The ‘Saturday Night Live’ hypothesis

Dave Bartlett
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A few weeks back, I found out that “The Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons would host “Saturday Night Live” on March 1, with musical guest Beck, and I got an urge to watch the show for the first time in I don’t know how long.

Colin Jost and Cecily Strong, Weekend Update anchors on “Saturday Night Live.”
— Submitted photo

Being a fan of both guests, I wrote it on my calendar and decided afterward it would be time to finally write about an idea that had been bouncing around in my head for some time.

In high school, it would be rare not to find me in front of a TV set, even if it was at a party, between

1-2:30 a.m. on a Sunday. To date myself, it was the era of Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Chris Rock and the late great Phil Hartman — among many other now household names. In my opinion, it was the golden age of the show.

But people I know who are older argue that the golden age cast contained Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo; others say Bill Murray and Jane Curtain and my younger friends counter with names like Will Ferrell and Tina Fey.

What I’ve noticed is SNL is a bit of a rite of passage, a show people love in their late teens and early 20s and, after that, it becomes something you may catch every year or two. A declaration of your preferred cast is carbon dating for those years of partying and staying up late, or maybe even falling asleep, to the sketch comedy show.

When I realized last week that the show was coming up, and also just how late it comes on, I set my PVR. There was no way I was staying up to 2:30 in the morning.

When I went to bed Saturday night, I wondered if this experiment would show that SNL still writes sketches that go on way too long. If there is one hallmark of the show, it’s that it can beat an idea to death and still jump up and down on the remains for a solid five minutes afterwards.

On Sunday morning, I got up and took my cereal in front of the TV and, at first, wondered if I was going to have to change column ideas, with a deadline a day away.

The show did not record, and instead NTV was playing an ancient episode of the “Twilight Zone.” No wait, the broadcast was just late starting … by 13 minutes. It was one of a handful of TV blunders that peppered the show, which to me at least, felt like a whole new reboot.

In fact, I didn’t recognize a single name in the regular cast, or the featured talent. In fact, the “featuring” list seemed twice as long as the principal cast.

When the show did start, it opened with an overly long, not terribly funny spoof of “Ellen,” but that was quickly redeemed by a monologue/song with Jim Parsons about not being the person he plays on TV.

The rest of the show was “Saturday Night Live,” and how it realistically has always been. A mix of really funny one-liners, a couple of good original characters and some stuff that was overly repetitive and wasn’t terribly funny in the first place.

But except for mock news programs like “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” and “South Park,” name another comedy program that goes from script to broadcast in a week — and then fills the spaces between commercials for 90, not 30 minutes?

I know from years in broadcast journalism that anything can happen when you go live. Throw in the task of being funny and topical and there’s no doubt it’s a challenge. I mean, watch “30 Rock” — loosely based on SNL behind the scenes, and featuring Fey and fellow former cast member Tracy Morgan.

I will say, aside from one sketch, “Weekend Update” was the best part of the show and co-hosts Cecily Strong and Colin Jost were obviously on the desk together for the first time, and I think may have some chemistry that’s still bubbling together. And ye olde movie critic was outrageous.

Much of the sketches were Oscars based, and the one sketch that I did laugh out loud at for most of its duration featured white people auditioning as slave owners for Best Picture winner “12 years a Slave.”

For the most part the “actors” just refused to read the script, and just stared aghast at the casting directors. Beck was also amazing, with his reverb-soaked new sound.

So, will I watch “Saturday Night Live” again, any time soon? I plan to set my PVR again this weekend, if only for the musical guest, The National. After that, maybe only on those few nights a year I find myself awake, very early, on Sunday morning.

Is my hypothesis correct? Or have you been watching “Saturday Night Live” for decades? Send correspondence to Dave Bartlett


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