Saturday Night Live (NBC)

Beyond the age of, say, 14, I've always considered actually watching a first-run Saturday Night Live as being the mark of a failed Saturday night. Especially during my supposedly freewheelin' 20s, but even now during my fat and domesticated 30s, Saturday Night Live represents a kind of capitulation to the water-cooler reality that, in my estimation, 70% of the lame fucks in my world actually adhere to, but 0% ought to.

I can't tell you the number of self-proclaimed "cool" bosses I've had who've tried to curry favor by reciting punchlines from 10+-year-old SNL episodes like they're somehow universal currency. Please … if you wanna be my lover, cool it with all the quoting of early-90s Dana Carvey sketches.

That said, SNL is without question an important brand, if not a connective societal touchstone. We all need common denominators, else our casual conversations degenerate into mutually obscure references, and our hearts remain forever indecipherable to the existential Other. "Hey, did you watch a Herzog movie Saturday night?!" "Erm, no … um, hey, did you go and buy some Scientist LPs Saturday night?!" "Erm, no." Hence, the utility of SNL. For we all should be able, at base, to nod along in recognition when someone mentions Toonces.

The ongoing cultural convo re: SNL posits a whole bunch of ideas I simply don't agree with. "The Belushi era was revolutionary! SNL was pure counterculture!" Or: "The Murphy/Piscopo era was comedy at its best!" Or: "Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman! Yeah!" Or: "Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey! Fuck yeah, dude!"

Indeed, one man's Kristin Wiig is another man's Victoria Jackson. Anyone's "favorite" SNL era undoubtedly coincides with the period in which one actively watched SNL, and ideally that is when one was about 14 years old. So, for me, yeah, Piscopo/Murphy! And for my son (whom I had when I was 14), Ferrell/Fallon. And for his son (whom he had when he was 1), who knows?!?!?!?

What no one seems to be able to admit is that, like any brand, SNL has been the same since its inception. Every season, every cast, has been equally uneven and, usually to a lesser extent, hilarious. There are as many flat moments to behold in a typical Belushi/Chase episode as a given Mohr/Garofalo episode. And as many chuckles to find in a typical Charles Rocket episode as one with the over-lauded (and horrifically be-scarred) Tina Fey.

So, your Ellen Cleghorne is my Kenan Thompson. There is no difference in any SNL cast … same lazy punchlines, same scattershot inspiration, same arrogant sense of entitlement, and only the variable coke habit to push any given cast member up or down the totem pole. If pushed, I might say that Chris Farley represented the ultimate summation of what SNL was about … simultaneously great, lame, self-indulgent, hilarious, unpredictable, and predictable.

What SNL is, is a snapshot of any given water-cooler week in the working world, United States of America, Earth, 1975 to present. If it was ever, for a moment, countercultural, it just as quickly became a brand, no different from Tide, or Lightdays, or The Gap, or Jiffy Lube.

So in some respects, the fact that SNL still has any merit at all anymore is itself worthy of admiration. Like, if they were still making All in the Family, would that show be even remotely worth watching in 2007? Of course not. So, points for somehow remaining relevant. Points deducted, however, for the show still imagining its every weekly performance to be an act of revolution, as opposed to being what it is – the TV equivalent of any coerval issue of Rolling Stone. Darrell Hammond lampooning Clinton and/or Bush II? Thanks, I'll stick with MAD magazine.

Like any national magazine, SNL offers pure PR-spin in the guise of up-to-the-minute hipness. Lindsay Lohan loses 40 pounds to the white powder, and somehow her going on SNL and pseudo-acknowleging the problem gets us off her back. I love you, Lindsay (I still jerk off to your scenes in The Parent Trap … erm, I mean, Mean Girls … erm, wait, no, I take it all back), but the cynicism must be apparent even to middle America in your trying to use SNL to deny what's really goin' on, darlin'.

Perhaps SNL is a truth bigger than any of we who slog it out in various shit jobs day after day can really grasp. SNL provides us with a common vocabulary, and perhaps that's where it ultimately has value. Like, at the very least, we all know where "Wayne's World" came from. We can all relate to the Rob Schneider office-boy character. We can all laugh together at the memory of Will Ferrell as a psychotic Neil Diamond … as our parents and/or grandparents laughed at John Belushi in a bee costume, or Eddie Murphy in a Gumby costume. (Yes, my grandparents are only 45.)

What frustrates me about the show is that it still frequently surprises me, though invariably it's during the sketches that merit barely a groan from the studio audience, to say nothing of the comatose non-reaction from the press (real and online).

For example: "The Prince Show," featuring the otherwise non-descript Fred Armisen as a spot-on '84 Prince, buoyed by the extremely underrated Maya Rudloph (who will, I say, go down as one of the show's legends, and not just because of her surprisingly huge boobs) as Beyoncé Knowles, Prince's supposed sidekick. This sketch, in terms of popular taste, never had reason to even merit one 11:55pm showing, much less multiple recurrences.

Yet, as with Robert Smigel's smart faux-Hanna-Barbera cartoons, "The Prince Show" is so close to my own comedic sensibilty that I can't help but grant SNL continued leeway to keep cranking their shit out, in hopes that they will somehow, someday, become exactly that wonderfully subversive element they think they are, instead of the smarmy in-crowd preppie bullshitters they usually are.

In my world, "The Prince Show" would be the lamest sketch in a Mr. Show-styled wonderland of consistent creative brilliance that shocked me every week. In reality, it's one of the show's few true shining moments … meanwhile, drones nationwide try to convince themselves that "Brian Fellow" is hilariously "random."

Such is SNL, as it always has been and always will be … a formidable and sometimes disturbingly likeable nemesis to a more self-proclaimed "evolved" comedic mind.

Review by Savage Pampas © 2007