I’m as tired of thinking about politics as I imagine most of you are, which is why I’ve let a few recent things slide without posting. Here’s a few links worth a look, though.
Posts Tagged ‘Saturday Night Live’
Today’s installment of NPR’s Fresh Air featured an interview with SNL head writer and “Weekend Update” anchor Seth Meyers. He came across as an articulate and pleasant fellow, generous in his praise for colleague Tina Fey, boss Lorne Michaels, and recent guest-star Sarah Palin — and as an uninspired and workman-like creator of mass-market comedy. Seth Meyers is to comedy what an Applebee’s entree is to food: reliably palatable, but nothing memorable.
On further reflection, that’s pretty unfair to Applebee’s. Maybe he’s more like a Denny’s Grand Slam: not great, but readily available and unlikely to make you actually vomit.
Two things from the interview jumped out at me as worthy of comment. First, he called Amy Poehler’s delivery of the Sarah Palin rap (I’m paraphrasing, but this is close) “one of the best performances in the history of Saturday Night Live.”
Okay, maybe the Denny’s comparison is too generous. How about Jack in the Box: usually okay, but with occasional e. coli poisoning.
Sarah Palin’s cameo on SNL doesn’t seem to have moved the needle very much, on way or the other, in terms of the public’s perception of the GOP VP candidate. To borrow a very nice turn of phrase from New Hampshire journalist/blogger Gina Carbone, I don’t think it will turn out to be her “saxophone moment.” It was probably both too little (she didn’t risk very much in her two rather staid spots on the show) and too late for that.
Still, she came off reasonably well: she looked like a good sport, didn’t trip over her lines, seemed to be in on all the jokes, and generally performed like the former broadcast professional she is (given her train-wreck performance in unscripted interviews, it’s easy to forget she was once a TV sportscaster — as long as she’s got a teleprompter, she’s fine). Indeed, Lorne Michaels said afterward that Palin could easily have “her own show” — a compliment, though perhaps a back-handed one. (Though if, as Mark Evanier speculates, Palin has given up on succeeding Cheney and is instead gunning to be the next Ann Coulter, I guess she passed the audition.)
Time‘s James Poniewozik has some interesting insights into the possible impact of Tina Fey’s impression on the public’s impression of Sarah Palin. On the one hand, he notes, an impression that succeeds in capturing what the public sees in a candidate — as Fey’s Palin surely has — can be devastating because it is “shamanistic; it’s like owning a voodoo doll: capture your target’s soul, and you can make her dance just by waving your arms.” Fey “owns” Palin’s image in this sense.
And make no mistake, that is a powerful thing. Chevy Chase’s depiction of Gerald Ford, though it was not even really an impression — let alone a very convincing one like Fey’s Sarah Palin — had a huge claim on the public’s perception of the man, and probably contributed to his political downfall.
Before I get to the whining, the New York Times’s Bill Carter, the Woodward and/or Bernstein of the late-night comedy beat, has an interesting article on how the election is boosting the fortunes of SNL and other shows. It includes some interesting ratings info, showing the Comedy Central shows’ strength in the 18-34 year-old male demographic.
Via Mark Evanier, news that tonight’s prime-time SNL special will be a weekly feature up until the election. For some reason, this news fills me with foreboding.
One reason is the fact that, in addition to the easy (if funny) shots they’ve been taking at Sarah Palin, SNL has, in the name of “balance,” also become one of the Mainstream Media’s principle conduits for the dissemination of bizarre, right-wing talking points. A case in point is the angry, tedious bailout sketch I wrote about a few days ago, which presented an Oliver Stone-like conspiracy theory that managed to blame everybody but the party that’s been running things for most of the last eight years for the current economic mess.
After the opening VP debate sketch, I was ready to offer SNL unqualified praise. I laughed a lot, and was impressed by Fey (her best performance as Palin yet), Sudeikis (not a spot-on impression of Biden, but a spirited performance that captured something of the essence of the man), and the writing. (Queen Latifah as Gwen Ifill was fine, too, though not all that Ifill-ish).
