the cure to this show’s problem, and he recommends a two-step procedure:

Step One of the procedure is to axe the three following cast-members, post haste and without anesthesia:

(1) Horatio Sanz. He is untalented, unfunny and unprofessional (has he ever made it through a skit without breaking character and laughing, no matter how unfunny the material is?), and I challenge anyone to present me with one positive thing he contributes to the show. Hell, he doesn’t even adequately fulfill the Funny Fat Guy role, and if he can’t do that, what good is he?

(2) Fred Armison. His only claim to fame seems to be his Prince impression (and I didn’t see it, as I had already tuned out, but I heard they did his “Prince Show” skit and didn’t even bother to use the real Prince even though he was on the show that very same night — what the fuck?) and that atrocious “aye, Dios mio” guy, which is about as annoying as an Alyson Hannigan character. Whenever I encounter that skit, which is the same exact annoying routine every fucking time, it makes me want to do violent things to the people I love.

(3) Maya Rudolph. All of her “impressions” are lousy and, more importantly, girl just ain’t funny. As I learned on Saturday night, she just had a new baby, and to steal a turn of phrase from a recent email I got, she should take her “overinflated, I-need-to-breastfeed-now! titties” and go back to her baby.

Once these three are gone, we can move on two Step Two of the procedure, which is, quite simply, to fire just about everyone else! The only exceptions I would consider would be: (i) Amy Poelher, who actually has some talent, timing, stage presence and wit and, more importantly, is the only cast member I’m ever happy to see on-stage; and (ii) the four new cats (Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg and Jason Sudeikis), on the basis that they’ve shown some potential and it’s hard to judge them when they’re mired in such filth.

I realize this may seem harsh; some of the players, like Chris Parnell and Darrell Hammond, have served as a sometimes funny means to an end. But remember, this wouldn’t be unprecedented in the halls of Rockefeller Center — back in about 1985, they completely gutted the cast, whacking everyone but Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy, a decision that led to the show’s Second Coming of the late ’80s and early ’90s. And that’s the only hope this show has right now, transfusing the old stagnant blood with some fresh new folks in who can hopefully set things right again. Because here is the biggest problem with the show right now — it doesn’t have any closers.

What do I mean by a closer? Well, in an act of fortuitous TV Whore timing, my friends and I had recently watched portions of a Will Ferrell “Best-of-SNL” DVD, which provides the perfect example. Will Ferrell was a closer. There could be an utterly awful skit going on, and Ferrell had the uncanny ability to offer up some saving grace via his performance. Not always, but often enough. Even if he would only give you one good laugh in an otherwise piece-of-shit skit, that one laugh would keep you watching. And looking back through the history of “SNL,” in addition to all of the other things that made the good seasons good, there was always a closer: Belushi, Murphy, Hartman, Meyers, and Ferrell.

Now, we’ve got a fat guy who can’t keep a straight face. Aye, Dios mio, indeed.

Of course, the performers are only one half of the equation. Even with a cast full of closers, there needs to be some decent material. And for years now, it seems like the writers have been putting out the same, bland hyperbolic crap. And the thing is, I am actually very forgiving of comedy writers; I understand that not everything works. Several years ago, I was a writer and assistant director for a skit-type live stage show, and there was a bit of a debate over one of the skits I helped write, which I — along with some of the others — fought to keep in, insisting it was funnier than people were giving it credit for. We won the fight, but we lost the war. The skit was performed on three consecutive nights, and it was bloody awful. It actually had the same problems that many SNL skits have — crappy “zany” characters, not enough actual laughs, and it went on forever (in fact, its only saving grace was a closer who was able to pull some solid laughs out of his own performance, which had nothing to do with our scripted dialogue). The point of sharing this unasked-for glimpse into a moment in my past is that I understand how folks can get so attached to material that they remain convinced of its ability to succeed, no matter how funny it actually is to the world at large. And while I’ll forgive a misstep here or there, at five-plus years, you can’t really call it a misstep anymore, can you?

So as much as I love Tina Fey, maybe her time as head writer is up. If we’re going to gut the show, let’s fraking gut it, top to bottom. Get some fresh writers in there with new ideas and perspectives, rather than folks simply trying to rehash the same crap over and over again. For example, on Saturday’s show there was an Oprah skit that played on her slaughter/interview of James Frey, and while that descriptive blurb is a good starting point for a potentially funny skit, the end-product was junk. It was derivative and obvious. They need some new writers with a fresh perspective to breathe some life into this corpse.

Speaking of which — I think the show needs to spread its net a little wider. While the Groundlings and Second City have provided numerous great additions to the show, both of these places supply performers and writers who have been pushed into a specific way of thinking about comedy, characters, skit writing and improv. To step, uninvited again, into my personal life, I have taken classes with the Groundlings and can testify to the fact that they teach a very particularized way of approaching comedy and skit performance, and while absolutely useful and sometimes necessary, it can also serve to close down certain avenues of insight and creativity that performers might otherwise travel. And the same is true for Second City, even though its underlying philosophy is a little different and, arguably, freer than the Groundlings. The point is, I suspect one of the reasons that the Chronicles of Narnia video was such a hit was because the “Lazy Sunday” guys are not from these typical schools of comedy training. The show needs more input from such off-the-grid creative types.

By the way, the skit that inspired my 11:58 p.m. entry from above was called Quick Zoom Theater, and the idea was that every line of dialogue was delivered with a dramatic ending, no matter how undramatic the actual content of the dialogue, complete with punctuating music and a quick zoom on the actor. It was an entirely unfunny script, and the only reason I kept watching the show after this point was to see one of Prince’s performances (which I had trouble taking seriously, because I kept hearing Charlie Murphy in my head the entire time talking about Prince making pancakes) and to give Weekend Update a shot (it failed, but at least it was blissfully short and didn’t include a walk-on monologue delivered by some lame character). So at 12:15 a.m., having seen both of these things, I officially threw in the towel and returned to my “Battlestar Galactica” DVDs, which were vastly more entertaining … and which actually have me thinking that maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe what “SNL” really needs is some hot blonde Cylon action.

Seth Frelich is a television columnist for Pajiba. He lives in Washignton, D.C. and couldn’t be happier that summer “intern season” is finally here.

"Saturday Night Live" / The TV Whore

May 12, 2006

TV | May 12, 2006 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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