Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Television Tuesday: Saturday Night Live is Back, with All its Strengths and Weaknesses in Tow

On Saturday, September 29th of this year 2018, "Saturday Night Live," began its 44th season. Yes, 44th, it is astounding, I know (and especially impressive to think Kenan Thompson has been there since the 29th season). SNL is of course a unique beast in many ways, arguably the last living example of something akin to vaudeville with its variety-act structure. It also is a show that through lasting nearly a half-century has had an immense number of ups-and-downs in terms of show-quality, the strength of its cast, etc. Since we entered the new millennium the show has at times settled into a steady rhythm of relatively toothless political humor (the Sarah Palin stuff had bite, at least), decent parodies, and basically being a training ground for its cast to hone their skills and then go on to successful careers (or fade away into obscurity if they fail to break-out, it's a tough gig).

However, ever since Donald Trump won the presidency (and let's ignore the debacle that was his hosting gig whilst running for President) the program has gotten a bit of its old edge from the early days back. Not a ton of edge, mind you, but enough. When the whole damn country seems to have gone mad and elected a certifiable moron just speaking the plain truth can seem ballsy. Alec Baldwin's impression of Trump, for better or worse, has sparked an immense amount of public discourse, gotten a lot of attention, and has been supported by some great work from the cast or other guest-actors. SNL can at times rely a little too much on stunt-casting a celebrity for a role as opposed to just letting that week's host have much of the fun however, and that issue was on full display Saturday.
Matt Damon's sputtering and angry portrayal of Kavanaugh was spot-on.
The hearings to determine if Brett Kavanaugh is qualified to be a Supreme Court justice or is simply a petty and lying man-child who also has assaulted a variety of women have been an absolute shit-show. SNL had some ripe territory to mine, and it did indeed with the season-opener. None other than Matt Damon appeared as the judge and did a wonderful over-the-top job. The thing is, besides that and maybe two other segments the rest of the show was mostly forgettable outside of anything with musical guest Kanye West (who was terrible, but buzz-worthy). The two other segments worth discussing would be Weekend Update, which when it first began its run with Colin Jost and Michael Che was an absolute train-wreck, but then weirdly seemed to find its rhythm and somehow works quite nicely now. Their jokes have a solid punch behind them sometimes, and I like it. The other segment that I enjoyed was when host Adam Driver played a very elderly man who was the father to a student and screamed and yelled about being an oil baron at a career day event--it was weird, but Driver made it work--and he was not really present a lot of the episode, which makes me sad for him. Then there was Kanye, dear God, Kanye.

I don't want to discuss Kanye, Ye, or whatever name he wants to be called these days, as I've already previously made clear my feelings about him based on recent actions. That said, he was a last-minute booking to replace Ariana Grande (cast-member Pete Davidson's new fiancee, which was the subject of some jokes too) when she couldn't do the show and the whole thing seemed messy and slapped together. Whether he barely was present for, "I Love It," with fellow rapper on the record, Lil' Pump, outside of dressing like a bottle of sparkling water, or kind of stood around for the second song with Teyana Taylor (whose top basically displayed all of her breasts for everyone to see, so that was interesting), and then had some assorted guests for the third bit he worked-in whilst he again did nothing, it was a mess. Then again, isn't everything with Kanye frankly a mess now?
Adam Driver in heavy makeup as a ruthless old oil baron at career day was just weird enough to work.
"Saturday Night Live," is back, and it manages to be timely, have some solid jokes, and cast some great surprise appearances. It also at times seems like it is way too soft about all the madness going on in America, overly relies on stunt-casting, and for every amazing sketch it has there are three completely forgettable ones--plus depending on if the musical guest is good, bad, or simply bat-shit insane that can drag a whole episode down or lift it up to incredible levels too. This episode was the equivalent of 3 out of 5 stars, just squeaking past being average thanks to a mixture of Matt Damon, a solid news piece, and Adam Driver at least getting to shine in one sketch in addition to everything else that was passably dull. SNL is a show that at times hits its balls out of the park, and other times seems stuck bunting to the easiest and weakest joke possible I hope we get more home-runs this season, lord knows they have a ton of stuff they can talk about.

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