Unfortunately, I kept watching. More to the point, I kept watching long enough to see a sketch about the bailout bill that seemed to have been written by William Kristol, with an assist from Jonah Goldberg. Except not as funny.
I am loathe to give credit to Tom Shales, because I think he’s gratuitously mean and often clueless (he doesn’t get Mad Men, and thinks Lorne Michaels is a genius and SNL is still cutting-edge funny), but I think he’s onto something here: Sarah Palin is not only not defying the caricatured version of herself Tina Fey and others have created, she’s deliberately embracing it.
To update my last post, nope — McCain’s refusal to look at Obama hasn’t become a thing yet. SNL made no reference to it in their debate sketch, which surprised me, given the attention it had gotten elsewhere. Not only that, they had a joke about Jim Lehrer insisting that the candidates look at each other — not an innaccurate depiction (except I remember him admonishing them to talk to each other more), but an inclusion that made the exclusion of lack-of-eye-contact-gate all the odder.
The return of Tina Fey as Sarah Palin has gotten a lot of attention already, and I can’t add much, save to join the chorus of those noting, as I just heard Joan Walsh say on Hardball, that some of the parody dialogue was pretty much a verbatim transcription of the real interview. The writers didn’t have to work very hard on that one.
Which brings me to today’s question: do the writers of Saturday Night Live even follow the news, beyond the bare minimum their jobs require? I’m not just being snotty because they didn’t go the way I predicted with the debate sketch (and I’ll point out I wasn’t advocating that comedians should focus on the eye-contact business).
I had better things to do than watch SNL last night, but via Oliver Willis, I did manage to see the lead-off sketch about McCain’s negative advertising. Like last week’s Sarah Palin opener, it was somewhat above the low bar the show has maintained for the last, oh, 10 years or so: somewhat funny, somewhat on-target, somewhat biting. But it’s still pretty weak tea compared to what Colbert does regularly, and what Jon Stewart could be doing, if he takes off the gloves RE: “friend of the show” John McCain.
Still, the sketch has a couple of strengths most recent SNL pieces of recent vintage lack. First, it has more than a single idea: McCain’s cluelessness about technology, the announcer legendary for having “the most sarcastic voice in the history of campaign ads,” and some fairly specific references to the McCain campaign’s recent tactics. Second, it builds: though they don’t hit him terribly hard, McCain goes from merely clueless to consciously ruthless (when he approves the “black babies” ad, after being reminded that George W. Bush won using such sleazy tactics). The announcer character also allows the writers to turn the sarcasm back onto Team McCain (on Sarah Palin: “she’s so experienced”) in some unexpected ways.
As anyone who watched, and everyone who has mentioned it has already said, the Sarah Palin meets Hillary Clinton sketch that opened SNL‘s 33rd season was the one bright spot in an otherwise awful show. Tina Fey had Palin’s accent down (though anyone who’s seen Fargo more than once could probably do it about as well), and her already much-remarked upon resemblance to the GOP Veep-nom helped sell the bit. (For that matter, Amy Poehler’s pregnancy gave her a rounder face, and made her Hillary impression — which I’ve never found very evocative of the real HRC — a bit more persuasive.)
I don’t mean to damn with faint praise, here: the sketch was funny, well-performed, and at least a little bit pointed. But shouldn’t that be the norm for America’s premiere sketch show, with its Ivy League writing staff, zeitgeist-transcending staying power, and talent-roster chockfull of the future stars of It’s Pat — Again! and Another Night at the Roxbury?
Should a sketch that was merely timely and competent get its own segment on the NBC Nightly News? This one did, last night, on a day dominated by news of Hurricane Ike, the collapse of another couple of pillars of the financial sector, and, you know, the real presidential candidates and their running mates. Poor Lester Holt, the weekend anchor, actually looked a little embarrassed by this triumph of corporate synergy over news judgment. And I last saw Lester sitting in as the bass player with Earth, Wind, and Fire on the Today Show, so we’re not exactly talking Edward R. Murrow, here.