Too Much Politics Is Ruining SNL

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The 2017-18 run of Saturday Night Live is not special. This is surprising given their talented cast and hosts. So far nearly every show has been a letdown. NBC’s sketch comedy series is too reliant on politics as a linchpin. After 43 seasons SNL should tap the breaks on politics and return to an emphasis on creating quality sketches.

I do not mean that SNL is too liberal, unfair, or that they should not cover politics. Some of the show’s most memorable sketches have lampooned politics. My favorite SNL sketch is Phil Hartman’s 1992 impression of Bill Clinton in McDonald’s. Watching Hartman talking about warlords mooching off their people as he stuffs someone else’s McNugget into his mouth is timeless.

Phil Hartman As Bill Clinton In McDonald's
Phil Hartman as Bill Clinton in McDonald’s (1992)

SNL ran with the material that was handed to them on a silver platter last season. This was to be expected. Every generation of SNL is defined by how they handle election cycles. The current cast and writers are not embracing the political climate with the success of previous crews. Aside from Mikey Day and Alex Moffat’s impressions of Eric and Donald Jr., the only consistent comedy value is Kate McKinnon’s ability to morph into almost anyone.

One glaring deficiency is the show’s inability to regularly execute good sketches. The digital shorts and political cold opens are the only water cooler segments. Many sketches are unfinished. Even those with a solid premise are often incomplete.

This shortcoming is present in the show’s political sketches. Some are good, but the overall product is not creative. The cold opens are buzzworthy because Alec Baldwin “went there” or a celebrity pops in to portray a member of the administration. These sketches are only memorable because of their viral nature and not their comedy.

The Decision To Have Baldwin Play Trump

This change is a result of a shift in tone. In the past, SNL’s satire came from a  position that mocks the idiosyncrasies and flaws of politicians. That comedy is now more negative and lost its worth. Show creator Lorne Michaels chose Alec Baldwin  to portray Donald Trump over Darrell Hammond because of his harsher portrayal of the president. Michaels made a calculated move that has paid dividends, but lost out on the overall humor. At times Baldwin’s own personal history distracts from the comedy.

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Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump on SNL 

SNL has forgotten how to create a well-rounded episode. Lackluster sketches fill the gaps between politically charged openings and Weekend Update. Occasionally there is a great sketch. Those good sketches are now refreshing instead of just being a regular part of the show. Building the show around the Trump administration every week results in SNL gradually losing its edge.

SNL’s New Normal

The most recent episode with host Jessica Chastain has become the new normal. The open featured a White House news conference. There was a sketch where Chastain freaked out about the state of affairs. Weekend Update featured  McKinnon as Robert Mueller and Cecily Strong played presidential mistress Stormy Daniels.

At some point the emphasis on politics abuses a topic and the comedy loses its humor. Four bits in one show about the same thing is too much. Outside of politics there was a great Fresh Prince digital short and average, forgettable sketches. That is not a successful formula for creating compelling television.

The show must place an emphasis on creating characters and sketches. Politics are a hot topic, but SNL is a variety series.  It must regularly produce unexpected segments instead of harping on the same material to stay true to its nature. SNL should always make fun of whomever they want on any side of the aisle. A moderate usage of political satire would go a long way towards returning the show to being a funny and edgy part of our weekends.

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